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| Orpheus and Eurydice | Oklahoma |

Some Stage Door reviews of 2007

Other reviews of 2007 here and here and here!

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Oklahoma!

Stratford Festival 2007
Review by James Wegg (See Mary Alderson's review here!)

An artificial success

Just a day after King Lear and his court lied and cheated everything but death, Stratford's Festival Theatre morphed into the American wild west where cowboys, farmers and their women folk only needed one murder to keep the sold-out crowd mightily entertained at this season's hit musical, Oklahoma!

Director/choreographer Donna Feore has fashioned Rodgers and Hammerstein's first collaboration into a fast-paced show that solves the challenges of bringing Broadway glitz to a classical thrust stage with creativity, style and ah-shucks fun.

Switching from the cliffs of Dover to Aunt Eller's (Nora McLellan's Stratford début is a triumph for the company and the unflappable actor alike) front yard is as simple as saying “Patrick Clark, do your thing!”  His set combines the easy (bales of straw, stands of corn, a pristine butter churn) with the imaginative (the entire dance floor has been transformed into a versatile platform that appears to be the rings from the biggest tree in the world; the notion of wide-open spaces is captured by a covey of stained-glass clouds that lighting designer Alan Brodie shades and brightens in concert with the shifting time of day:  marvellous).

But it's what happens on the gleaming platform that yanks the crowd out of their formal-wear demeanour to begin cheering, clapping and wondering how to bottle (and take home in a git-along-little-doggie bag) the incredible energy that spills over the footlights every time the lines and lyrics are shoved into the barn and the guys ‘n gals burst into dance.

“Kansas City” is the liftoff.  As the company learns from Will Parker (Kyle Blair) of the perils of big city life, it takes only a “Ragtime” demonstration before the quick-learn crew dives, dashes and kicks up their heels in a joyful “franaticism” that is fed by some first-class rodeo, er, feets.  Blair leads the way with some commendable rope tricks, then, as he would do throughout the night, Julius Sermonia dazzles everyone with his outstanding athleticism, impressive form (a classical background used to telling effect) and a happy countenance that should be given a bigger outlet to more fully exploit this talented man.

The first-act closing “Dream Ballet” is another stunning example of how a picture can say so much more than words.  Here, Feore shows deft understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of her troupe.  Those that can fly to the front, while their less nimble colleagues adjust the set, carry off bodies or tap their toes with the patrons.  In the “Wedding From Hell,” Blythe Wilson shows she's as expressive in movement as she's an able singer.  Her character, Laurey, prepares to marry her real-life beau (Dan Chameroy is Curly) only to slip into the desperately evil clutches of hired-hand, Jud Fry (played with moments of greatness by David W. Keeley, but lacking the just-beneath-the-surface layer of tormented devil that Rod Steiger managed so compellingly in the 1955 film).

Yet all is not well in this “Buckle of the Wheat Belt” epic.

The music's in the loft under the capable direction of Berthold Carrière.  From the wildly energetic “Overture,” it's clear that what might be lost in tight ensemble will more than be replaced by enthusiasm.  Unlike standard theatres, the long-serving maestro must rein in his exuberant charges once removed from direct eye contact.  TV monitors have to suffice, giving a “once-removed” result to the many nuances in the magnificent score.

Being, literally, above the fray, Carrière would soon lose the snap, crackle and pop of togetherness if he couldn't keep track of the songs' progress.  No worries:  that's why microphones were invented.  Sadly, like so many venues and companies, instead of just employing stage monitor mics for the benefit of the behind-the-scenes music making, the cast is outfitted with individual sound “enhancement devices” and the collective result is diligently mixed, reverberated and then broadcast over in-house speakers to the throng—many of whom are in the their seats to eschew electronic art and savour a live performance.  What's a purist to do?

And so subtleties can't survive the woofers and tweeters.  The chorus ends up sounding TOO LOUD and with a metallic edge that Rodgers never imagined.  With the leads, most noticeably with Lindsay Thomas' otherwise resplendent rendition of the forever-flirtatious, “Ado Annie,” the songs are almost annoying.  Imagine looking around for a volume control during the infamous ode to philandering, “I Can't Say No.”

Just 24-hours prior to Chameroy's gem of characterization, their Shakespearean colleagues were going though their declamations “au naturel.”  The manmade sound reinforcements, as here, produced spectacular imitations of nature (from birds to thunder), but its most incredible instrument, the human voice, remained under the entire control of its owner.

