Opera Atelier: Alcina October - November 2014
An Impassioned Realization Of Sublime Beauty
Sunday October 26, 2014
by Brian Hay
When the lovely passages of the Overture's 'Musette' rose ethereally over the stage their fluid lyricism seemed to carry to the dancers into an astonishingly beautiful sequence choreographed by Jeanette Lajeunesse Zing. With Gerard Gauci's deliciously surrealistic sets moving gracefully into view and Bonnie Beecher's lighting playing over the languid motion of the dancers the wonderfully restrained reading given by Conductor David Fallis and the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra crafted a mirage that formed the world of Alcina. It was a triumph of choreography, design and musicianship creating a moment of sublime enchantment that set the tone for the production.
Soprano Mireille Asselin immersed herself in the role of 'Morgana' as completely if it had been written specifically for her. Her tapestry of vocal shadings combined with effortless seeming agility made her portrayal of the captivating vixen intoxicating. The gestures of physical lust she applied had the exaggeration needed to make men wary and her facial expressions conveyed enough unabashed lecherousness to send most dirty old men back packing for refresher courses on how to leer properly. Mezzo-soprano Wallis Guinta countered with ingeniously nuanced singing that clarified the appalled nature of 'Bradamante's' affirmations and underscored them with expressions of "delight" that would be expected from someone who found a lab specimen in their breakfast. Her portrayal of one who couldn't keep her identity contained long enough to make her disguise convincing for even a few seconds created an outrageous foil for Asselin's lustiness. Bass-baritone displayed astonishing comic timing by appearing to be thrown around effortlessly by Mireille Asselin. Their considerable size difference reinforced the scenario as he virtually flew off her movements.
Tenor Krešimir Špicer graced the part of 'Oronte' with the array of vocal colours, pathos and indelible humour invariably associated with his appearances. His frustration with Asselin's 'Morgana' (who would have been enough of a challenge to drive a Saint to drink) provided several comic moments while his same longing for her created the pathos needed to establish the character's depth. Mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy created a magnificently conflicted 'Ruggiero'. Her lust for 'Alcina' combined with disbelief of 'Bradamante's' presence made her rage against a perceived rival as terrifying as her swooning at the feet of the sorceress was comic. Beautifully shaped phrasing and the burnished richness of her tone realized the staggering beauty of the music Handel wrote for the part fully. Soprano Meghan Lindsay's portrayal of the title role had the richness needed to elevate the figure of 'Alcina' to the status given to the most tragic characters in the operatic repertoire. The power in her range quickly established the near omnipotent strength of the woman but with the colouring employed for 'Ah! mio cor!' began revealing the all too human fragility behind her facade of imperious strength. By the close of the production she'd made the figure the most completely sympathetic character in the opera, a point which may be the key to restoring Handel's sublime work to the status it deserves.
Clunky story-lines, imposing length, difficult music and (thankfully) a shortage of neutered guys made staging his Italian operas daunting and they fell by the wayside. Only the often mesmerizing beauty and brilliance of their musical characterizations kept some attention focused on them. Director Marshall Pynkoski's revitalization streamlined Alcina by stripping away one superfluous character (Oberto), reassigning some of the music, cutting pieces that stalled the action and transforming three acts into just two. Skillful placement of stunning projections created by Ben Shirinian completed the sense of being inside Alcina's dream world while the struggle of those imprisoned increased as it unravelled. Use of Megan Lindsay's features crafted the sense of everything being inside what she'd done while avoidance of excessive use maintained the illusion's power. Brilliant cues set by Stage Manager Arwen MacDonell kept the mirage that was Alcina's world intact and allowed it to unravel at the pace set by Pynkoski. Portraying everything directly through the musical characterizations brought the opera to life.
The production had an abundance of highlights. Mireille Asselin's rendition of 'Tornami a vagheggiar' sparkled with brilliance. The ravishing beauty Wallis Giunta brought to 'All'alma fedel defies description. Krešimir Špicer's performance lifted the incredibly lovely 'Un momento di contento' to new heights. Allyson McHardy's first half finale of 'Mi lusinga il dolce affetto' captured the sublime nature of the music and conveyed the pathos of her character with breathtaking loveliness. The vision of Giunta's 'Bradamante' behind McHardy at the close of the first half enhanced the beauty of her performance. Meghan Lindsay's interpretation of 'Mi restano le lagrime' completed the characterization of Alcina as sympathetic and even pathetic while the rebuttals of the people around her widened her already gaping wounds. The instrumental arrangement of 'Verdi prati' and the dance sequence that opened what was originally the beginning of the second act was captivating. The trio played between Giunta, Lindsay and McHardy carried fierce intensity and the finale played with the chorus glowed.
That list is much longer. Opera Atelier's production and Director Marshal Pynkoski's realization of Handel's radiant masterpiece gives the opera a treatment that reveals its beauty fully.
This performance took place at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto Ontario on Saturday October 25, 2014. This article was written to convey the impressions of this individual who was lucky enough to witness it.
Mireille Asselin as Morgana, Wallis Giunta as Bradamante and Kresimir Spicer as Oronte
Kresimir Spicer as Oronte and Meghan Lindsay as Alcina, with Artists of Atelier Ballet
Photo by Bruce Zinger
The articles and site design are my own work. Promotional materials were supplied by Opera Atelier and were used with their permission.
Brian J. Hay © 2016