The Nightingale And Other Short Fables is an enchanting night of music theatre

THE NIGHTINGALE AND OTHER SHORT FABLES by Igor Stravinsky (Canadian Opera Company). At the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West)..


THE NIGHTINGALE AND OTHER SHORT FABLES by Igor Stravinsky (Canadian Opera Company). At the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). Runs to May 19. $35-$350. coc.ca. Rating: NNNN

Talk about making a splash. The Canadian Opera Companys remount of Robert Lepages 2009 production of The Nightingale And Other Short Fables is best known for the fact that the orchestra pit of the Four Seasons Centre is filled with 67 tons of water.

But the H2O is just one element get it? in a truly enchanting night of music theatre.

Lepage has paired Igor Stravinskys one-act opera The Nightingale with a menagerie of other Stravinsky offerings brief clarinet solos, songs and the one-scene burlesque The Fox.

Besides the fact that most are about animals, the works are connected in this production by the use of puppetry, from the inventive, cheeky use of shadow hand puppets in the first few pieces to a blend of Japanese bunraku and Vietnamese water puppetry in the second act.

The result is a theatrically rich program unlike anything youll usually see in an opera house.

Highlights in the first half include impassioned solos by Allyson McHardy, Lindsay Ammann and Danika Loren in various songs and poems, illustrated imaginatively by ingenious hand puppetry. (My one quibble with the use of puppets in the first half is that the singers are often upstaged by the puppets and surtitles.)

Clarinetist Juan Olivaress lively, spirited solos help cleanse the palette between numbers.

And the acrobatic demands of The Fox are thrilling to watch, even if the story itself is confusing for a fable.

The Nightingale makes full use of the pool of water, with singers immersed in water and pushing around their miniature puppet characters, while the eponymous bird (sung by Jane Archibald) flies up and around the water and forest with the help of poles and strings.

Lepage and puppet choreographer Martin Genest have staged each scene with sensitivity, letting us appreciate the details of the puppets and the skill of the singers with total fluidity. A highlight is a procession of characterful dragons and other creatures for the benefit of the Emperor (Oleg Tsibulko) and a sequence like something out of a Tim Burton film featuring Ammann in another fine solo.

Archibalds crystalline voice befits a creature whos so beloved, while Owen McCausland, Lauren Eberwein and Tsibulko are excellent as the birds various admirers.

Johannes Debus and the COC orchestra placed onstage for this show capture the rich Eastern harmonies of the score with delicacy and drama.

Not everything in the first half works, but The Nightingale soars.

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