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Volume 18 Issue 2 - October 2012

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  • Toronto
  • October
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Beat by Beat | On

Beat by Beat | On OperaOA’s OriginalIntentionsCHRISTOPHER HOILEOne of the most notable developments in Toronto’s operascene this season is Opera Atelier’s first-ever productionof an opera from the 19th-century — Der Freischütz (“TheMarksman”) from 1821 by Carl Maria von Weber (1786–1826). Eventhough the opera is standard repertory in central Europe, it has neverhad a fully staged professional production in Toronto as far as anyonecan determine. The OA production will be the work’s first period productionin North America.What marks Der Freischütz as thefirst important Romantic opera is itsuse of local folk legend as the subjectmatter, as opposed to classicalhistory or mythology, and local folkmusic as inspiration for many ariasand themes. Set in Bohemia near theend of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648,the story centres on the forester Max(Krešimir Špicer), who loves Agathe(Meghan Lindsay) and is set to succeedher father Kuno (Olivier Laquerre)as head forester if he can pass a test inmarksmanship. During practice, however, Max continually fails andhis fear of losing brings him under the influence of the malevolentKaspar (Vasil Garvanliev), whose soul is already forfeit to the Deviland who hopes to substitute Max in his place. Max persuades Kasparto cast seven magic bullets for him to use in the contest. This occursin the mysterious Wolf’s Glen where Kaspar calls upon the infernalspirit Samiel (Curtis Sullivan) for assistance in the midst of frighteningimages and demonic sounds. Meanwhile, Agathe, filled with foreboding,is consoled by her friend Ännchen (Carla Huhtanen). The contestitself brings a series of unexpected mishaps but concludes with theadvice of a wise hermit (Gustav Andreassen) on how to cope withthe outcome.In a telephone interview with OA co-artistic director MarshallPynkoski, I learned how OA came to make this leap into the 19th centuryand how it came to choose Weber’s opera as its first experiment.Pynkoski says, “For a long time Jeannette [Lajeunesse Zingg] andmyself and our designers had talked about the concept of a ‘periodproduction.’ It’s hard to believe now, but our first conflict on thispoint came when we announced we were going to do a period productionof The Magic Flute [in 1991]. People told us the idea wasridiculous, that the work was standard repertory and asked why wewould do this. We had to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘No, wethink there is a very important and legitimate statement to be madeby hearing Mozart on period instruments and looking at a periodsensitiveproduction that is unique and has not been said in a longtime.’ Now no one even thinks there’s anything odd about Mozart onperiod instruments.“Freischütz simply takes the basic concept of Flute and pushesthe envelope farther which we’ve wanted to for some time. It’s beena long time since we’ve used the word ‘baroque’ in our companydescription. We call ourselves a ‘period opera and ballet company’and our point now is that a ‘period production’ can be a reference toany period. That’s what fascinates. Of course, our initial focus wasthe baroque and that remains our first love, particularly the Frenchbaroque. But it is only natural as you start to explore these thingsthat it keeps pushing you into new directions. It pushes you back andit pushes you forward, into earlier repertoire and into later repertoire.I think it’s a natural progression. The whole reasoning behind itis, ‘What was the original intention ofDer Freischutz.the composer, of the librettist, of thedesigners? Where does it sit musically,dramatically, politically, artistically?What have we lost touch with overtime? Have we lost anything worthwhilethat is worth coming back tore-examine and that can challenge usin a new way?’“I don’t want to do a museum productionof Freischütz and I don’t thinkFreischütz will ever have looked likewhat we are doing. What we are doingis a Freischütz that explores all the possibilitiesthat would have been open to performers in the early 19thcentury. Those ‘restrictions’ for want of a better word, have becomethe most thrilling take-off point, just as they were with Flute, and ithas made us make huge jumps musically, dramatically and in termsof design. It’s taken us in directions we never dreamed we were goingto go.“Just to take one example: For the famous Wolf’s Glen scene, full ofthose wonderful, frightening satanic visions, there is no record of howthey were created at the time. My first impulse was that they musthave used a cyclorama, a huge painting that passed by on rollers. Butsuch a technique would be far too expensive nowadays. Of course,we have our dancers and they are a tremendous asset. We thoughtof the magic lantern coming into use at the time, but slide showshave a negative resonance for us today that they did not have in theperiod. Then we thought if we use images what would they be of?Samiel is referred to as the ‘Black Huntsman’ so images of the huntseemed natural. I looked at Géricault with his violent scenes of lionsand cheetahs tearing animals apart, but they were too exotic. ThenI thought of the crazy painting ‘The Nightmare’ by the Swiss-bornBRUCE ZINGER34 thewholenote.com October 1 – November 7, 2012

