It's a baroque opera company which focuses on recreating the dance, gestures, singing style, props, set, and costumes of baroque opera. They have their own danse troupe. Tafelmusik is their orchestra and often their choir as well. Their productions are opulent, gorgeous, fun, beautifully articulated, and all done with a delightful sense of being human, having a sense of humor, and empathizing with the characters. These are opera singers who really act. And the operas are performed in the relatively intimate and goldenly decadent Elgin Theatre. Each year they do two operas, one in its native language with surtitles, and generally the second one is a fun, better known one sung in English - accessibility lures in the audiences, and hey, they're great productions.
Tonight was Charpentier's Medée, and it lived up to my expectations.
Medée herself was the highlight among the singers. I saw Stephanie Novacek (mezzo-soprano) a year or so ago in the Coronation of Poppea. She was outstanding as the suffering wife of the disloyal, lying Jason whose fallen for princess Creuse, with her father's permission, but lying to his wife about it. Jason wasn't bad - he could definitely act. His voice wasn't quite as strong, but it suited his character that way. Creuse spends alot of time on stage being admired, sung to, courted, danced to, performed for, and actually doesn't sing a huge amount. The dancing was much more satisfying this time than it had been for me during the Coronation of Poppea. It really worked well with the drama this time, indeed, was nearly crucial for it. They played courtiers, pageantry, Creon's guards, and the spirits of hell.
One of the things I especially like about this opera company is that their operas tend to be nearly non-stop action. People are coming and going, or there's dancing, or singing. And it's not busy, it's all tied in quite nicely to the plot, the lyrics, and/or the music. It's one of the many things which make their productions very accessible. They appreciate the humor in lines and bring it out - appropriately. I've found real, intended humor in all the productions I've been to thus far.
Anyways, Medée finally rouses herself to fury and gets over her mournful wifely dependency in order to wreak her revenge on the strayed Jason and the conspiratorial father and daughter. Everyone dies, including Medée's children, by her own hand. Most people die by magic or indirect causes. In the end, the palace is on fire and, quite possibly, Jason the only one left alive. It's spectacular. And since - in large part thanks to the libretto and Charpentier - my sympathy was with Medée the entire time, not the more "normal" non-sorcerous types. She kept her pride and it all seemed justified. All the evil she ever did, she did for the sake of her love for Jason. (Although earlier in her career, it was in his aid, unlike what was happening in this bit of his life.) As she reminds Creon, why should Jason be considered a hero just for his work in getting the golden fleece when it was thanks to her magic he'd gotten it?
The woman behind me was both confused and a purist. Clearly it was the first time she'd been to such a production, although she was a Tafelmusik regular patron. She didn't like all the anachronisms in the production: it was set in ancient Greece so why bother with all these enormous baroque dresses? But then again, she also thought that the corsets, or perhaps bodices, they were wearing, which gave all the women very high, full cleavage, was demeaning to all the women. I don't think she quite understood the point of performing this as a baroque opera, as it was originally done.