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SCRUTINY | Opera Atelier’s Idomeneo A Feast For The Eyes And Ears

By Joseph So on April 5, 2019

Soprano Measha Brueggergosman, tenor Colin Ainsworth and mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta. (Photo: Bruce Zinger)
Soprano Measha Brueggergosman, tenor Colin Ainsworth and mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta. (Photo: Bruce Zinger)

Mozart: Idomeneo Colin Ainsworth (Idomeneo), Wallis Giunta (Idamante), Measha Brueggergosman (Elettra), Meghan Lindsay (Ilia), Olivier Laquerre (Arbace), Douglas Williams (Neptune), Bradley Christensen (Priest); Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, David Fallis, conductor; Chorus of the University of Toronto Schola Cantorum + members of the Choir of the Theatre of Early Music, Daniel Taylor, chorus master. Ed Mirvish Theatre, April 4, 2019.

Considered Mozart’s first mature opera, Idomeneo has a firm hold on the standard repertoire, ranked 68th in popularity based on performance statistics worldwide the past seven seasons.  Audiences take pleasure in its finely drawn characters, the inherent nobility of the drama, and most of all, in its truly inspired score.

Last performed by Opera Atelier (OA) in April 2008, this welcome revival opened this evening, with a very strong cast. Of particular interest is the new venue for OA — the Ed Mirvish Theatre, formerly the Pantages. How does it compare to the Elgin Theatre, the long-time home of OA? Not having been in the Ed Mirvish theatre for many years — my last experience there was a Dame Edna(!) show — I was curious.

Based on this opening night performance, I can say the Ed Mirvish Theatre offers a superior musical experience for opera. The orchestra pit is less cramped for the musicians, the shape of the auditorium wider and more aesthetically pleasing, with better sightlines. Best of all, the acoustics is superior. I assume some modifications must have been made to the set to fit the new venue. Well, it looks gorgeous — the painted proscenium perfect in the new space. If there’s a downside, it’s the tiny lobby. It got so jammed before the auditorium doors opened and at intermission that it was positively claustrophobic, but that’s a minor quibble.

Soprano Measha Brueggergosman. (Photo: Bruce Zinger)
Soprano Measha Brueggergosman. (Photo: Bruce Zinger)

Musically it was a very enjoyable evening. In this revival, the only holdover in the cast is Measha Brueggergosman, who has not sung opera in Toronto in eight years, last being Vitellia in OA’s La clemenza di Tito. The voice is still in good shape if somewhat leaner in sound, with her typical fast vibrato. She brought to Elettra her trademark dramatic urgency, acting up a storm in “D’Oreste, d’Ajace, earning her the biggest ovation of the evening.

I believe this is tenor Colin Ainsworth’s first Idomeneo, a dramatic tenor role which at first glance would appear a stretch vocally for the lyric tenor. The tessitura is low for him, and he made a few upward interpolations here and there. Kudos to him for singing with fine coloratura the difficult version of “Fuor del mar,” unlike so many others who opt for the easy way out.  He was also an unusually youthful looking Idomeneo, looking more like the brother of Idamante instead of the father.

To my ears, top vocal honours were shared by mezzo Wallis Giunta as Idamante and Meghan Lindsay as Ilia. Giunta sang with warm tone — a particularly lovely “Padre, adorato” — and looking suitably princely. Originally composed for castrati, Mozart reworked Idamante for a lyric tenor. Giunta offers a convincing argument that it should be considered mezzo property. Meghan Lindsay (Ilia) offered rich, gleaming if somewhat cool tone, at her best in “Zeffiretti, lusinghieri.”

Baritone Bradley Christensen, tenor Colin Ainwsorth, Artists of Atelier Ballet. (Photo: Bruce Zinger)
Baritone Bradley Christensen, tenor Colin Ainsworth, Artists of Atelier Ballet. (Photo: Bruce Zinger)

Among the supporting roles, the most striking impression was made by bass-baritone Douglas Williams as Neptune. I can’t think of another Idomeneo production that manages to turn Neptune into a starring role, given he has only two minutes of music in the three-hour opera. Williams proved that he’s as godly in appearance – barechested and in tights – as he was vocally. Finally, the young New Zealand baritone Bradley Christensen showed off his fine voice and imposing stage presence as the High Priest.

Visually this Idomeneo is one of Gerard Gauci’s best-looking designs — I can’t quite put my finger on the reason, but it looks better in the Ed Mirvish Theatre! The painted sets look exquisite, enhanced in no small way by expert lighting. The piped-in thunder claps were loud enough to strike fear of God in one’s heart.  Given the excellent acoustics, the orchestra has greater immediacy, led expertly by David Fallis. I had to remind myself that if the strings sounded a touch thin, it’s because these are period instruments. Finally, a shout-out to the excellent chorus under Daniel Taylor, singing from the boxes to great effect.

I leave for last my comments on the dancing. At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, this show really has a surfeit of it, especially with the added divertissement at the end, which has the effect of retarding the action. Don’t get me wrong — it was beautiful and tastefully executed, but there was just a lot of it!  That said, at the end of the day, it’s OA’s raison d’etre, and most in the audience love it. All in all, a wonderful start by Opera Atelier in its new venue.

Four more performances to April 13. Details, here.


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Joseph So
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