British painter Henry Fuseli [1741–1825], an exact contemporary ofWeber. The more I looked through his catalogue of works, the more Irealized his visions of horror were a perfect match for the atmosphereWeber conjures up in the Wolf’s Glen. So it will be images from Fuselithat we will project on stage during that scene in the mode of a periodphantasmagoria. We will be doing nothing that was not available toartists in the early 19th century. We will just be using 21st centurytechnology to recreate it.”How did OA come to choose Der Freischütz as its first foray into anew period? Pynkoski had considered doing a 19th century work forsome time and had first considered Beethoven’s Leonore (1805), asthe first version of his Fidelio is called. But it was conductor DavidFallis, who suggested about three years ago that he and JeannetteLajeunesse-Zingg have a look at Der Freischütz. What galvanized theirattention happened in April last year when Krešimir Špicer was singingthe title role in La Clemenza di Tito. Pynkoski, wondering whenhe and Špicer might ever work together again, said, “Kreš, tell mesomething you’re dying to do. We’ll do it for you. We just want you tocome back. And he said instantly, ‘Well, I think you should be doingFreischütz and I should be singing Max.’” Pynkoski and Zingg wenthome, immediately listened to the CDs Fallis had given them, wereoverwhelmed by the work and told Špicer the next day they would bedoing it — they didn’t know when — but they would be mounting it asa vehicle for him.The 19th century may be new territory for Opera Atelier, but it isnot for their orchestra, Tafelmusik. Tafelmusik has already playedBeethoven’s symphonies to great acclaim and has programmedChopin for next year. The most practical challenge is that the operarequires a 40-piece orchestra and David Fallis is still trying to figureout where to fit everybody in and around the pit at the Elgin Theatre.Meanwhile, Pynkoski was bubbling over with news on a completelydifferent topic. Two weeks after Freischütz closes, he and Zingg flyoff to Salzburg to begin rehearsals for Mozart’s early opera Lucio Silla(1772), written when he was only 17. As it happens early music conductorMarc Minkowski has become the head of the Mozarteum inSalzburg. Ever since Minkowski first conducted for OA, he, Pynkoskiand Zingg have longed to work together again, but Minkowski’s growingfame made scheduling trips to Toronto too difficult. Now hehas asked the OA co-artistic directors to direct for him in Salzburg.Lucio Silla will premiere at the Mozarteum during Mozart Week onJanuary 24, 2013, then travel to Bremen and Halle before returning toSalzburg in the summer.But before that happens, Pynkoski and Zingg are focussing on DerFreischütz. Like The Magic Flute it is a singspiel, with spoken dialogueand sung arias. For Freischütz, the dialogue will be spoken inEnglish and the arias sung in German with English surtitles. Fluteand Freischütz make an excellent pairing. Both deal with the supernaturaland both move from darkness to light, but Mozart’s focus ison the rational while Weber’s is on the irrational that lies just belowthe surface in everyday life. Der Freischütz runs from October 27 toNovember 3 at the Elgin Theatre. For tickets and more informationvisit www.operaatelier.com.Beat by Beat | Jazz NotesFarewell BluesJIM GALLOWAYUnfortunately i find myself having to devote part of thismonth’s column yet again to a friend who recently passed away.I refer to Geoff Chapman an accomplished writer and a gentleman. He had wide-ranging interests and they included a great loveof jazz, in fact it could rightly be called a passion. In the years that hewrote for the Toronto Star he covered theatre as well, but jazz stirredhis emotions more deeply than anything else. Not that he ever madea big outward display of his feelings because nothing ever seemed todisturb that serene quality which has been described as a Buddhalikepresence.He was open-minded, always looking for something positive to sayand I’ve yet to hear anyone say an unkind word about him. He wascertainly a good friend to musicians, all of whom will think fondlyof him.Along with his talents, occasionally having the good fortune to bein the right place at the right time enabled him to leave the rest of thefield trailing behind. I remember one night at the Montreal Bistro andGeoff was there to review the band. It was the same year that the jazzfestival, because of imminent tobacco legislation, was about to losethe title sponsor, duMaurier. There was a grace period before the banon tobacco sponsorship became law, butthe sponsor decided to withdraw supportas of that year.To make a long story short, a goodfriend of the festival at City Hall, SeanGadon approached the then mayor, MelGeoff Chapman.DON VICKERYChristopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera andtheatre. He can be contacted at opera@thewholenote.com.St. Philip’s Anglican Church● Sunday, Oct 14, 4pm | Jazz VespersThe Botos Brothers featuring Robi Botos● Sunday, Oct 28, 4pm | Jazz VespersKate Schutt● Sunday, Nov 11, 4pm | Jazz VespersZimZumSt. Philip’s Anglican Church | Etobicoke25 St. Phillips Road (near Royal York + Dixon)416-247-5181 • www.stphilips.netOctober 1 – November 7, 2012 thewholenote.com 35

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