Toronto’s “period” opera company is closely associated with baroque repertoire. But before the curtain rose on Tuesday night at the Elgin Theatre, artistic co-director Marshall Pynkoski stepped forward to point out that the company has been moving forward (chronologically speaking), and already has several Mozart operas in its repertoire.
Thankfully, the baroque gestures and artifices that are a trademark of OA productions were replaced with a more “natural” style of acting – although Pynkoski’s penchant for constructing neatly balanced visual tableaux was still very much in evidence.
Musically, the production looks backwards at Don Giovanni, not forwards toward the Ring cycle – thanks largely to Tafelmusik Orchestra’s fine work in the pit, under the baton of David Fallis. But this only served to position this Freischütz as the culmination of one artistic tradition rather than the beginning of another. The audience is reminded that Weber knew Mozart, but he didn’t know Wagner.
For the title role, tenor Kresimir Spicer was a fine choice. He used his lyrical and rather dark (for a tenor) voice as a key to unlock the complexities of Max – a young man of good heart who is led dangerously astray. Similarly, soprano Meghan Lindsay’s charming and sometimes fragile vocal presentation aptly mirrored the anxious and hypersensitive character of Agathe.
Soprano Carla Huhtanen gave an absolutely splendid performance as Agathe’s down-to-earth friend, Äanchen. However, I was less taken with Vasil Garvanliev, whose strangely veiled baritone voice (especially in its lower range) made Kaspar seem weak and flimsy rather than malevolent and daring. Much stronger and more convincing were three other low voices on stage: Curtis Sullivan as Samiel, Gustav Andreassen as the Hermit and Michael Nyby as Killian/the Prince.
The sets by designer Gerard Gauci were inspired by artist Caspar David Friedrich’s ruined monastery paintings – an obvious but entirely appropriate choice. And if the spooky, period-inspired projections in the Wolf’s Glen scene didn’t quite send the audience screaming into the street in terror (as might have happened back in 1821), the images were dramatically and visually effective, nonetheless.
Rumour around town has it that Pynkoski hopes to stage Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande in a future season (although it’s hard to imagine how Tafelmusik would cope with such a piece). Be this as it may, I’d like to take this occasion to raise the bar a notch higher: I challenge Opera Atelier to present Berg’s Wozzeck.
© Colin Eatock 2012