Opera Atelier, Toronto’s period opera specialists, will kick off the 2023/24 season with Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice in the version first presented in French in 1774. The performances will take place at the opulent Elgin Theatre on October 16, 28, and 29, and November 1.
Gluck’s reform opera will be produced in the version that was created for Marie Antoinette.
Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice
The earliest operas in the Western European tradition evolved from varied traditions that blended drama and music. They began as experimental productions in late 16th century Italy.
Christoph Gluck, who lived from 1714 to 1787, is a composer of the early classical period, and Orfeo ed Euridice is probably his most famous work.
In Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice, the art form took a step forward. His Orpheus put more emphasis on the dramatic with a unified story arc, as well as on dance — an element that has since fallen out of regular practice. He did away with the prevailing practice of composing virtuosic passages of singing just for the sake of virtuosity, putting the music at the service of the story and character. He also eliminated the recitatives, or spoken parts (some lengthy) that were common to early operas.
Gluck was intentional in his innovation. He considered the world of 18th century French opera, his milieu, to be too static and afraid of change. He wanted to inject more realism, more passion, into the art form.
The company will present the version of the opera that was written for Marie Antoinette, and first presented in 1774. The original version, in Italian, had already opened in Europe to widespread acclaim with a castrato in the title role. Gluck was invited to rework it using a French libretto written by Pierre-Louis Moline for the then-queen herself. In the French version, the role of Orpheus was sung by a tenor.
The French premiere was a huge success, setting the stage for what opera was to become.
Along with the other changes for the 1774 French version, Gluck added more dance pieces to the opera. The role of Amour incorporates both dance and singing, and the opera ends with a dance finale that uses the full company. As the opera bridges the baroque and classical periods, so does the choreography.
“The Artists of Atelier Ballet, who have reached an internationally acclaimed level of finesse, are thrilled to be involved in a production in which they can explore the stylistic links between baroque dancing and Romantic ballet,” adds Founding Co-Artistic Director Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg.
Lajeunesse Zingg’s choreography showcases the work of Artist of Atelier Ballet Xi Yi, a graduate of the Beijing Dance Academy. The production also includes dancer Vincent Gerbet, who has often performed in the Pynkoski and Zingg productions in Versailles, in his debut on this side of the Atlantic.
Canadian tenor Colin Ainsworth stars in the production as Orpheus. It’s a role he debuted with Opera Atelier in 2007. Since then, Ainsworth has carved out an impressive international career in both opera and concert settings.
“Few tenors are able to sustain the extraordinary vocal range required of the tenor in the 1774 version of Orpheus and Eurydice,” says Marshall Pynkoski, C.M., Founding Co-Artistic Director. “We are honoured to have Mr. Ainsworth return — his talent in full bloom — to interpret this role for the first time in more than a decade.”
Soprano Mireille Asselin stars as Eurydice. Asselin is a frequent performer with the Met Opera, and maintains a busy schedule as both an operatic singer and guest soloist in concert with symphony orchestras. She has appeared in many Opera Atelier productions.
Soprano Anna-Julia David will make her company debut as Amour. She is a graduate of the University of Toronto: Faculty of Music, and is studying for her Masters of Music degree in voice at the Utrechts Conservatorium. She performs with a number of early music ensembles, and is a member of the Decameron Ensemble.
The Creative Team
Opera Atelier Music Director David Fallis will be conducting the French version of Orpheus and Eurydice for the first time. Music will be peformed by the Tafelmusik and Chamber Choir, along with members of the Nathaniel Dett Chorale.
“Visually, this production strives to reflect the elegance and restraint of the early Romantic movement, so evident in Gluck’s revolutionary score,” says set designer Gerard Gauci in a statement.
The creative team for the story, which takes the audience from Earth to the Underworld and Heaven, also includes award-winning lighting designer Kimberly Purtell will light the production for the first time, bringing her own unique style to an opera that must take us from Earth to the Underworld and finally to the Heavens.
Marshall Pynkoski directs, with choreography by Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg.
TIckets and more information [HERE].
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