Eurydice dies, leaving Orpheus in mourning on their very wedding night. Overcome with grief, yet pluckier than ever, our hero ventures down to the underworld to retrieve her. He’s got his iconic lyre which he plays so beautifully it’ll charm all the Furies, even Hades himself! The only condition: he must not look back at her as they ascend. Of course, he does! And she’s gone forever!
For those who find the original Greek myth too much of a downer, Gluck’s opera topples the tragedy of the story with the hopeful and comic Amour. Eurydice is brought back to life through the power of Love, quite literally a Fool here who sets everything right! Opera Atelier’s handsome production of Orpheus and Eurydice recreates the 1774 French version commissioned for Marie Antoinette. Tafelmusik accompanies on period instruments, including a several centuries old harp.
I feel obligated to disclose that I’m not particularly fond of the Baroque style, but Opera Atelier has been gradually winning me over. The aesthetic formality of the canon has always been such a barrier, but I can’t help but be persuaded by the astonishing level of artistry involved here. Baroque opera is a fully integrated form, with ballet and scenography working towards a heightened, uniform statement; and Opera Atelier and their partners offer exemplary commitment and refinement.
The three leads—tenor Colin Ainsworth as Orpheus, sopranos Mireille Asselin as Eurydice and Anna-Julia David as Amour—offer poise and intelligence in their highly gestural performances. The placement of the Nathaniel Dett Chorale in the raised boxes of the theatre is inspired; their communal sound resonates deeply. The exceptionally heavy theatrical fog that dominates the ballet in the Elysian Fields is intensely immersive, filing the entire venue and giving a palpably ethereal quality to Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg’s buoyant choreography.
A highlight for me is a delightfully playful sequence in which a winged Elysian (Xi Yi, seen above) pulls Eurydice about and sends her whirling through to her reunion with Orpheus.
The Love Triumphs finale is a cheeky, self-aware spectacle that’s genuinely endearing. With a massive, radiant heart as backdrop, the performance concludes with a jubilant message and a nod to the production’s social media tag. This is a very cute promotional tactic, but it also helps to win over even the most cynical in attendance who might be a bit sniffy at this version’s happy ending.
Am I learning to love Baroque opera? I might be. Opera Atelier’s rigour and panache is that persuasive.