Here's hoping the incoming artistic trust will ponder how to achieve the best of both worlds in future musical productions.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Orpheus and Eurydice

Composer

Christoph Willibald Gluck

Librettist

Pierre-Louis Moline after Raniero de' Calzabigi (Paris version)

Conductor

Andrew Parrott

Director

Marshall Pynkoski

Choreographer

Jeannette Zingg

Performed by Opera Ateier, Elgin Theatre, till May 5, 2007
Review by James Wegg

Entertainment trumps art

“To revive Orphée in preference to Orfeo is tantamount to admitting that our powers of concentration and appreciation are no better than the butterfly-minded Parisians of the eighteenth century,” chides Sir John Eliot Gardiner in his 1981 essay on Gluck's Orfeo in the Cambridge Opera Handbook.  Despite the stern warning from the tireless advocate for original instruments, counter-tenors-where-required and near-tiresome “faithfulness to the printed page” (there's so much more lurking in the musical subtext, particularly the implications of the seemingly innocent shades of harmony be they shifts of mode, first-inversion pull or the mystery of the augmented 6th), Opera Atelier gaily popped the champagne and poured out an Orphée that pleases the eye, engages the ear but doesn't travel deep enough to touch the human spirit in this timeless tale of love at any cost.

With so many involved, the artistic trust (Director, Marshall Pynkoski; Choreographer Jeannette Zingg; Conductor Andrew Parrott) opted to place the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir in the Elgin Theatre's mezzanine stalls in order to leave enough space on stage for the large ballet components from the sixteen artists of Atelier Ballet.  That solved the logistical challenge but had to pay the price in close-but-no-cigar orchestra/chorus ensemble, despite the feverish gesticulations from Parrott, who, on those choral occasions, would do well to leave his talented band (Tafelmusik) to themselves and devote his entire attention to the well-blended chorus.  The improvement in overall togetherness in general and soft consonants in particular would be forever welcome.

Gerard Gauci's sets are a pleasure from every angle.  The flames of hell are nicely balanced by the sequined night backdrop that resonates intriguingly with Orpheus' (Colin Ainsworth) Act I vest.  The hung cameo of Eurydice (Peggy Kriha Dye) silently brings her into the action from the start, but nothing can top Amor's (Jennie Such) descent on a cloud, complete with Olympic flame symbolism (yet her semi-butch garb seems as if she just slipped out of a rehearsal of The Marriage of Figaro instead of a confab with the gods). 

Variety of movement comes via Zingg's occasional use of soft pointe shoes, which adds an extra bit of classicism, although the men's unanimity of form improves considerably in their more accustomed slippers.  The final ballet sequence is a constant pleasure, yielding the finest flow of the night from both stage and pit.  The sheer fabrics—brilliant yellow to all-manner of pastels—are at one with the joyful score, which even calls for tympani to lift the spirits (literal and metaphorical) into the heavens.  Not as successfully was the earlier “Blessed Spirits,” where the famous flute line opted to eschew the changes of register miracle of discovery for a too-pedestrian-by-half, “just so” delivery.

As Orpheus, Ainsworth commanded the stage at every turn but needed nearly two acts before allowing his voice to relax with the lines and banish the early tightness.  No doubt aided and abetted by Pynkoski, the Guelph native would do well to further investigate the very fine art of internalizing grief and pain.  His broad gestures, hoisting the lyre like the Holy Grail (yet letting it into the hands of the Furies as he sings his way past their obstruction didn't even work as a symbol).  And what's up with the anguished lover chasing a nubile, sculpted angel?  Seems the Parisian butterflies swarmed this production in search of the cheap laugh.

The closing duets with Kriha Dye produced the finest music making of the rejiggered masterpiece.  Her clean, clear soprano was the perfect foil for Ainsworth's angst and a model of how like-minded phrasing can forgive any previous sins.  As the heavenly host, Such glowed through her interventions with poise and unerring pitch, yet Parrott didn't rein in his charges, leaving her middle register lines largely unheard.

As a bonbon view of the doomed lovers, this production works on many levels (not least of which is the closing Wheel of Fortune tribute, which removes any notion of fine art, replacing it with a big finish more in tune with vaudeville).  No worries:  the audience drank it up and, most can't wait for another generous helping of opera for the masses.

 

 

 

 

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