I don’t know why it took Opera Atelier so long, as Handel is a pretty obvious choice for an opera company specializing in baroque and classical “period” stagings. Did OA hesitate because of the notoriously complex plots in Handel’s operas? (This one is no exception: it’s about an escape from the magical realm of a sorceress, and it’s liberally embellished with love-triangles and other sub-plots.)
But I do know that it was well worth the wait – because Alcina could well be the best thing Opera Atelier has ever done.
And that’s high praise. Over the years, the company has maintained impressive standards. Consistently, OA’s productions are visually sumptuous, musically vibrant, theatrically engaging – and populated with fine singers, well suited to the stylistic demands of pre-Romantic opera. This Alcina was all of these things, while stretching Opera Atelier’s stylistic boundaries in new and exciting directions.
The cast was made up of OA veterans – all so vocally talented that it’s hard to know where to begin singing their praises. With the strong, edgy performance of soprano Meghan Lindsay as the sorceress Alcina? Or with the warm, burnished voice of mezzo Allyson McHardy as Ruggiero? Or the delicate, agile soprano of Mireille Asselin as Morgana – or the fluid lyricism of soprano Wallis Giunta as Bradamante? And let’s not forget the men, in supporting roles: the clear-voiced tenor of Krešimir Špicer as Oronte, and the richly dark bass-baritone of Olivier LaQuerre as Melisso.
In his stage direction, Pynkoski deployed his singers like cogs in a Swiss watch. Whether delivering recitatives with naturalistic ease or navigating roulade-laden arias that never seem to end, this cast must – and does – work together to create a tight, seamless sense of ensemble. And conductor David Fallis pushed the bar higher, leading the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra (OA’s pit band) in a deft and dynamic reading of Handel’s score of 1735.
Visually, the production is astonishing. Gerard Gaucci’s trompe l’oeil sets were enhanced with sophisticated projections by Bill Shirinian – moving skies, flowing waterfalls, and a surreal climax when the trapped souls of Alcina’s victims are released and fly up to Heaven. (This moment alone is worth the price of admission.)
Also “pushing the envelope” is the choreography of OA co-artistic director Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg. While still rooted in the Baroque, touches of Isadora Duncan and even Martha Graham were cleverly woven into her work.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Alcina turns out to be the most memorable opera production in Toronto in the 2014-15 season. More Handel, please!
© Colin Eatock 2014