Monday, April 28, 2008

Three Utterly Glorious Hours - Idomeneo - Opera Atelier

I am not sure either I or SillyWife had enormous expectations as we went yesterday to watch a Mozart opera unknown to both of us, "Idomeneo", as put on by Opera Atelier. We are determined Opera Atelier fans, though, after several years, simply because they can produce such stunning and unexpected excellence at times.

This production had got a lot of local press, largely because they had engaged Measha Brueggergosman, a fairly famous Canadian soprano, in one of the key roles. In the local press and also in a CBC show I saw the night before we attended, she got to hold forth on her participation, and was utterly charming, disarming, and amusing (observing that she had aspired as a schoolchild to appear in one of their productions so she could get into the costumes and the poster). Did she ever make the poster!!

Some other press was devoted to Michael Maniaci, a male soprano (!) taking on the role of Idamante.

So I went with a bit of skepticism, reflecting that they seemed to have done a lot more promotion than possibly preparation. I am accustomed to going to their productions having seen no hint of them in the local media, and enjoying the shows mightily, so seeing so much media attention I was worried about sell-out!

And so the show starts, and it immediately captivates, opening with Peggy Kriha Dye as Ilia - we are accustomed to seeing her in Opera Atelier productions, and she had a very long opening sequence, and was very compelling. At the end, Maniaci came out and was wonderful. The pace was great. And so it continued. The pace never slowed down before the intermission.

It featured all that Opera Atelier do so stunningly well - costuming, dance, respect for the music, respect for the performers while at the same time occasionally making them geometric objects carefully using gesture to express emotion to compound what is in the singing (this is not meant to dismiss - it is part of the sheer magic they produce).

By the intermission, SillyWife and I were exhausted, having never felt a moment of boredom in the proceedings, and having been exposed to the superb tenor (I assumed up till the intermission that he was a baritone - OK my pitch is not perfect) Kresimir Spicer, who was stunning as Idomeneo (too young for the role but then I have seen Albert Schultz play Hamlet).

In the intermission SillyWife went off and reported on a discussion with an acquaintance she had seen in the audience - she returned with the comment that "You keep thinking they cannot ever top the last show and then they just do". And much as I loved The Magic Flute I regarded up until now as their most stunning, succeeding a previous Marriage of Figaro from them, this was certainly taking over as the leader.

There were wonderful surprises. Particularly, Curtis Sullivan (a great regular in this company) did not get to open his mouth as Neptune until late in the show - but he did, and not before displaying some pretty convincing physicality as a sea-god. Olivier Laquerre had an essentially non-singing, and mostly non-acting role - he was SO great in their The Magic Flute. And effective here in the more modest role as Arbace.

The third act, post-intermission, felt a little hurried, and a little less dramatic, more likely the fault of Mozart, his librettist, and whoever they were both aping at the time. It was a little over-full of anthems (though there were a few before intermission), and the dancing seemed to be just filling time, but I half suspect this was part of genuinely reproducing the spirit of the show.

So one big point. By the end I had decided to stand for part of the ovation. My faithful readers know this does not happen much.

I had feared that a home-town crowd would go crazy for Brueggergosman, who was pretty good, and I must say extremely great-looking as costumed and made-up - and her singing was pretty good - a tad feeble in her opening aria, but more confident and audible after that one. I give her a ton of credit for slimming down to being so spectacular now. She could not have played this role with this company as she was a few years ago. Go check the poster linked to above.

I underestimated the audience I was in - it was after all a matinee audience, and that tends to fill with the older experienced folk who are not confident they can start a 3-hour show at 8 pm. But they have seen a lot.

So when the curtain calls came, Bruegergosman got about a quarter of the audience I could see up on their feet, and she was good, though I remained seated. When Maciani and Dye came forward, more people stood, including us, (rightly in my view - they were a level above), and then, to my great delight, when Spicer came forward, there was not only more standing but a great call out of the audience. This satisfied me that this audience were no fools.

Maybe the secret is just doing two shows a year. Whatever Opera Atelier are doing, they continue to amaze me. With an artform, baroque opera, you could not have convinced me ten years ago I would now make my main theatrical commitment from year to year.

Thank you Marshall Pynkoski and Jeanette Zingg (and all the others). What we get is major consumer surplus.



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