Review: Orphee (Against the Grain Theatre)

Cabaret and burlesque meet opera in Against the Grain’s take on Orphee, on stage in Toronto

I did not know what to expect from “an electronic, baroque-burlesque, descent into hell” when I took my seat at Against the Grain Theatre’s production of Orphée. I knew what to expect from the work, having seen Opera Atelier’s interpretation of the same work in 2015, but I couldn’t really imagine how an electronic, burlesque aesthetic would fit in.

It turns out that the answer is quite well. The show was a gothic spectacle of mythical proportions, featuring some truly astonishing performances.

The costumes were risqué to say the least. So much so in fact that I was left wondering who did the very thorough full Brazilians for the company. The four-movement ballet that is traditionally part of this opera was replaced with modern dance sequences that straddled the line between high-art and strip tease.

Costume design by Zane Philstrom was definitely a delight of this production. The costumes were all ruffles, glitter, tassels, corsets, garters and thongs, in black and cream tones with metallic accents. The set design by S. Katy Tucker echoed this monochrome, with a cold, sterile futuristic feel. The whole effect was darkly beautiful, foreboding and seductive at the same time.

Hector Berlioz’s 1859 interpretation of Christoph Gluck’s 1762 masterpiece is a fusion of the baroque period’s most sinuous melodies with romanticism’s decadence and therefore a good candidate for a further mash up.

In the title role, Siman Chung’s countertenor voice was positively scrumptious. A steel rod surrounded by flowers came to mind. He has a very strong core coupled with a very dulcet, round tone and fast free vibrato. This role is undoubtedly a big sing, with Orfeo performing most of the arias in this work. The final note of charming closer “Che faró senza Euridice?” was as luscious and unfettered as the first note of dark, dramatic opener “Chiamo il mio ben cosi”.

Mireille Asselin was divine in the role of Eurydice and used her substantial talent as an actor to excellent effect in the role. Together with her world-class voice, Asselin was instrumental in bringing the storytelling to life in this piece.

Marcy Richardson was indeed showstopping in the role of Amour. The multi-talented performer is an aerial artist and classical soprano. She gave an incredible performance of “Dalla centra tua” and “Gli sguardi trattieni Amor” while suspended from an aerial hoop doing splits and turning herself into a pretzel. My jaw was literally on the floor.

The darkness of many of the arias was heightened by the use of plugged instruments during the most dramatic moments, including the addition of wailing electric guitar which intensified the hellscape feel of the piece. Lighting design completed the dark rave aesthetic with a border of colour change led lights around the floor of the stage. Conducted by Topher Mokrzewski the mix of old and new instruments fit together naturally, producing a supernatural effect.

The superb offstage chorus of four performers completed the otherworldly quality, with their voices at times distorted by electronic effects.

A truly extravagant production that pushes the boundaries of baroque performance convention in the most awesome way possible. See it if you can, there aren’t that many performances. Against the Grain Theatre is always trying something new, but I sincerely hope this production gets a remount in Toronto.

Details:

  • Orphée is playing until April 28, 2018 at Fleck Dance Theatre (3rd floor, 207 Queens Quay West, Toronto, Ontario).
  • Show times are 8:00 PM on April 26, 27, 28.
  • Ticket prices range from $42-110.
  • Tickets are available online, by phone at 416-973-4000 ext. 1 or at the Harbourfront Centre box office.

Photo of Marcy Richardson by Daryl Block Photography