Opera Atelier's Together/Apart a direct line to their great artistsReview
The other night, I tuned into Together/Apart, the virtual showcase presented by Opera Atelier. I’m not sure what I expected from this company, but I can admit to some skepticism; it’s quite a pivot for any company to move from live productions to remotely curated video specials, I think it’s even more drastic for OA, which has spend the last three decades producing baroque and classical opera with major nods to all things traditional (some may read: old).
But, I liked it. It helped that in the 15-artist line-up there were some seriously charismatic folks. Colin Ainsworth’s bright smile and friendly sound, Allyson McHardy’s moment of musical comedy, Wallis Giunta’s eager Cherubino & memorable set decorations - it was all refreshing and genuine, particularly out of Opera Atelier’s notorious and ubiquitous aesthetic in its live shows.
I was grateful for Xi Yi’s stunning dance piece, beautifully shot in a light-filled studio.
What I think Together/Apart did best is introduce us to some of Opera Atelier’s core artists. It was oddly moving to watch Artist of the Atelier Ballet Juri Hiraoka dance in her very Torontonian backyard (one could sense the off-camera interest by her neighbours), and it was sweet to check in with soprano Meghan Lindsay and her rural pandemic abode, with the soundtrack of her gorgeous Ilia’s aria from Idomeneo. And whether you’re a fan of hers or not, Measha Brueggergosman was a breath of fresh air in her personal message, sent from inside her car, parked outside an ice cream parlour that marks her nearest chance at data reception “in the woods”.
I also think this showcase is a cool stepping stone as we quickly evolve the medium of “online opera event”. It wasn’t live, like the Met’s At-Home Gala, and the advantages included being able to send in decent takes of curated recordings, with best-possible audio and even some evocative b-roll, and specially recorded messages from Toronto Mayor John Tory. I was grateful for Xi Yi’s stunning dance piece, beautifully shot in a light-filled studio; violinist Edwin Huizinga is always a lovely face to see, and I was all about his collaboration with Measha and pianist Christopher Bagan (three cheers for Christopher Bagan, everyone!) which certainly had to be pre-recorded.
Hewitt’s contribution showed us how this whole thing can work well.
The line between what works and what doesn’t is super fine, and hard to spot until it’s crossed. For some reason, adding reverb and other kindnesses to a singer’s audio sounds pretty weird without a professional video shot to go with it. And though it’s a smash hit sung by a real-deal Canadian star, Laird Mackintosh’s “Music of the Night” is still pretty hard to sell with low-grade keyboard accompaniment and none of the grandeur that pads The Phantom of the Opera. I was excited to hear Ainsworth sing that wicked aria from Pygmalion - I’d heard him do it live and it’s a totally catchy packaging of tenor coloratura - but the sound was mixed strangely and his voice wasn’t prominent enough.
A total treat, though, was pianist Angela Hewitt’s bit of Rameau. She was friendly and humble, and got right to the point with her camera angle, aimed at her energetic and nimble hands. Hewitt’s contribution showed us how this whole thing can work well; it’s solidified my hunch that finding the way to do this on-screen thing is uniquely difficult for opera singers.
I’m tickled that Opera Atelier has joined the ranks of those companies who aren’t giving up on their output. Together/Apart is still available for viewing until May 27 at midnight, and it’s an excellent way to get to know the artists who have become a core part of their work. I know the medium is not within the comfort zone of Co-Artistic Directors Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse-Zingg, but I really do applaud them for this.
Wow, I really miss live shows.