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Another bounding success from Opera Atelier

The Elgin Theatre
10/25/2018 -  & October 27*, 28, November 2, 3 (Toronto), 15, 16 (Chicago), 30, December 1, 2 (Versailles), 2018
Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Actéon [1]
Edwin Huizinga: Inception [3]
Jean-Philippe Rameau: Pygmalion [2]

Colin Ainsworth (Actéon, Pygmalion), Mireille Asselin (Diane, Amour), Meghan Lindsay (Aréthuze, Hunter, Galatée), Allyson McHardy (Junon, Hyale, Céphise), Jesse Blumberg, Christopher Enns (Hunters), Anna Sharpe (Nymph), Cynthis Smithers (Hunter/Nymph), Tyler Gledhill (Eros)
The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Chorus of the University of Toronto Schola Cantorum, Choir members from the Theatre of Early Music, Daniel Taylor (chorus master), David Fallis (conductor)
Marshall Pynkoski (director), Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg [1, 3], Tyler Gledhill [2] (choreographer), Gerard Gauci [1] (set designer, costume designer), Michael Gianfrancesco [3] (costume designer), Michelle Ramsay (lighting designer)

M. Lindsay, C. Ainsworth (© Bruce Zinger)

These two one-act works from the classic era of French opera-ballets display exactly what Opera Atelier does best.

Charpentier’s Actéon is a pastorale dating from 1684. The hunter Actéon comes across the goddess Diana and her female companions as they bathe in a stream. He is discovered and the enraged Diana turns him into a stag. Soon after, his own hounds tear him to pieces, as he has run afoul of yet another goddess, Juno, wife of Jupiter, who is angered at her husband’s affair with Europa, Actéon’s relative. (Greek mythology is so full of fatal entanglements!) The pastorale thus morphs into a tragédie lyrique, very fitting for a work derived from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

The pastoral music accompanying Diana and her companions is nice enough, but things take off with the arrival of Actéon and his rollicking hunting party. The chorus, under the direction of counter tenor Daniel Taylor, is new to OA, and they have a lively, grainy sound, very characterful. The even get to voice the voracious hounds. The chief singing role is that of Actéon and Colin Ainsworth, his voice with its customary glow, ardently expresses joy in the hunt and then anguish as his punishment comes upon him. Clever lighting conceals the switch from Ainsworth to dancer Edward Tracz as the panicked stag.

Allyson McHardy uses her dusky voice to great effect as the vengeful Juno. She also appears in the second opera as Céphise, Pygmalion’s spurned girlfriend. Company regular Mireille Asselin handles the brief role of Diana well, but gets more to sing in Pygmalion where she appears as Amour, the goddess who answers Pygmalion’s fervent wish for his beautiful statue to come to life.

Preceding Pygmalion we saw another installment of violinist/composer Edwin Huizinga’s Inception, a kind of pas de deux for dancer/choreographer Tyler Gledhill and the violinist. (It was also performed in Toronto in February.) This time, though, Gledhill wore a pair of red wings; this turned out to be an introduction to his assumption of the character Eros in the acte de ballet to follow. The two personifications of love, Eros and Amour, add an extra piquant element to the staging.

As in Actéon the main singing role is that of the title character who repeatedly extols the wonders of Amour. Meghan Lindsay, the statue who comes to life as Galatea, spends more time being statuesque than singing, but she does both very well. The celebration leads into an array of dances, some mischievous, all joyous - Rameau at his buoyant best, with the usual sunny contribution from the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, 27-strong for this program.

The colour palette for this production was toned down a bit from the frequent rather hectic visuals in past works. Gerard Gauci’s handsome sets are as effective as ever, with false perspective achieving grandeur in a relatively tight space.

Opera Atelier will once more go on the road and these two works will be presented in Chicago (Harris Theater) and at the Royal Theatre in Versailles.

Michael Johnson



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