Opera Atelier’s fall show Something Rich and Strange was originally conceived as a show that could be given before a (limited) live audience as well as via web stream. That’s obviously constraining compared to a show that is created without a fourth wall and can include location filming. All the other constraints of these strange times had also to be observed. Despite this there was much to like in a show that presented a number of scenes from the 17th and 18th century repertoire plus a couple of “neo-baroque” pieces composed by Edwin Huizinga.
To some extent social distancing constraints were avoided by using the husband and wife team of Chris Enns and Mireille Asselin. This was fortuitous as much of the best singing of the night came from Mireille. She sounded excellent in Purcell and in Handel whether solo or in duet with fellow soprano Cynthia Smithers. There was also some really stylish singing from tenor Colin Ainsworth featuring both Lully and Handel. It was good also to see Danielle MacMillan again. Here with a very polished aria from Handel’s Alcina.
The dance elements were pretty much what we expect from Opera Atelier with a standout set of performances from Tyler Gledhill, above all in Huizinga’s piece Inception, which is a very interesting work from the point of view of both music and choreography.
The show actually started with another Huizinga piece, The Eye and Eye’s Delight, written specifically for Measha Brueggergosman and filmed here in Black and White. I didn’t like the piece nearly as much as Inception. And try as I might, I can’t bring myself to like Brueggergosman’s singing. I hear muffled tone, excessive vibrato and dodgy diction but I know she has her fans so maybe I’m missing something.
Eleven members of Tafelmusik, with music director Elisa Citterio, provided the accompaniments. I assume there was some sort of social distancing going on here but one couldn’t tell from the film.
Clearly changes were made to the film post production once it was realised that the show wasn’t going out live. It does have a bit of a feel of a “retrofit” to it. Koerner Hall has limited staging capabilities anyway and there seemed to be some quite imaginative attempts to overcome them but they got rather lost in the film editing. It’s tough to know how to handle that situation. No solution is ideal. Technically the stream was pretty decent with only a couple of places where it got a bit choppy.
Something Rich and Strange is an interesting, even bold, attempt to cope with the constantly changing rules about audience attendance. It succeeds a lot of the time but it does suffer in some respects compared to productions that are “made for film”. Whether producing in the hope that there will be a small live audience is worth it at this point is, I think, questionable. Anyway, you can make your own call as the stream is still available at the Royal Conservatory performance site but you’ll need an access code which can be purchased from the RCM box office.