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A captivating Magic Flute

The Elgin Theatre
11/17/2006 -  18, 19, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26 November
W. A. Mozart The Magic Flute
Colin Ainsworth (Tamino), Olivier Laquerre (Papageno), Peggy Kriha Dye (Pamina), Penelope Randall-Davis (Queen of the Night), Curtis Sullivan (Sarastro), Gerald Isaac (Monostatos), Carla Huhtanen (Papagena), Jennie Such (First Lady), Vilma Indra Vitols (Second Lady), Laura Pudwell (Third Lady), Jason Nedecky (Speaker, Armed Man), Eric Shaw (First Priest, Armed Man), Cavell Wood, Samantha Taylor, Nina Hare (the three boys), Gabriel Estrin (Dragon)
David Baile (Producer), Marshall Pynkoski (Director), Jeannette Zingg (Choreographer), Gerard Gauci (Set Designer), Dora Rust-D'Eye (Costume Designer), Kevin Fraser (Lighting)
David Fallis (Conductor)
Tafelmusik Orchestra, Opera Atelier Chorus and Atelier Ballet

Toronto’s Opera Atelier was formed over twenty years ago to focus on stage works from the 16th and 17th centuries. Its founder/directors, Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Zingg, are dancers and their main motive has been to emulate (if not reconstruct) the dance techniques and stage deportment of the Renaissance and baroque (or pre-Romantic) era. For their Magic Flute (in English, a translation credited to the publishers Boosey and Hawkes), this “authentic movement” approach is paired with the employment of the period instrument Tafelmusik baroque orchestra. The venue is the lavishly-decorated Elgin Theatre, built in 1913 as a variety theatre. Its small stage and pit are fine for the pre-1800 repertoire, although its acoustics keep the sound at a distance from the audience.

Visually, this production (first done in 1991) is a real treat. The company’s resident designer, Gerard Gauci, has given us a set that hearkens back to the designs of Schinkel and contains clever additions of his own devising, such as a temple roof shaped like a pineapple. The large dragon is both scary and funny. The three boys sail through the air on a cloud-bedecked boat. Adding to the eye candy are Dora Rust-D’Eye’s lavish costumes - and let’s not overlook the hi-rise wigs. The overall effect is a Persian storybook fantasy come to life in an 18th-century courtly milieu.

There is a lot of spoken dialogue, and no excisions are made to skirt around politically incorrect attitudes towards women and Monostatos’s skin colour. In spite of the recessive acoustics, the dialogue comes across very clearly - and without hollering - especially from the two characters with the most to say, Papageno and Tamino. The only exceptions were Pamina and the Queen of the Night. Peggy Kriha Dye sang strongly, however, although she is not the sweetest-sounding of Paminas. The Queen, Penelope Randall-Davis, must sing her first aria suspended above the stage floor and behind a scrim. As a result she sounds insecure (the second verse was omitted). For her second aria she is down on stage and is able to move around energetically; this makes a big difference and she delivers the aria strongly.

As Tamino, Colin Ainsworth gives the most consistent vocal performance I have heard from him, maintaining an appealingly boyish, yet assertive (princely?), tone throughout. Olivier Laquerre was totally “on” from start to finish. Here is a francophone impeccably delivering the English translation of a German text. He is tall and spends much time standing stork-like on one leg.

Gerald Isaac is a frenzied Monostatos who can do backflips at extreme moments. He also performs the role of Papagena in the scene where she appears as an old crone. The one vocal weakness is the youthful Sarastro of Curtis Sullivan who is billed as a bass-baritone. The baritone level of the voice is pleasant if rather light. The bass end is there, but with so little amplitude that the conductor must hush the orchestra so these signature notes can be heard.

Staging overall is very animated. The company’s dance-oriented approach means that singers move with the theatrical strut of ballet dancers during the mimed sections of classical ballets, with legs straight and torsos held in tension. One almost expects them (especially the men, all in tights) to launch themselves into tours en l’air at any moment.

David Fallis conducts the 36-member orchestra with brisk energy. The 17-member chorus sounds just right. They and the 10-member dance corps, all dressed on gold, are effectively massed in the celebratory sections of the work. Opera Atelier is getting a lot of mileage out of this production, and deservedly so. A forthcoming film will be using elements of the design.

Michael Johnson



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