I just got my hands on the La Scala recording of Mozart’s Lucio Silla. It’s the Marshall Pynkoski production that was done at Salzburg, then La Scala, then in somewhat modified form at Opera Atelier in Toronto, which I saw. It has provoked lots of thoughts about the work itself, how well the OA aesthetic transfers to another house and how seeing a production on video differs from seeing it live.
There are umpteen operas based more or less closely on the legends surrounding Medea, Jason, the Golden Fleece and the events afterwards in Corinth. Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s 1693 version to a libretto by Corneille deals with the events in Corinth subsequent to Jason and Medea’s return with the fleece. The plot, in essentials, is simplicity itself. Jason is scheming to secure his future, and that of his children, by ditching Médée and marrying the king’s daughter Créuse. Médée is not having this and wreaks revenge on just about everybody else in the piece. Somehow Charpentier and Corneille string this out over five acts and the obligatory prologue glorifying Louis XIV, wisely omitted by director Marshall Pynkoski.
Opera Atelier’s production of (mostly) Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas opened last night at the Elgin. I say “(mostly) Purcell” because director Marshall Pynkoski had decided to add a Prologue. As he explained in his introductory remarks nobody reads Virgil’s Aeneid anymore so it was necessary to play out the back story in a prologue. I find this pretty patronising. It’s not a particularly convoluted story and I would have thought that the gist of the story is well enough known to most opera goers and, you know, some of us have read the Aeneid. Besides, even without detailed knowledge of the back story there’s nothing remotely hard to understand. FWIW the dumbing down carried over into the surtitles with, for example, “Anchises” rendered as “his father”. Anyway we got a prologue spoken by Irene Poole while the orchestra played other Purcell airs followed by a bit of extraneous ballet and poor Chris Enns (Aeneas) and Wallis Giunta (Dido) running around making the stock baroque “woe is me” gesture. I guess it made the piece (plus Marshall’s speech) long enough to justify an intermission, which was taken after what is usually Act 2 Scene 1, but the prologue was neither necessary nor welcome and I think the ensuing intermission was an unnecessary break in the flow of the action.
Opera Atelier’s production of Mozart’s Lucio Silla opened last night at the Elgin. This is, more or less, the production that played at the Salzburg Festival and, later, at La Scala to considerable critical acclaim. It’s not hard to see why. It’s much the best thing Opera Atelier has done in a while. It’s more restrained than recent shows and trimmed of excess the familiar approach looks quite fresh again.
Artists of Atelier Ballet with image of Meghan Lindsay as Alcina. Photo by Bruce Zinger.
Opera Atelier’s first real venture into Handel is accompanied by some significant shifts in aesthetic coupled with some slightly puzzling throwbacks. The work chosen is Alcina. It’s not Handel’s best known (or, indeed, best) but it’s a perfectly serviceable example of Handel’s Italian works for the London stage. The plot, ultimately from Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, concerns the sorceress Alcina who has an illusory kingdom made up of the souls of men she has ensnared. Her most recent conquest is the knight Ruggiero. His betrother, Bradamante, disguised as her brother, Ricciardo, shows up with Ruggiero’s former tutor, Melisso. Melisso has a ring which shows things as they are, shorn of illusion. Eventually they use this to return Ruggiero to his duty and Alcina’s kingdom goes up in smoke. Along the way there’s also a sub-plot involving Alcina’s sister, Morgana, who falls in love with Ricciardo to the dismay of her lover Oronte. In the original there’s also a boy looking for his father and a lion but they got cut in Marshalll Pynkoski’s version. In fact there’s probably close to an hour in total cut from Handel’s score.
I’ve been attending performances of Opera Atelier for over twenty years off and on but until viewing this recording of Lully’s Persée I’d never seen them on DVD. I was curious to see how the unique Opera Atelier style would come over on DVD and to what extent watching a recording, which I could compare fairly with other DVD performances, would affect my views of Opera Atelier’s strengths and weaknesses.