The Angel Speaks

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(*)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.

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