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SCRUTINY | Opera Atelier’s All Is Love Makes Triumphal Return

By Joseph So on April 15, 2024

Opera Atelier’s All Is Love 2024 (Photo: Bruce Zinger)
Opera Atelier’s All Is Love 2024 (Photo: Bruce Zinger)

Colin Ainsworth, ten., Jesse Blumberg, bar., Measha Brueggergosman-Lee, sop., Meghan Lindsay, sop., Danielle MacMillan, mezzo, Cynthia Akemi Smithers, sop., Karine White, sop., Douglas Williams, bass-bar. / Christopher Bagan, piano; Edwin Huizinga, violin; Charlotte Nediger, harpsichord / Artists of the Atelier Ballet / Tafelmusik Orchestra, David Fallis, conductor. Koerner Hall, April 11, 2024.

It was well worth the long wait of two years, one month and 23 days.

I am referring to the return to Koerner Hall of Opera Atelier’s All Is Love, originally premiered on February 19, 2022. Sadly, it was hit by a triple whammy of misfortunes — road closures and snarled traffic due to a truckers’ demonstration, a nasty snowstorm, and the effects of the 21st Century scourge known as COVID 19. Due to health restrictions, attendance capacity was drastically reduced. Only 250 lucky audience members made it, a small fraction of Koerner’s 1,135 capacity.

Last Thursday, this beautiful OA show returned triumphant to Koerner Hall. The program, an exploration into all facets of love, remained the same with some minor tinkering. It featured a diverse repertoire that ranged from early music of Lully and Rameau to the late 19th Century, in the form of the opening scene of Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisande.

It lasted 90 minutes without an intermission. I admit it took some getting-used-to, seeing an essentially Baroque show in the ultra-modern Koerner Hall. I rather missed the ornate curlicues of the century-old Elgin, a theatre tailor-made for the OA aesthetic. However, the superior acoustics of Koerner more than made up for it.

Opera Atelier’s All Is Love 2024 (Photo: Bruce Zinger)
Opera Atelier’s All Is Love 2024 (Photo: Bruce Zinger)

The cast remained the same as two years ago, except for the absence of soprano Mireille Asselin. A total of 19 arias, duets, ballet pieces, plus a modern piece, evocatively played by violinist Edwin Huizinga. Kudos to the highly disciplined OA audience for not breaking the mood with inappropriate applause between the numbers. Given it’s all short pieces, it’s essentially 90 minutes of greatest hits, lovely to witness but it didn’t build enough of a dramatic punch.

It was however a feast for the eyes and ears, beginning with soprano Measha Brueggergosman-Lee, in a melding of music of Purcell and Reynaldo Hahn. The soprano, no stranger to OA, sang with customary opulent tone and a reduced vibrato, in keeping with the Baroque style. The program order was not chronological but thematic, adroitly designed to explore contrasting facets of love, with one piece seamlessly transitioning to the next.

I can honestly say I enjoyed all 19 selections. Particularly memorable were Colin Ainsworth’s “Where’er You Walk” (Handel’s Semele), a duet from Purcell’s King Arthur featuring the beautiful blending of the voices of Meghan Lindsay and Cynthia Akemi Smithers, and “L’heure exquise” sung by Jesse Blumberg. Given these are all set pieces, it was strong on beauty but somewhat lacking in dramatic continuity, but hey, I’ll take it!

Perhaps the strongest piece in theatricality was the opening scene of Pelleas et Melisande with soprano Meghan Lindsay (Melisande) and bass-baritone Douglas Williams (Golaud). I’d venture to say that P&M doesn’t excerpt all that well, given the nature of the drama. That said, I was completely drawn in by the drama. Much of the credit goes to the marvellously evocative images by paintings by Gerard Gauci projected on to the big screen.

A big part of the pleasures of attending an OA performance is its superb Atelier Ballet, here led by the Cupid of soloist Eric Cesar de Mello da Silva, complete with outsized wings. And of course special kudos to the Tafelmusik Orchestra under David Fallis, if anything sounding even better — richer and warmer — in Koerner Hall than in the dry acoustics of the Elgin Theatre. I hope OA will consider staging full operas there in the future.

In any case, it was a terrific evening indeed. For the curious, snippets of the show can be found on the OA channel on YouTube, including videoclips of the original 2022 version here.

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Joseph So
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