The Angel Speaks got its North American premiere last night at the Royal Ontario Museum. It’s a new piece born out of Opera Atelier’s collaboration with the Chapel Royal at Versailles and represents something of a new direction for the company. Structurally I suppose one could describe it as a cantata with dance for baroque instruments. It combines works by Purcell (and a little William Boyce) with two new works by Edwin Huizinga to create a loose plot line around the Archangel Gabriel and the Annunciation of the Virgin. It incorporates Huizinga’s Inception, first seen in Toronto as a sort of entr’acte to OA’s Pygmalion show last October. But at the core of the piece is a new Huizinga composition; Annunciation, for baritone, soprano and small ensemble, setting text by Rilke.
There’s dance, of course, too. The Huizinga pieces get contemporary dance accompaniment choreographed and danced by Tyler Gledhill. Several of the Purcell pieces get more typical OA choreography for a quartet of baroque costumed dancers. The singers; baritone Jesse Blumberg and soprano Mireille Asselin, plus Huizinga, playing violin, interact with the dancers in various ways.
Musically the mix of Purcell and Huizinga blends very well and it all got performed extremely well by the “on stage”(*) players as well as the small band drawn from Tafelmusik. I really like Gledhill’s choreography which injected a welcome dynamism and his performance was strikingly sinuous and kinetic. I’m really not sure the quartet of baroque dancers added much. Perhaps it’s a case of that evolutionary remnant that no-one can remember what it’s for, like one’s appendix.
I gathered from Marshall Pynkoski’s introductory remarks that this is still something of a work-in-progress. It’s a very good start and an interesting and welcome innovation. I look forward to seeing how it develops.
(*)The performance space wasn’t a stage but rather a long, narrow rectangle of floor with the band at the “head” and seating for the audience around the other three sides. Which is, I guess, pretty much like a chapel.
Photo credits: Bruce Zinger.