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.
Katherina Thoma not unreasonably chooses to set her 2013 Glyndebourne production of Ariadne auf Naxos in a country house in the south of England (though I suppose equating the Christies with a rather boorish Viennese bourgeois might be thought a touch unkind). She also chooses to set it in 1940 which sets us up for an almost Marxian dialectic not just between high art and low art but between art and life; especially where life and death are concerned.
Opera Atelier’s spring production; Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydyce, opened last night under most unspringlike conditions. Much had been made in the run up to the opening of the use of Berlioz’ 1859 performing edition, representing Tafelmusik’s deepest push into the 19th century and I think many of us were wondering how far this somewhat different sensibility would be reflected in the staging. In the event it was a non event. Connoisseurs of 19th century brass instruments might just have been able to hear a difference between the cornets à piston used in place of the natural instruments but nobody I talked to could. The staging too was a remount of a previous production in classic Opera Atelier style though some of the dance numbers did feature point shoes and a more athletic style; notably the pas de deux in the closing ballet which was surely the terpsichorial highlight of the evening.
Mireille Lebel (Orpheus), Peggy Kriha Dye (Eurydice) and Meghan Lindsay (Amour). Photo by Bruce Zinger.
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 Pynkowski’s version. In fact there’s probably close to an hour in total cut from Handel’s score.