A Purcell celebration

A Purcell celebration

Fact: there’s not enough Purcell in this town.

Toronto Masque Theatre’s all-Purcell program Fairest Isle (November 16 and 17 at Al Green Theatre) was a desperately needed, if temporary, redress.

Much of the program consisted of the scenes from Purcell’s operas, so rarely seen on stage here in North America and performed (many luckily recorded on DVD) in so many imaginative productions in Europe. Not only could we enjoy the glories of Purcell’s music but also revive memories of this Salzburg King Arthur, this Glyndebourne The Fairy Queen, or this Deborah Warner’s Dido. We also heard parts from the less known and heavily plotted The Indian Queen.

The excerpts were usually preceded by either the commentary by two actors stage left explaining where in the drama we find ourselves, or the actual text of the libretto. The orchestral ritornelli and dances were filled by the historically informed choreographies by Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière — always intriguing and adding to and expanding the meaning of the musical material. In Dido, she was a sailor in The Sailors Dance and a sorceress in the witches’ scene, and each of the four seasons in The Fairy Queen finale. The concert opened with MNL dancing to the five-movement Dance Suite in G major. The figures she played and costumes she wore made this Purcell celebration so much more than a concert performance.

Here are some other highlights. Soprano Dawn Bailey sung the Lament sweetly and gently, her Dido a very young girl. The casting gods of the TMT took a pass on casting a mezzo or an alto in this group of six singers (counter-tenor Scott Belluz found himself in the role of Sorceress). Baritone Geoffrey Sirett has an appealing timbre, consistent and warm. In part one, the size of his voice sounded two sizes bigger than the other voices, but by part two the volume evened out and the bari belonged in the ensemble. Tenor Lawrence Wiliford shone in the Evening Hymn, which the smart directing left for almost the end, after Purcell’s death was announced in the script. The hymn was rendered in a fairly slow tempo and intimately, accompanied until Halleluja by the lute only (the ever reliable Lucas Harris).

The continuo trio had excellent musical chemistry (Harris, Margaret Gay at the cello and Christopher Bagan harpsichord and organ). They particularly showcased how much of rock stars they can be in the instrumental sections of Aerial spirits from The Indian Queen, which was played with mad energy at a frantic dancey pace. Two violins, one viola and two oboes made the rest of the capable band, led from the violin by Larry Beckwitch. Many of them joined in the singing when Charles Davidson had some fun with the Your hay it is mow’d (as one must).

Fab programming by the TNT and let’s do this again soon.

Full cast and more information here. Photo credits: Marie-Nathalie Lacoursiere top photo by Tariq Kieran. Below, Michele DeBoer, Dawn Bailey and Charles Davidson in a photo by Tariqu Kieran. Bottom, Bailey and Lacoursiere in a photo by Al Uehre.

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