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A rivetting production

The Elgin Theatre
04/26/2008 -  and 27, 29* April, 1, 2, 3 May
W.A. Mozart: Idomeneo, Re di Creta
Kresimir Spicer (Idomeneo), Michael Maniaci (Idamante), Peggy Kriha Dye (Ilia), Measha Brueggergosman (Elettra), Olivier Laquerre (Arbace), Curtis Sullivan (Neptune), Vasil Garvanliev (High Priest)
Chorus, Artists of the Atelier Ballet, Tafelmusik Orchestra, Opera Atelier, Andrew Parrot (Conductor), David Fallis (Resident Music Director)
Marshall Pynkoski (Director), Jeannette Zingg (Choreographer), Gerard Gauci (Set Designer), Margaret Lamb (Costume Designer), Bonnie Beecher (Lighting Designer)

Opera Atelier has achieved a new production of Idomeneo that is absolutely startling in its musical and dramatic urgency. Their signature style of stage movement - a kind of retro ultra-theatricality hearkening back to the 18th century - has been worked up to a consistent high-tension that works perfectly with Andrew Parrot’s energetic conducting of the superb Tafelmusik Orchestra (in its augmented 39-member form).

Gerard Gauci’s attractive (as ever) designs gives us a false perspective of not only stage depth but stage height. Overall there is a effect of upward thrust which, combined with animated staging, makes us feel as if the piece is about to burst right off the stage. Any notion one might have of restrained or polite conventions in opera seria can be banished.

Playing up the influence of French tragédie lyrique there is a good bit of dancing in the production, including a celebratory final ballet sequence. The movements of the 16-member troupe are integrated well with the vocal action. The 24-member chorus spends much of its time in the stage boxes, leaving the stage itself to the dancers. The only weak moments occur when a partial chorus sings off-stage and they can hardly be heard.

Performing the title role is Croation tenor Kresimir Spicer (pronounced spitser) whose warm plangent voice makes every syllable compelling. His coloratura in Fuor del mar might not be the most detailed, but he rightly receives an ovation at its conclusion. His heart-felt delivery of recitatives is a model of how it should be done, and the same can be said for the Ilia, Peggy Kriha Dye. The turning point of the plot occurs when she comes forward to sacrifice herself to Neptune, and her handling of the scene is one of the evening’s highlights. She performed a very nice Pamina here last season, but her Ilia has moved well away from the “ina” role model toward something more like Norma.

By far the most publicized cast member has been Measha Brueggergosman and I am happy to report that this is one case where reality matches the hype. This is her local debut in professionally staged opera and will only add to the reputation she has gained in recital and concert. She encompasses all the various moods of Elettra’s scenes, and powers her way thrillingly through the demanding downward runs in D’Oreste, d’Aiace. Michael Maniaci is the male soprano sui generis - who else would one want for the role of Idamante?

Olivier Laquerre is a case of luxury casting in the aria-less role of Arbace. (Mozart composed two arias for him - but are they ever done on stage?) He would no doubt have sung them with his usual panache. Vasil Garvanliev, a young baritone in his final year at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory, makes a terrific impression in the brief role as Neptune’s High Priest.

One would expect the company’s stylized gesture and movement would move the piece toward Dr. Johnson’s definition of opera, “an exotic and irrational entertainment”. Instead, quite the opposite happens, namely a heightened awareness of every character’s predicament.

This ambitious company will be producing Die Entführung aus dem Serail next season, a very different type of opera (namely, a singspiel as opposed to an opera seria/tragédie lyrique). Something to look forward to indeed.

Michael Johnson



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