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SCRUTINY | Opera Atelier's 'All Is Love' Performs With Heart

By Paula Citron on February 20, 2022

Like a Valentine for Toronto, Opera Atelier’s ‘All Is Love’ takes the heart-fluttering state of being in love to musical heights. (Photo: Bruce Zinger)

Opera Atelier/All Is Love, directed by Marshall Pynkoski, choreographed by Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, conducted by David Fallis, Koerner Hall, Feb. 19 and 20.

It is a minor miracle that I’m writing this review at all.

On concert day, Opera Atelier sent out a notice of the no-go grid that the Toronto police had set up in the city core to keep the Freedom Convoy at bay. No taxis were allowed in the grid along with all private vehicles so it was the TTC or nothing.

At the theatre, I ran into Opera Atelier co-artistic director Marshall Pynkoski, to whom I shouted: “I had to take the (four-letter word) subway. This show better be good!”, at which point, he assured me that it would be, and in fact, it was well worth the schlep to OA’s first live audience 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 conducting of David Fallis.

OA has, perhaps, the most sophisticated audience in the city, given the early music nature of the company’s zeitgeist. Mercifully, they didn’t clap after each number, so we had an unimpeded flow of song and dance. It was the type of production, therefore, that allowed you to be carried away on a wave of music.

Pynkoski and choreographer Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg keep getting better and better at linking the musical numbers together. Every new song or dance was somehow linked to the one before and the one after, showing a relationship, or mood change, or emotional reaction. We also had dancer Eric César de Mello da Silva, encased in large wings representing Cupid, I presume, to also orchestrate the movement of the dancers and singers.

As well, the eight corps dancers just didn’t inhabit their own scenes, they also functioned as a Greek chorus in the songs. For example, as mezzo-soprano Danielle MacMillan, in travesti, sang “Mi lusingha il dolce affetto” from Handel’s Alcina, which questions whether love is being truthful, three blindfolded female dancers performed behind and around her. Perhaps the most stunning link on the program happened after tenor Colin Ainsworth performed “Plus j’observe ces lieux” from Lully’s Armide, the so-called Renaud’s sleep song, where he ends up lying at rest on the stage. After a ballet performed to the “Enchantment of Renaud” from the same opera, tenor Rémy Mathieu entered and sang “L’heure exquise”, an art song by Reynaldo Hahn (1892) which became a beautiful homoerotic scene between Mathieu and Ainsworth.  I can hear the reader saying Reynaldo Hahn?, in a baroque music tribute? But to know OA is to know that they like to throw in some surprises, and this production had two.  Hahn, apparently, was entranced by the baroque form and included elements of baroque structure into his own music. In fact, assistant conductor Christopher Bagan arranged a Hahn song and a Purcell song into one number which soprano Measha Brueggergosman-Lee performed, moving easily from the French to English lyrics. This ‘mash-up’, to quote the colloquial, did sound that it had been written that way. It was a clever way to begin the program. The two Hahn art songs on the program were accompanied by pianist Ben Cruchley who played with great passion.

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

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

OA always attracts singers who can act, 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 an overhead screen to add lustre to the song and dance. Kim Purtell’s lighting, which played cleverly with colour and shadow, was ravishing.

The costumes by Michael Legouffe were retreads, but prettily so. The dancers and singers wore basic white, over which could be added coloured overskirts and jackets and decorative detail. Some lead cast members did wear specific outfits purloined from other productions, but they fit in just the same.

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

And another wee cavil. Brueggergosman-Lee’s and Meghan Lindsay’s voices soared in the Hahn and the Debussy, which made you realize how confining and controlling (and yet beautiful) the baroque music is for their fachs.

As a final comment, OA has got to do something with Pelléas and Méllisande. It was just too marvellous to let slip away.


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Paula Citron
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