Opera Atelier’s new film of Angel –fully-staged and filmed at St. Lawrence Hall—will be streaming until Friday, November 12.
Angel is a bold experiment. I’m not sure how to describe the work, an interesting mixture of styles and idioms that crosses boundaries between disciplines and centuries.
It seems operatic at first glance. Angel enlists Tafelmusik baroque orchestra in the simulation of something old and authentic even as they play music revised and/or repurposed in a new context. While we encounter familiar texts from Milton and Vivaldi, they’re reframed, alongside new compositions from Edward Huizinga and Christopher Bagan: or at least that’s what I’m surmising from the press release.
The most exciting musical moments for me were “Summer 1” and “Winter 1”, Max Richter’s re-composition (their word), or perhaps more properly, adaptation, of music we know from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. They say “Angel marks the first time Richter’s recomposition will be played on period instruments.” I think of it as adaptation, because we recognize the original in a new guise, as though this were a cover version of a well-known song.
I’ve been surrendering to the piece while suspending judgment, as per the suggestion from Opera Atelier’s Co-Artistic Director Marshall Pynkoski, who said “It is our hope that the music, text, dancing and staging of Angel will wash over you like a dream”. I am enjoying the disorientation, especially Richter’s modern rhythms played on the baroque instruments of Tafelmusik. The reworking of Vivaldi’s brilliant violin writing in the hands of Elisa Citterio? fabulous as usual.
While it’s not hanging together for me (speaking as someone who stopped watching in the middle), and couldn’t hold my attention for more than a few minutes at a time, it’s lovely to watch. On a big screen it’s quite lovely to look at. There’s much beauty in this film, many talented artists including the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, soprano Measha Brueggergosman, tenor Colin Ainsworth, soprano Mireille Asselin, baritone Jesse Blumberg, soprano Meghan Lindsay, baritone John Tibbetts, and bass-baritone Douglas Williams working together on something that resembles a big song cycle filmed (rather than staged) by a ballet company.
Not for the first time, I find myself thinking “Opera Atelier” is a ballet company not an opera company. There is static beauty, lovely moments, but more lyricism than drama, opportunities through camera close-up for their usual delight in youthful physiques, without much of anything spiritual to go with a title like “Angel”, unless of course we’re using modern connotations of the word as found in New Age philosophy or in films such as Wings of Desire. Indeed, there’s more of Milton’s Satan (mistaken by some romantics as the hero of Paradise Lost, who becomes a fish out of water without more grounding in an actual story) than any other angel so far (I’m about 2/3 of the way through Angel as I write this).
No Angel is not a complex story, indeed I can’t quite discern what the ‘story’ is: which is surely why Marshall suggested we let it wash over us like a dream. You’ll encounter Rilke’s poetry, different music in different styles, fascinating dances. But it also lacks some of the rewards of the baroque, in short segments that aren’t required to work as individual set-pieces, zipping ahead to the next brief sequence. Less is more, and I think Angel would work better if it had less text that was explored more fully, fewer talents, properly exploited, rather than this cavalcade of brilliant moments. I miss Marshall’s keen dramatic instincts deconstructing an opera, indeed if I didn’t know better, I’d say that this time co-artistic director Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg seems to be in charge of a work that is so intensely balletic—even when opera singers are asked to dance in front of the camera—as to turn the singing and music into a mere soundtrack for dance.
In some ways it’s like an album or anthology especially when we view it not in a theatre but on our electronic devices: where I can choose to skip ahead to the parts I like. Such are the risks of being bold in creating something “new” while employing so many of the vestiges of something “old”.
YMMV, as they say.
Single tickets for the streamed presentation are $30 and on sale now. Tickets and information at OperaAtelier.com.