Now well into its fourth decade, Opera Atelier, based in Toronto, styles itself “Canada’s premier period opera/ballet company” and has a shelf of international prizes to back up the claim. This virtual production of Handel’s oratorio The Resurrection (sung in the original Italian) epitomizes the house aesthetic, which we’ll paraphrase this way: Do your homework, but never paint by the numbers of yesteryear! Start afresh!
A notice at the top of the show points up an intriguing parallel. When The Resurrection opened in Rome in 1709, during Lent, papal restrictions forced Handel out of the theater and into the ballroom of the Palazzo Ruspoli. Just so, in 2021, public-health measures in Toronto forced Opera Atelier out of their theater into the ballroom of St. Lawrence Hall. Okay, people, consider yourselves historically informed!
Like the canvases of the Baroque masters, the libretto of Handel’s libretto shows earthly and cosmic events in collision. On the transcendental plane, an Angel of the singing-chandelier variety descends to the very gates of Hell, proclaiming Christ’s imminent triumph over Death, Misery, and Sin. In Jerusalem, the shattered Magdalene discovers His empty tomb and sets forth, now rejoicing, to spread the good news.
Dipping freely into art history, Opera Atelier’s cofounders—the director Marshall Pynkoski and the choreographer Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg—orchestrate a torrent of dynamic stage pictures, chockablock yet uncluttered. Bathed in chiaroscuro, the players conjure up the canvases of Caravaggio and Georges de la Tour, pastel ballerinas from Degas, the living Balanchine ballerinas of Serenade. Forceful symbols abound: cascading lilies fit for the grave of Giselle, cerulean banners on loan from the Heavenly Host, the wings of a seraph as scarlet as the cardinals in conclave. In a fine display of artistic license, the risen Christ and the Virgin Mother—majesties Handel left to the imagination—step forth this time and dance.
As conducted by David Fallis, the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Opera Atelier’s partner from the get-go, lets the score breathe and shine. Amid the quintet of commanding vocal soloists—a royal flush, indeed!—the low voices are just a touch more equal. In Allyson McHardy’s mezzo-soprano, the music for Mary Cleophas, originally sung by an alto castrato, assumes a deep, velvety luminescence. And as the flamboyant Lucifer, the bass Douglas Williams sings the hell out of his tirades, has the moves of Black Panther, and works his mane like Scar in The Lion King.
The Resurrection will be available for streaming on the Opera Atelier Web site through June 10
Matthew Gurewitsch writes about opera and classical music for AIR MAIL. He lives in Hawaii