Actéon et Pygmalion

Opera Atelier’s french double header opened last night at the Elgin Theatre.  It was, bar the occasional twist, classic Opera Atelier.  They presented two French baroque operas in their distinctive style with a little humour and none of the excesses that have sometimes crept in.

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Charpentier’s Actéon came first.  It’s a classic retelling of the Ovid story with the gory details narrated rather than acted.  It intersperses sung scenes with danced scenes and both were presented in “Atelier baroque” style.  The acting was as at least as stylized as in any recent OA production and the choreography broke no new bounds but it was efficient, apt and pleasing to look at.  The only touch of humour was that Diana and her nymphs concession to undressing to bathe was to take off their gloves!  Colin Ainsworth, in the haute-contre title role, sang stylishly.  He really is a master of this music.  Mireille Asselin, as Diana, sang sweetly and looked great.  Allyson McHardy gave a lovely, stately mezzo cameo as Juno.  The supporting cast of Meghan Lindsay, Jesse Blumberg, Chris Enns, Anna Sharpe and Cynthia Smithers were energetic and integrated well with dancers.  Tafelmusik and David Fallis were in the pit as usual.  The chorus, now Uot’s Schola Cantorum, sang from the boxes stage left.  There were some balance issues but that’s the Elgin for you and I was sitting almost directly opposite them so no wonder they tended to drown the stage sound.

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The second half was prefaced by a new dance piece commissioned by Opera Atelier.  Inception was choreographed and danced by Tyler Gledhill to music by Edward Huizinga who accompanied as on stage violinist.  It’s an interesting innovation and the piece didn’t seem out of place.  The music is tonal and elegiac.  The dance, performed in a body stocking and wings, more angular and less fluid, with more extreme body movement, than is typical in OA choreography.

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Then it was straight into Rameau’s Pygmalion.  It’s less polite than the Charpentier though less rambunctious than many other Rameau works.    Once again, sung scenes were interspersed with dance including a commedia interlude featuring a monkey, a mallet, a slapstick and more.  Hard to imagine that in Charpentier or Lully!  There were some notable touches.  The set was a rather spectacular example of a trompe l’oeil arcade.  Meghan Lindsay managed to remain remarkably still for a very long time before being “animated”.  There was a rather splendid hissy fit from Allyson McHardy as Céphise.  There was also more stylish haute-contre work from Colin Ainsworth in the title role and some pretty singing from Mireille Asselin as Amour.

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So there you have it.  Something of a return to roots for Opera Atelier, very nicely executed.  The show runs at the Elgin Theatre until November 3rd.

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Photo credits: Bruce Zinger

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