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Gripping Drama

The Elgin Theatre
04/22/2011 -  and April 23, 26*, 27, 30, May 1, 2011
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: La clemenza di Tito
Kresimir Spicer (Tito), Measha Brueggergosman (Vitellia), Michael Maniaci (Sesto), Mireille Asselin (Servilia), Mireille Lebel (Annio), Curtis Sullivan (Publio), Artists of Atelier Ballet
Opera Atelier Chorus, Tafelmusik Orchestra (Jeanne Lamon, Music Director), David Fallis (Conductor)
Marshall Pynkoski (Director), Gerard Gauci (Set and Costume Designer), Jeannette Lajeunesse-Zingg (Choreographer), Bonnie Beecher (Lighting Designer)

M. Brueggergosman, M. Maniaci(© Bruce Zinger)

Opera Atelier’s practice of rehearsing for five weeks really paid off in this production. Every moment was grippingly dramatic. The recitatives were not just talky bits of necessary information linking the musical numbers, but integral to the drama. The standard defense of lyric theatre that song is required when emotions are too strong for spoken words was vividly born out. No character was ever allowed to become a stock figure or mere dramatic device.

OA likes to re-engage performers who have successfully adopted the company’s intense performance style. Thus Kresimir Spicer (who earlier appeared in their Iphigénie en Tauride), Measha Brueggergosman (Idomeneo), Mireille Asselin (Acis and Galatea), Michael Maniaci (L’incoronazione di Poppea, Idomeneo, L’Orfeo of Monteverdi) and Curtis Sullivan (umpteen appearances) are all back. Now they can add Mireille Lebel to their roster. She commands the stage absolutely as the impetuous young man, Annio. She was trained in Toronto and Montreal, and has been singing in Erfurt, Germany. Repatriation, please!

La clemenza di Tito is classified as an opera seria, but Mozart and his librettist, Caterino Mazzolà, made so many changes (advantageous all) to a pre-existing libretto that the end result can be said to transcend the opera seria genre. The original libretto, by the prolific Metastasio, dates from the 1730s and had been set by literally dozens of composers before Mozart. Mazzolà removed some plot threads and consolidated the work into two acts. He mercifully cut 18 arias, adding a few of his own, plus three duets, three trios, two act finales and a choral scene - all the musical devices that knit together Mozart’s operatic masterpieces. This opera doesn’t measure up to his more frequently performed works, but it still contains a great deal of musical and dramatic excitement, as in evidence here.

(It’s amazing that the work didn’t have a North American stage premiere until 1952!)

The most interesting character is Vitellia, daughter of a previous Roman emperor who feels – nay knows – that it is her natural right to marry the new emperor, Tito – or see him dead. Measha Brueggergosman is a force of nature sparking various plots and counter-plots all at once. She gets to wear a voluminous black gown undershot with red, the very image of a pent-up volcano. The unique Michael Maniaci matches her intensity as Sesto, the man she manipulates and is thus torn by conflicting allegiances.

The two Mireilles (Asselin and Lebel) make beautiful music together as Servillia and Annio, the less fraught romantic pair. Kresimir Spicer sometimes sacrifices elegant line to expressiveness, thus pointing out that Tito is not just a one-dimensional goody-goody but a man intensely distressed by the knowledge that is best friend has been plotting his assassination. Curtis Sullivan is terrific as an alert Publio, Commander of the Guards.

The Tafelmusik Orchestra plays at its usual high standard. The newly minted Opera Atelier Chorus (21-strong), is equally adept. No chorus master is listed; the multi-talented David Fallis obviously takes credit here.

Gerard Gauci’s sets add a dramatic note of their own. They aren’t simply historicist (an 18th century view of antiquity), but have a distorted, thrusting quality about them that suite the drama perfectly. He’s done this kind of thing before and is really good at it - and his costumes all work well.

Opera Atelier always has dancers and here they added a joyous element to the processional scenes. Tito’s kingdom is rendered as a place of joy in which the death plot seems even more threatening and incongruous.

OA has managed to arrange tours of some of its productions. It would be a shame if this one weren’t more widely seen. Of course they would have to assemble an equally ideal cast.

Michael Johnson



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