Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.
The Tempest, III.ii.140-148
Caliban, that most persecuted of alien creatures, less monster than raw force of nature, factors nowhere in the overt theatrical landscape of Opera Atelier’s latest sweeping online offering, Something Rich & Strange, granted. But the spirit of Shakespeare’s poignant other-worldly character most certainly informs it. Program title taken from Ariel’s song, Full Fathom Five, an exquisitely tuneful interlude in a play overflowing with wizardry and awe, OA co-artistic directors Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg splash a bizarrely pandemic-deserted Koerner Hall with enchantment, a journey into the heart of wonderment, resonantly Shakespearean in all but formal authorship.
Elaborating on the notion of sleep and dream by way of almost transparent narrative and theme, stage director Pynkoski and choreographer Lajeunesse Zingg trace a delicate, ephemeral dramatic arc, a visionary path loosely linking a variety of striking concert pieces. Shimmering orchestral suites, swirling ballet, opera seria, opera buffa and semi-opera all drawn, with two glowing exceptions, from the golden age of the English and French Baroque make for a truly delightful viewing experience.
Raising the virtual curtain on the proceedings, composer/violinist Edwin Huizinga unveils the latest installment in his ongoing exploration of turn of the century Austrian mystic poet Rainer Maria Rilke, The Eye and The Eye’s Delight, an altogether original Opera Atelier commission. A startled angel radiantly sung by soprano Measha Brueggergosman shares a miraculous vision of divinity and transformation as symbolized by the Holy Virgin and a wandering doe. Later followed in the program by a spellbinding performance of Huizinga’s iconic solo piece, Inception, dance and violin intertwine, Opera Atelier featured principal Tyler Gledhill assuming a primary through-role as Morpheus, God of Sleep.
Restless, haunted, serene, Something Rich & Strange all but banishes the waking world from sight, refashioning the present into a lustrous series of timeless, preternatural vignettes. Magic is everywhere. Mezzo-soprano Danielle Macmillan’s glowing Mi lusinga il dolce affetto (“I am enchanted by tender feelings”) from Alcina. Tenor Colin Ainsworth’s captivating Plus j’observe ces lieux from Lully’s mythological tragédie lyrique Armide. Sopranos Mireille Asselin and Cynthia Smithers as slinky nymphs in Purcell’s impossibly sunny, sensuous Two daughters of this Aged Stream. Tenor Christopher Enns in a delightfully steamy rendition with fellow singer-actor and wife Mireille Asselin of Lay All Your Doubts and Fears Aside from Handel’s ineffable opera/oratorio, Semele.
A sparkling off-screen period ensemble drawn from the ranks of Tafelmusik splendidly conducted by David Fallis, plays with an unfailing sense of poise and charm throughout, partnering singers and dancers with particular vibrancy during numerous intricate processional passages by Matthew Locke, Rameau and Purcell. The Entrance of Swans from The Fairy Queen (another nod to Shakespeare via a somewhat reimagined late 17th century version of Midsummer Night’s Dream) is nothing less than rapturous.
For a little over an hour, the harsh, unforgiving reality of COVID seems a universe removed. Fantasy lights up the darkness, art director Gerard Gauci’s paintings, towering projections glowing high above lighting designer Michelle Ramsay’s limbo lit stage. Videographer Marcel Canzona, shooting with a fine polished feel for both the tangible and the surreal, sends production values soaring.
Scheduled to livestream last October, postponed by public health directives, Something Rich & Strange stubbornly, thankfully endures conjuring immeasurable beauty and grace from nightmarish times. A small screen concert of enormous invention and flair. Sublime.
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Something Rich & Strange streams on Vimeo until June 1, 2021. Tickets $25 at rcmusic.com/event-and-performances-opera-atelier-presents-something-rich-and-strange