The Toronto Consort has recently announced leadership changes concomitant on David Fallis stepping back his involvement as Artistic Director. I have to admit that although I’ve attended and enjoyed Toronto Consort shows from time to time I’ve been a bit hazy about what they were about so it seemed like a good time to put that right. Yesterday I set down with David Fallis and Laura Pudwell to talk about the Toronto Consort; past, present and, especially, future.
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 Pynkowski.
Opera Atelier’s production of (mostly) Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas opened last night at the Elgin. I say “(mostly) Purcell” because director Marshall Pynkowski 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.
Opera Atelier has announced its 2016/17 season. The fall production will be Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. It isn’t clear whether this is a new production or a revival. The company has done the piece before; at the MacMillan Theatre in 1989 and 1994, in 2005 at the Elgin and in sundry tour venues. It’s not paired with anything so it’s either a very short show or there is a lot of interpolated dance. Wallis Giunta and Chris Enns play the lovers with a supporting cast that includes Meghan Lindsay, Laura Pudwell, Ellen McAteer, Karine White and Cory Knight. Nice to see Karine getting a chance on a professional stage. There are six shows at the Elgin between October 20 and 29, 2016.
Opera Atelier opened their 30th season last night with Lully’s Armide. It’s hard to think of a work that better encapsulates what Opera Atelier is and has always aspired to be. It’s French, it’s 17th century and it’s heavily dependent on ballet, and ballet of an aesthetic that pretty much defines Opera Atelier. The whole Opera Atelier aesthetic package is there in spades. Bare chested male dancers in tights that leave little to the imagination, heaving bosoms, ladies twirling prettily in full skirts, castanets and finger cymbals, chorus singing off stage, camp “baroque” acting, tight buttocked homoeroticism, singers cast as much for eye candy value as vocals, a tendency to play for laughs,Tafelmusik. To be fair, there were a few innovations. I think I heard a more “realistic” vocal style. The singers were prepared to make ugly sounds when the emotional context demanded it, rather than an endless flow of prettiness. The homoeroticism got a BDSM twist in Act 3. Still, this was very much “by the book” Opera Atelier and if that’s your bag you’ll love it.
The Fatal Gaze is, in a way, a follow up to last year’s UoT Opera show Last Days in that it consists of a staged performance of pieces of vocal music to a theme. This time the theme is the dangers of seeing or being seen and there’s quite a lot to unpack. The music all lies on an arc from Monteverdi to Gluck and the stories are all taken from classical mythology or thee Bible with some commentary from more modern figures.