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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Luminato review: Mark Morris's L'Allegro a rich feast of music as well as dance

By John Terauds on June 21, 2013

(Jim Steere photo)
(Jim Steere photo)

L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, a 1740 pastorale by George Frideric Handel set to elaborate ensemble choreography by Mark Morris, is one of those double-your-pleasure shows: People who like the music of the guy who wrote Messiah also get 90-plus minutes of exquisite choreography, and people who like dance get to savour some fine baroque music.

The latter proved to be vividly true at the show’s Luminato premiere on Friday night at the Sony Centre, thanks to memorable performances by the musicians in the pit.

That the dance was going to be good and colourful was a bygone conclusion well before the Mark Morris Dance Group rolled into Toronto — a quarter century after the American choreographer first came up with the concept.

Morris turned Handel’s strange creation — a plotless opera-like beast based on poetry by Robert MIlton, adapted by Charles Jennens, the same man who wrote the libretto of Messiah for Handel a year later — into a laugh-out-loud, smile-till-your-cheeks-hurt celebration of life.

Unless you are already a fan of Handel’s oratorios and operas, you won’t go whistling the tunes into the summer night. But you are pretty much guaranteed to leave feeling like the world has somehow become a better place because of this show.

The 24 accomplished dancers on stage bring the poems to life as human beings and as animals and emotions. The dancing on Friday night was military-parade-tight, but also imbued with the energy of spontaneiety.

The dancers’ individual and combined movements provide the texture on a stage otherwise dominated by very simple plays of colour between the costumes (by Christine Van Loon), plain scrims (by Adrianne Lobel) and the clearly defined lighting (by James F. Ingalls).

The overall visual effect is like being taken on a tour of the colour wheel by an accomplished interior designer.

But that doesn’t do justice to how well movement and music played with each other, as well.

I wonder how many performances in L’Allegro‘s long and glorious run in Mark Morris’s hands have been as beautifully rendered on the musical side as what we heard at the Sony Centre on Friday night.

Toronto’s own Tafelmusik Orchestra and Chamber Choir were at their very best under the baton of English baroque-and-classical specialist Jane Glover (who conducted the Toronto Symphony’s Christmastime Messiah a few seasons ago).

The sound was rich, supple, impeccably paced — and very tastefully amplified for the overlarge auditorium.

The soloists were no less impressive: Canadian sopranos Karina Gauvin and Shannon Mercer were in their very best voice. And it was a pleasure to hear the two American male soloists: tenor Thomas Cooley and baritone Douglas Williams.

I desperately wanted to see more of the singers, who were making such a fine impression from amongst the instrumentalists in the pit.

Finally, for my favourite piece in this Handel work, the duet “As steals the morn upon the night,” I could see clearly through to Gavin and Cooley’s magical rendition, where they kept glancing at each other with the rapture contained in the duet itself.

In fact, the duet says everything we need to know about how wonderful this Luminato show is — and how you absolutely need to see this before it flies away to some other part of the world after this weekend, leaving us back in ordinary, workaday Toronto:

As steals the morn upon the night,
And melts the shades away:
So truth does fancy’s charm dissolve,
And rising reason puts to flight
The fumes that did the mind involve,
Restoring intellectual day.

You can find out details on the remaining performances here.

And, in case you need to hear what that duet sounds like, here it is performed by recent Tafelmusik guests: soprano Sandrine Piau and conductor Stefano Montanari. The tenor is the wonderful Topi Lehtipuu:

John Terauds

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