The Harlequin Salon

In a week juxtaposing new (21C festival) and old (the Toronto Symphony playing Mozart with Pinchas Zukerman), I came finally to see The Harlequin Salon by Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, including a great deal of theatricality to complement their music. While I seemed to be moving back in time with the progression of the week, the show tonight might be the newest and freshest of all.

Conceived and performed by Marco Cera in the main role, The Harlequin Salon is that rare creature, a multi-media presentation where all the media are essential and perfectly linked together.

We were watching

  • Harlequin as portrayed by actor Dino Gonçalves,
  • his master Pier Leone Ghezzi, a caricaturist and amateur musician as portrayed by oboist Marco Cera who sketches guests in his home (the salon); we see the sketches take shape through miracle of digital images, projected above the stage thanks to Patrick Lavender & Ramon Cespedes. The guests we meet?
    • Vivaldi as portrayed by Tafelmusik violinist Elisa Citterio
    • the great singer Faustina Bordoni, portrayed by guest artist soprano Roberta Invernizzi
    • composer & cello virtuoso Giovanni Bononcini as portrayed by Tafelmusik cellist Felix Deak
    • Bordoni –playing a trick on the amorous Harlequin—disguises herself as the famous castrato Farinelli, again portrayed by Invernizzi
  • the staging is directed by Guillaume Bernardi, while the music-making directed by Tafelmusik artistic director Elisa Citterio
tafelmusik_the harlequin salon_image credit jeff higgins

Here’s some idea of the flamboyance of the Harlequin Salon from Tafelmusik. We watch Marco Cera as Ghezzi sketching his guests including Roberta Invernizzi, while sitting at the table. The sketches appear on the screen above. Dino Goncalves is Harlequin (right).  Photo: Jeff Higgins.

It was never dull, and at times, exquisite, simultaneously a complex piece of theatre & musical performance plus video art. At times there was so much going on –caricatures taking shape, acting & comedy, all in context with some magnificent music-making—that one didn’t always know where to focus one’s attention. The last part of the concert, as Invernizzi sang a Pergolesi aria accompanied by Cera’s stunning oboe obbligato is one of the most beautiful things I’ve heard in a long time.  Not only have I discovered new music, but a new singer as well (both worthy of further exploration).

It’s a bit of a trip down memory lane, vivid reminders of what I learned about Commedia dell’Arte in graduate school. Near the beginning Gonçalves gave us the classic lazzo of the fly. A lazzo is a comic routine, and this one is such a chestnut that it’s been around for hundreds of years. Even so Gonçalves got laughs as he mimed chasing the fly, and eventually eating it.

Harlequin is always hungry.

Okay, some of the lazzi (the plural of lazzo) are old, such as the one with the mimed fly, or another one opening & re-sealing the master’s mail. But they did an original lazzo with a music-stand, a clever use of the available prop for a quick laugh.

Speaking of memories & grad school, their Commedia dell’Arte consultant was Domenico Pietropaolo who taught the CdA course I took during my MA, and who is now Principal of St Michael’s College at the University of Toronto.

I repeat what I hinted at earlier. While it appears superficially that I was going back in time as the week progressed (21C being 21st century music, Mozart composing in the latter part of the 18th century, and this program coming from the first half of that same century): yet this was actually the newest, the most theatrical, most daring programming of all.

We seem to be in the home of a man, watching a few musicians (only 9 of Tafelmusik’s players, and some in costumes for roles), while the sketches being created apparently in the present by Ghezzi were drawn anew on the big screen above. It was wonderfully intimate, very informal & playful, and at the same time, full of wonderful music. Tafelmusik continually challenge themselves with their inventive programs like this one.

You can visit The Harlequin Salon Saturday January 19th at 8pm or Sunday January 20th at 3:30pm Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

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