By Dorianne Emmerton
La Clemenza Di Tito is lush. That’s how it felt to me – “lush.” The music and singing were extraordinary, the costumes were gorgeous, the set was fantastic, the staging was excellent and those singers were pretty good actors as well.
Opera Atelier is a very focused company: they only do pieces from the 17th and 18th centuries and they do them all with period costumes and staging. What this means is a feast for the eyes for those of us who love dresses with low-necklined bodices with long, flowing, layered skirts. The men also wore long flowing coats and dapper little scarves about their necks.
In terms of staging, it means very stylized movement of the kind theatre historians think were used during the 17th century. Characters went down on one knee a lot, and not because they were proposing. Men often stood with one leg planted and the other pointed. Perhaps the ladies did too – their skirts were too voluminous to see much of their legs, with the exception of the excellent ballerinas.
I would expect such overdramatic staging to induce me to roll my eyes, but the whole thing was just so perfectly period in every way that it just seemed natural.
I, probably like a lot of people, really came for Measha Brueggergosman, who is, as far as I can tell, Canada’s only current opera superstar. What I mean by that is that I’ve heard of her.
I really don’t know much about opera. I know a lot about modern/contemporary theatre, I know nothing about classical music, and my knowledge of opera tends towards the latter part of that spectrum. This is the fifth opera I’ve seen, so I just go and experience it. I don’t “follow” it, I don’t know the news, I don’t know the stars. But even I’ve been hearing about Brueggergosman for a couple of years.
She really is spectacular. Actually, it is only now as I write this that I think maybe a black woman would be noticeable as un-period in a Mozart opera. The fact that it didn’t even occur to me before is probably a testament both to Brueggergosman’s acting and to Atelier’s ability to weave all their strands together into a whole that brooks no doubt.
I expected Measha Brueggergosman to be excellent and she was, so Michael Maniaci is the singer who really stood out to me. He did some unbelievable things with his voice, but again, I am an amateur enjoyer and in my limited experience I had never a male singing in their high register before. I do tend to think that writing the traitor character to be a man who sings with what was traditionally a woman’s voice is a bit offensive, but the demonization of effeminate men was pretty standard for most of Western history. So I can write that off as Mozart’s problem – and he’s long dead – and enjoy the show knowing that the kind of person who still perpetuates such stigmas is probably not attending such an event as the opera.
Note: the usual term for a sopranoey male singer is “countertenor” but Michael Maniaci refers to himself as a “male soprano” because he doesn’t use his falsetto in the usual countertenor manner.
Onto the set: the operas I’ve seen before have been at the COC, where they usually have very fancy sets that revolve, have real water onstage, etc. Opera Atelier works out of the Elgin, which is so classically designed that it fits in well with their aesthetics, but it does not have the technology for COC-type fanciness, especially as Atelier is only there a couple of times a year. So their sets are simply huge backdrops with a few minimal furniture pieces brought in for each scene.
But these backdrops were works of art! They were detailed and gorgeously coloured, but most striking for me was how they played with perspective. You really have to see it.
In summary: Come for Measha Brueggergosman; stay for the set; enjoy the fabulousness of the other singers, the orchestra and the staging.
– La Clemenza di Tito, by Opera Atelier, plays to May 1, 2011
– Shows are April 22, April 23, 2011, April 26, April 27, April 30 at 7:30 pm and May 1 at 3 pm
– Tickets are $33 to $166 and can be purchased by calling TicketMaster at 416-872-5555, on-line at www.ticketmaster.ca or at the Elgin Theatre box office.
Photo Credit: Bruce Zinger