Opera Atelier’s “All Is Love” performs with heart

Opera music
Like a Valentine’s Day for Toronto, Opera Atelier’s “All Is Love” takes the thrilling state of being in love to musical heights. (Photo: Bruce Zinger)

Opera Workshop/all is lovedirected by Marshall Pynkoski, choreographed by Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, under the direction of David Fallis, Koerner Hall, February 19 and 20.

It is a small miracle that I am writing this review.

On the day of the concert, Opera Atelier sent out a notice of the grid debarment Toronto police had put up downtown to keep the Freedom Convoy at bay. No taxis were allowed in the grid with all private vehicles so it was TTC or nothing.

At the theater, I bumped into Opera Atelier’s co-artistic director, Marshall Pynkoski, to whom I yelled, “I had to take the (four-letter word) subway. This show better be good!”, at which point he assured me it would be, and in fact, it was well worth the schlep for OA’s first live performance in two years.

all is love is the type of compilation show that OA does very well. In this case, the theme was music by Baroque composers dealing with various aspects of love, and included the usual suspects – Purcell, Locke, Rameau, Handel, Lully and Charpentier, accompanied, as always, by the revered Tafelmusik under the always sympathetic direction of David Fallis.

OA has perhaps the most sophisticated audience in town, given the old fashioned musical nature of society. Luckily, they didn’t clap after each number, so we had an unimpeded flow of song and dance. It is therefore the type of production that allows you to let yourself be carried away by a musical wave.

Pynkoski and choreographer Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg continue to improve in the sequence of musical numbers. Each new song or dance was somehow linked to the one before and the one after, showing a relationship, a change in mood or an emotional reaction. We also had the dancer Eric César de Mello da Silva, enclosed in large wings representing Cupid, I presume, to orchestrate the movement of the dancers and singers as well.

Moreover, the eight dancers of the corps simply did not inhabit their own stages, they also functioned as a Greek choir in the songs. For example, while mezzo-soprano Danielle MacMillan, in drag, sang Handel’s “Mi lusingha il dolce affetto” Alcine, which questions the veracity of love, three blindfolded dancers performed behind and around her. Perhaps the most amazing link in the program happened after tenor Colin Ainsworth performed Lully’s ‘The More I Observe These Places’ Armida, the so-called song of Renaud’s sleep, where he ends up lying at rest on the stage. After a ballet performed on “L’Enchantement de Renaud” from the same opera, the tenor Rémy Mathieu enters and sings “L’heure exquise”, an art song by Reynaldo Hahn (1892) which becomes a beautiful homoerotic scene between Matthew and Ainsworth. I hear the reader say Reynaldo Hahn?, in a tribute to baroque music? But to know OA is to know that they like to surprise, and this production had two of them. Hahn, apparently, was fascinated by Baroque form and included elements of Baroque structure in his own music. In fact, assistant conductor Christopher Bagan arranged a Hahn song and a Purcell song into a single number which soprano Measha Brueggergosman-Lee performed, switching easily from French to English lyrics. This “mash-up”, to quote the colloquial expression, sounded good that it had been written that way. It was a smart way to start the program. The two Hahn art songs on the program were accompanied by pianist Ben Crutchley who played with great passion.

Bagan was also responsible for the program’s second surprise. Would you believe Debussy’s opening scene Pelléas and Mélisande arranged for 12 players of early music Tafelmusik? It was just fabulous. I heard Debussy’s Impressionist score as I had never heard it before. It was absolutely cinematic, conveying the mood and commentary and emotional subtext and mystery.

Conductor Fallis found all the passion and nuance the music presents, while soprano Meghan Lindsay as Mélisande and bass-baritone Douglas Williams as Prince Golaud gave delightful performances. How an early music group found the heart of Debussy’s 1902 opera was a wonderful treat and the highlight of the evening.

OA always attracts able-bodied singers, so every number was performed from the heart. Sopranos Mireille Asselin and Cynthia Smithers also contributed to this enjoyable program.

It wouldn’t be an OA performance without the contribution of set designer Gerard Gauci. For this production, it was a series of beautiful symbolist paintings on a suspended screen to give brilliance to song and dance. Kim Purtell’s lighting, which skillfully played with color and shadow, was lovely.

Michael Legouffe’s suits were retreads, but nicely. Dancers and singers wore basic white, over which could be added colorful overskirts and jackets and decorative details. Some main cast members wore specific outfits stolen from other productions, but they fit in all the same.

There was an unfortunate miscalculation. When dancer/choreographer Tyler Gledhill performed his emotional dance Creation, to experience the playing of violinist/composer Edwin Huizinga on stage, every friction, slip or turn of the foot was heard in the live acoustics of Koerner Hall. It was an accompaniment that spoiled the dance. The noise made by Gledhill’s feet was explosive.

And another small cavil. The voices of Brueggergosman-Lee and Meghan Lindsay soared in the Hahn and Debussy, making you realize how confining and controlling (and yet beautiful) Baroque music is to their fachs.

As a last comment, OA needs to do something with Pelleas and Mellisande. It was just too wonderful to pass up.

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Paula Lemon
Latest posts by Paula Citron (see everything)
Paula Lemon
Latest posts by Paula Citron (see everything)