Forge a magic bullet and your lifestyle will improve

There’s a lot to like in Opera Atelier’s current production of Weber’s Der Freischütz but also some things that are just plain puzzling.  I enjoyed it but certain aesthetic choices made no sense at all to me.

Let’s start with the good stuff.  The OA template was relaxed quite a bit, particularly in the dance department.  Allowing the women to dance in point shoes allowed for a degree of choreographic flexibility that was most welcome to me.  This, from a dance point of view, was the best OA production I have seen.  The singing, though stylistically inconsistent, was also uniformly excellent.  Meghan Lindsay’s Agathe was superb.  She had much the most dramatic voice on display and, to me, was the truest to the real sensibility of the piece.  Carla Huhtanen, as Aanchen, was also excellent though in such a different way that wondered whether they were in the same production.  Solid singing from the men too especially Krešimir Špicer as Max who was very stylish, if not especially heroic.  The design and lighting elements were also not too constrained by baroque considerations and worked pretty well.

Meghan Lindsay and Krešimir Špicer in Opera Atelier’s production of Der Freischütz (Bruce Zinger photo).

So what wasn’t so good?  Mostly that the production didn’t seem to be able to make it’s mind up about what it was.  I think one can take this piece at face value as a rather sentimental piece of German Gothic Romanticism.  In that case one needs to take it’s conventional piety and it’s “horrid” supernatural elements seriously.  Alternatively one could satirize it as Jane Austen did in Northanger Abbey.  Unfortunately this production tended to fall between the two and in many ways was more like Roger Corman’s Burial of the Rats and , like that flick, got laughs in all the wrong places.  I’m no fan of the 19th century generally but, oddly, in this production I thought that the bits that worked best were the bits that took the work on its own terms, especially the last scene.  It’s schmaltzy as all heck but it’s honest and affecting.

The other element that really bugged me was the decision to speak the dialogue in English (mostly) but sing the sung bits in German.  In fact it wasn’t quite consistent and some of the dialogue in the Wolf’s Glen scene was in German.  Go figure!  This might have worked if the delivery of the dialogue had been consistent with the style of the production but it wasn’t.  While an early 19th century gestural style and body language was retained, in typical OA style, the English dialogue was tossed off as if it were a Canadian TV sitcom.  The jarring jarred.  There’s also a lot of not quite gay semi nude dancing and fabric waving that again is eerily reminiscent of Corman’s Burial of the Rats.

I wasn’t entirely convinced by the conducting and orchestral playing either.  David Fallis and Tafelmusik seemed to lack visceral power.  I think this music needs to shock and it didn’t.  I’m not sure this is entirely due to a small orchestra and period instruments because I’ve heard HIP performances of Beethoven that had real punch.  But this didn’t.

All in all. this was a pretty enjoyable afternoon at the opera but I think it would be stretching it to say that this was really groundbreaking for Opera Atelier.  It was more a question of stretching and not quite getting there.

5 thoughts on “Forge a magic bullet and your lifestyle will improve

  1. Your review raises some interesting questions. I wonder, is it that ” the production didn’t seem to be able to make it’s mind up about what it was” OR “the production challenges us to see the work in a new way”, meaning it doesn’t do what we want it to do. For me, the bilingualism wasn’t problematic, part and parcel of its conflicted attitude to its material. I think your invocation of Austen is a good one by analogy. The Wagnerian alternative (on the other hand), which i believe to be a modern distortion, privileges Samiel & Kaspar as being more powerful than they really are. We may miss the wild ride that doesn’t make us wet our pants. Now of course the Wolf’s Glen scene is more powerful if you turn the volume up to 11 by goosing the size of the orchestra; but (as we must always ask with historically informed performance) is that really Weber?

    • I’m not sure you need to goose the orchestra to make this a wilder ride. As I wrote, I’ve heard Beethoven played with similar forces but considerably more force.
      I was less bothered about the dialogue being in English than the English it was in and the way it was delivered. If you are going to use English in an HIP piece then one of the choices is “what English”? Canadian TV sitcom English is an odd choice. Canadian TV sitcom English in a wide variety of accents including German is just weird. A diction coach would have helped.

  2. I saw the show last night and very much enjoyed the singing, got used to the staging – not typically Opera Atelier apart from the apparently obligatory (have you seen an OA ;production without it at some point?) seemingly naked personages. This was not wildly flattering for Samiel who looked as if he was sporting a large carbuncle in an inappropriate place. The sitcom English was really only between the two cousins – it extended to sitcom facial expressions too. Very 21st century. Ultimately I saw it as a way of illustrating the closeness of the two women. Opera Atelier going their own way, as usual – good for them.

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