Colin Ainsworth, tenor; Mireille Asselin, soprano; Anna-Julia David, soprano; Marshall Pynkoski, director; Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, choreographer; Gerard Gauci, set designer; Tafelmusik Orchestra and Chamber Choir, David Fallis, conductor. Elgin Theatre, October 29, 2023. One more performance Nov. 1; tickets here.
The Grecian myth of Orpheus journeying to the underworld to bring his beloved wife Eurydice back to the land of the living has served as the germ for operas from the 17th century to the present. A quick bit of research reveals nearly 70 operatic works based on the Orpheus legend, a formidable statistic indeed. It ranges from Monteverdi’s Orfeo (1607), the earliest work that is still performed today, to Matthew Aucoin’s Eurydice that premiered just three short years ago.
Of these, Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice, composed in 1762, is among the oldest, and it surpasses the Monteverdi opera as the most frequently performed Baroque opera based on the Orpheus legend. Past stagings included spring 2007, starring Canadian tenor Colin Ainsworth and soprano Peggy Kriha Dye as the pair of lovers. In the 2015 revival, it was a version reworked by Berlioz in the 19th century, in which the role of Orpheus is sung by a mezzo. Mireille Lebel was a very memorable Orpheus.
In this season’s revival, it’s back to a tenor Orpheus in Gluck’s 1774 French version, with Ainsworth reprising his signature role. It’s wonderful to once again experience the gorgeous sets by Gerard Gauci, the resident OA set designer with many productions to his credit. The original Orpheus legend is a tragic one — Eurydice dies on her wedding day of a snake bite. Orpheus is heartbroken. The Gods grant him permission to descend into the underworld to bring her back, on condition that he doesn’t look at her on their journey back to the living. Well, he can’t resist looking and Eurydice is gone for good.
It is said that when Gluck staged it for Marie Antoinette in 1774, to please her, he reworked it to have a happy ending. The love of Orpheus and Eurydice is so strong and true that it moves the gods, and Amour brings Eurydice back from the dead, so she and Orpheus live happily ever after. Well, a happy ending is a perfect time to celebrate with a spectacular closing ballet, something that Opera Atelier does to perfection! And surely the audiences don’t mind leaving the theatre in a happy mood…
Seen on October 29, it was as expected, a feast for the eyes and ears. The lovely sets by Gerard Gauci remains stunning, and the many dance sequences, especially the extended Finale, were a real treat. Conductor David Fallis led the Tafelmusik Orchestra in an idiomatic performance of the lovely score. I mustn’t forget the terrific sounding Nathaniel Dett Chorale, strategically placed in the side boxes.
It was good to see Colin Ainsworth reprising his 2007 triumph. It’s a fact of life that 16 years is a long time in a singer’s career, and nobody can turn back the clock, especially in a role as taxing as Orpheus. Ainsworth’s tenor is still beautiful, albeit missing some of the freshness and flexibility of yore, especially at the top and in florid passages. That said, he remains a fine Orpheus, looking fabulous and he sang a most affecting “J’ai perdu mon Eurydice.” I do find it strange that the audience sat on its hands after the beautiful aria.
Opposite him was soprano Mireille Asselin as a sympathetic Eurydice, whose pure, light lyric timbre was a pleasure. Making her OA debut was soprano Anna-Julia David as a sparkling Amour. It was a good house, although not full, a fact of the post-Pandemic life, I am sad to say. But I can highly recommend this show. The final performance is on November 1.
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