Opera Atelier’s french double header opened last night at the Elgin Theatre. It was, bar the occasional twist, classic Opera Atelier. They presented two French baroque operas in their distinctive style with a little humour and none of the excesses that have sometimes crept in.
Opera Atelier have announced their 2018/19 season. As usual, there are two shows. In the Fall there is a double bill of Charpentier’s Actéonpaired with Rameau’s Pygmalion (Oct. 25 – Nov. 3, 2018). Colin Ainsworth, who has also been named as OA’s first “artist in residence”, features in both title roles with Mireille Asselin as Diana and Amour and Allyson McHardy as Juno and Céphise. The supporting cast includes Jesse Blumberg, Christopher Enns, Meghan Lindsay, Cynthia Smithers and Anna Sharpe. Pygmalion will be prefaced by Opera Atelier’s first Canadian commission for solo baroque violin and contemporary dancing, entitled Inception. It will be performed by composer/violinist Edwin Huizinga and choreographer/Artist of Atelier Ballet, Tyler Gledhill. Following its Toronto dates, the show will tour to the Royal Opera House in Versailles.
I’m not really sure that it’s a good idea to take Rameau too seriously, especially a work like Les Indes galantes but that’s what Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui does in his production for the 2016 Münchner Opernfestspiel. As written, the piece has five separate parts; an allegorical prelude and four scènes, each telling a love story in an “exotic” setting; Turkey, Peru, Persia, among les sauvages of North America. It’s a spectacle but it uses the exotic settings to poke fun at certain aspects of Western culture in Rameau’s usual irreverent way. There’s no linking narrative and the characters in each scène (the goddesses Amour and Bellona aside) only appear once.
There’s a pretty good “making of” extra with the 2013 Glyndebourne recording of Rameau’s rarely performed Hippolyte et Aricie. In it, director Jonathan Kent argues that there are essentially two ways of dealing with the French baroque; elegance or “throwing the kitchen sink at it”. To this one might add a weird pastiche of bare chests, stylized gesture and high camp but that’s another story. My best experiences with Rameau have definitely been of the kitchen sink variety. I’m thinking of productions like José Montalvo’s Les Paladins. Kent is a bit more restrained but still pretty inventive which I think is necessary as Hippolyte et Aricie is rather episodic and fragmented and could use some livening up.
While the rest of Toronto was preparing for that odd ornithological event the Superb Owl, or possibly attending the opening of the COC’s Un ballo in maschera, I went to see a semi-staged version of Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie at Voicebox: Opera in Concert. Perhaps surprisingly it was very well attended with a particularly strong showing from the bloggerati. You will have to wait for the next Opera Canada to read my review but Leslie Barcza’s may be found here.
On February 2nd Voicebox: Opera in Concert will be performing Rameau’s rarely performed Hippolyte et Aricie at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. The cast will be led by mezzo Alyson McHardy as Phèdre with tenor Colin Ainsworth as Hippolyte, soprano Meredith Hall as Aricie and veteran bass Alain Coulombe as Thesée. Accompaniment will be by the Aradia Ensemble conducted by Kevin Mallon. Tickets are available from www.stlc.com
It seems like some of the most interesting repertoire choices this year are being presented in concert rather than fully staged. At least this one has more than piano accompaniment.
Announcements for the upcoming season in Toronto are starting to come in. Voicebox: Opera in Concert have announced a thee show season at the St. Lawrence Centre for the arts. The season opens on Sunday, November 24, 2013 at 2:30 PM with Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana. This isn’t a work one gets to see very often so even a piano accompanied concert version is very welcome. Musical Director and Pianist will be Peter Tiefenbach. Soprano Betty Waynne Allison will sing Elizabeth I with tenor Adam Luther as Essex. The cast also includes Jennifer Sullivan, Jesse Clark and Mark Petracchi.
I confess to having mixed, nay conflicted, feelings about the 2003 Palais Garnier recording of Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes. On the one hand there is some really good music, idiomatically played and sung by musicians utterly at home in this repertoire, there’s some brilliant dance; both the choreography and the execution, and there is spectacle on a grand scale. On the other hand there’s a nagging sense of cultural appropriation and, perhaps worse, a feeling that the whole thing may just be a giant piss take. Actually in some ways it’s all of the above and if one can get into the spirit of the thing it sort of works.
Rameau’s Castor et Pollux is a tragédie lyrique in five acts. It’s a mythology based libretto which, ultimately, celebrates the fraternal love of the twins who rise to immortality while rather callously discarding the female human love interest. Pierre Audi’s 2008 production for De Nederlandse Opera nods both to the baroque and to the mythological by staging the work in a rather abstract Sci-Fi sort of way but with moving sets and Fx that suggest, rather than reproduce, the stagecraft of the baroque.
Rameau’s Plateé is a comedy in three acts with the obligatory allegorical prologue and lots of ballets. It tells the story of the bizarrely ugly water nymph Plateé. In an attempt to calm down Juno who, as usual, is angry at Jupiter’s infidelities, Mercury and the satyr Citheron arrange for Jupiter to pretend to fall in love with and marry Plateé. Juno arrives during the wedding in a fury but when she sees Plateé she realises the joke and is reconciled with Jupiter. Plateé returns, distraught, to her swamp. It’s all really rather cruel but does have a few good jokes.. and lots of ballets.