BWW Review: COC's THE NIGHTINGALE AND OTHER SHORT FABLES is a Magical Night at the Opera
The word most-associated with Robert Lepage's THE NIGHTINGALE AND OTHER SHORT FABLES is "magic". And like "magic," you need to see it to believe it. Words simply do not do it justice.
The show is constructed around a medley of Stravinsky compositions, which director Robert Lepage uses to explore the evolution of theatre through imaginative shadow work, impressive acrobatics and seriously enchanting puppetry.
Beginning with a series of brief barnyard tales, operatic voices share the short fables as a team of acrobats work together to bring the various animals to life using only their hands.
Standout performances in this section of the opera belong to mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy, who lends her rich timbre to Pribaoutki, and soprano Danika Lorèn, whose luscious soprano is delightful during Two Poems of Konstantin Balmont. The first sequence also features female members of the COC Chorus in Four Russian Peasant Songs, taking advantage of the water-filled orchestra pit to create a sense of pastoral life.
Weaving together the first section of the opera are Stravinsky's Three Pieces for Clarinet - a virtuosic display of musicianship for the solo clarinetist, who provides the entertainment during scene transitions.
Ending the first half is the comedic short opera, The Fox, which recounts the tale of a hungry fox who manipulates a rooster into coming down from his perch so the fox can kill him. Singers Owen McCausland, Miles Mykkanen, Bruno Roy and Oleg Tsibulko all share in the storytelling. Mykannen, a bright, confident tenor, is especially memorable for his brilliant acting in the piece.
All of the anticipation surrounding this production concerns the technical wizardry that takes place in the second half of the opera. As the lights dim in the house, the pool filling the orchestra pit with 67,000 litres of water is illuminated - creating one of the most spellbinding scenes to ever grace the stage. Smoke fills the pool as the Fisherman (Owen McCausland) emerges from one of the barges. Playing with proportion, McCausland travels across the pool with a miniature version of his puppet in an intricately designed boat, before emerging again on the other side with a larger version of the same puppet. Lepage uses this manipulation of scale throughout the opera - helping to lure the audience into his dream-like world.
McCausland seems more impressive with each role he sings at the COC. As the Fisherman his voice is strong, projecting a booming core of sound throughout the hall. Joining McCausland is the Canadian soprano Jane Archibald, who is known for her expert coloratura. As the Nightingale, Archibald delivers a heavier sound than is usually associated with this opera, ensuring everyone can hear the splendor of her voice. Singing her first Russian role, the text flows from her mouth beautifully as she effortlessly dances through the difficult coloratura passages.
Perhaps one of the most astonishing aspects of The Nightingale is the fact that each singer is paired with a puppet doppelganger. The large chorus, which is comprised of over 30 singers, each reveal their own puppet companion - all uniquely designed by Michael Curry (The Lion King on Broadway.)
Lepage's fantasy world would never be complete without the marvelous music performed by the COC Orchestra - led by Maestro Johannes Debus. Debus pulled some of the most delicious colours out of the orchestra, creating an other-worldly atmosphere with his intuitive understanding of Stravinsky's score.
When you put all of this together, you get one of the most charming, mesmerizing pieces for the stage that you will ever see.
THE NIGHTINGALE AND OTHER SHORT FABLES, presented by the Canadian Opera Company, runs through May 19th at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.coc.ca/productions/13109
(main photo: (l-r) Michael Uloth as the Bonze, Anatoli Sivko as the Chamberlain, Lauren Eberwein as the Cook and Jane Archibald as the Nightingale in the Canadian Opera Company's production of THE NIGHTINGALE AND OTHER SHORT FABLES, 2018, photo: Michael Cooper)