The question running through my head as I watched tonight’s opening of Opera Atelier’s Idomeneo at the Ed Mirvish Theatre was: “who is the star?”
In this their first performance in a new venue I could say “it’s the space”. Although it has a slightly larger capacity than the Elgin, from where I sat the acoustics seem far better than at the Elgin, where things always seem to be soft & fuzzy. Tonight things sounded crystal clear in comparison, which is surprising considering the size, bigger than the Four Seasons Centre, at 2200 (or so says the oracle according to Google). But there was a crispness to the orchestral sound, a precision to the voices that we never heard in the Elgin. Everyone sounded better as a result. And so I’d pronounce the debut of Opera Atelier in the new space as a definite triumph.
It was a curious experience all in all. The nice ladies sitting beside me brought in beer that they sipped after intermission. A seller came around with ice cream bars. Wow! (and of course I ate one!) Before you ask me if I think this is in some sense a violation? No! This is much more in the tradition of opera in the 18th century & before, when you might have wenches hawking oranges, when the lights were up. Arguably it would be entirely appropriate to let people have their mobile phones on (and I say this having heard plenty of buzzes from those nearby). I still dream of someday seeing a Handel opera done with the lights up and the free-and-easy audience deportment that would be an emulation of that time. We are weird, in our 21st century lights out try to keep a lid on it repressed approach to theatre. I wish people would be less inhibited about showing appreciation, as that too would not only be more authentic but a whole lot more fun. But in other words, letting people have beer & ice cream is a step in the right direction.
There are things about this production that are historically informed and other aspects that are decidedly modern or at least new, brainchildren of the director Marshall Pynkoski. We get a curious mix of the two that might best be understood as the Opera Atelier brand. Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra + the interpretive brilliance of music director David Fallis give their operas legitimacy even when there are liberties taken, extra dance numbers that I can’t find in the score (although perhaps there’s a different version? I wonder); but at least they sound like Mozart. Nobody minds if there is an aura of historicity. And so while there were no strobe lights in Mozart’s time (an effect used several times in the opera), we accept it because the set, costuming and movement vocabulary mostly connote an earlier time. I say mostly because at times dancers of the Opera Atelier Ballet offered some spectacularly romantic moves, particularly in the last hour. But I’m not complaining.
And so, while you’re probably waiting for this review to declare that Measha Bruggergosman or Colin Ainsworth or perhaps someone else was the star, I’m not going to say that. The two biggest stars for me were 1) The Ed Mirvish Theatre, blowing me away with the acoustic, & the intriguing experience of beer & ice cream, and especially
2) Marshall Pynkoski, getting his singers to dance more than ever.
It’s funny, I had the funniest thought, reminded of Robert Lepage. You may recall that he faced a rebellion from his Brunnhilde a few years ago, when Debbie Voigt refused to climb onto the machine in her portrayal, although she did eventually relent. Directors sometimes push the envelope with their performers. Lepage has sometimes asked a great deal of his singers, as Julie Taymor did with the performers in Spiderman. Is anyone revolting against Pynkoski? Not that I can tell. But wow he demands more and more of his singers with every show. A few weeks ago I watched Mireille Asselin—one of the finest young singers in this country—dancing as part of a show at the ROM. Tonight every one of the principals was being asked to dance.
I have to wonder, too, as Measha Bruggergosman seemed to be limping. I wonder if she was injured in rehearsal? My heart went out to her, as it’s hard enough singing the role of Elettra without the additional choreographic challenges imposed by the director, or perhaps in collaboration with the choreographer Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg.
Colin Ainsworth was very sympathetic in the title role, showing us more power than ever: or is that just the acoustic of the theatre? I heard an interpolated high C in one of the arias, and it seemed he was bringing a more dramatic sound than usual most of the way, even if he did take something off the sound when he was engaging in fast coloratura. It’s a huge sing.
Wallis Giunta (Idamante) & Meghan Lindsay (Ilia) were a great pleasure to watch, a romantic couple who worked entirely within Pynkoski’s scheme even as they gave us their stunning Mozartian vocalism, perfect intonation, while honouring the physical demands. At one point Ainsworth throws Lindsay across the stage, a bit of stage fighting that was delightfully fluid, and as much a dance move as a real fight. I’ve missed Giunta’s presence on Toronto stages, and it’s clear she’s developed a great deal in her time overseas, perhaps the most cojones of anyone onstage tonight in a swaggering trouser role.
While we didn’t hear as much of Douglas Williams wonderful voice as I might have wished he was arguably the most important figure onstage, unless one includes the massive trident he wielded. Whoever you want to call “the star”, Opera Atelier depends upon conductor David Fallis, whose baton even commands the gods of this story. The orchestra, chorus & soloists sounded wonderful, sometimes soft & delicate, sometimes terrifying.
Idomeneo continues until April 13th at the Ed Mirvish Theatre.