Opera Atelier’s upcoming production of Handel’s The Resurrection

Ahead of Opera Atelier’s upcoming production of Handel’s The Resurrection (La resurrezione) at Koerner Hall next week (6th to 9th April) there was a lunchtime preview in the RBA on Tuesday.  Later that day I sat down with director Marshall Pynkoski to find out more about the work, OA’s relationship to it and its rather tortuous journey to the Koerner Hall stage.


The work itself has an interesting history.  It was written by the 22 year old Händel (as he then most certainly was) in Rome during Lent in 1708 and performed in rather sumptuous style at the Ruspoli palazzo on Easter Sunday.  It used a large orchestra for the time and the soprano role of Mary Magdalen was sung by a woman to the considerable annoyance of the pope who insisted that future performances replace her with a castrato.  Contemporary sources suggest that first performance was “semi-staged” and it’s generally classified as an oratorio though it’s dramatic potential is obvious.  A claim I would make for all Handel’s oratorios, with the possible exception of Messiah.


The story line concerns the events from the Crucifixion to the Resurrection with a large supernatural element involving a “power struggle” between Lucifer and an angel.  Much of the narrative concerns the grief and mourning of the female disciples Mary Magdalen and Mary Cleophas with the Evangelist John thrown in for good measure.


Opera Atelier’s engagement with the piece goes back to a collaboration with Marc Minkowski in the late 1990s which led to a staged performance in Toronto in 1999.  A new staging was to have been part of OA’s 2020 season but the COVID lockdown did for that.  The idea was revived as a film, shot at the St. Lawrence Hall and released in May 2021.  As I learned last night there were severe constraints on the whole process with “COVID monitors” policing every move so much of the blocking and the choreography had to be modified to provide adequate distancing.  Interestingly some of this will be retained in the staged version.  For instance, the idea that an angel might exert power at a distance in her confrontation with Lucifer is actually a rather good one!


The singing cast for the upcoming production is the same as the film; Douglas Williams as Lucifer, Carla Huhtanen as the angel, Meghan Lindsey as Mary Magdalen, Allyson McHardy as Mary Cleophas and Colin Ainsworth as the Evangelist (no castrati!).  of course there’s also a major role for the Opera Atelier Ballet as Carla’s army of angels.  In the RBA preview we got to see demonstrations of some of the choreography plus a few scenes featuring Meghan, Alysson and Colin with Christopher Bagan at the piano.  There’s some really lovely music and it was beautifully sung.  We also got some useful insight into the orchestration and the unusual nature of some of the continuo writing from Christopher.  Summarizing very briefly, Handel uses the full palette at his disposal with a, for the time, large orchestra while also requiring virtuoso playing from the viola da gamba in the continuo.


Later on, in the rehearsal space, I got some insight into the staging.  In writing the piece Handel was immersed for the first time in his life in full blown 18th century Catholic iconography and ritual It’s something that clearly fascinates Marshall and it inspires much of Gerard Gauci’s designs for the upcoming show.  There’s a lily filled sepulchre, a skull and large golden eagles.  There’s lots of gold!  The whole thing feels opulent and that will be enhanced by a complex staircase arrangement which will bring both over stage galleries into play at Koerner, allowing for natural and supernatural environments.  Everything bar incense basically.


In some other respects it’s a typical Opera Atelier show.  Choreography is by Jeannette Lajeunesse-Zingg, Tafelmusik is in the pit and David Fallis conducts.  There’s no chorus as such this time.  The final “choral” number is sung by the ensemble as it would have been in Handel’s day.

Tickets are available at operaatelier.com/tickets or the RCM box office.  They were handing out a promo code in the RBA so I think I’m OK sharing it with you.  PROMO10 will you get you 10% off the regular price.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s