DER FREISCHUTZ by Carl Maria von Weber, directed by Marshall Pynkoski, conducted by David Fallis (Opera Atelier). At the Elgin Theatre (189 Yonge). To November 3, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 7:30 pm. $35-$155. 1-855-622-2787, operaatelier.com. See listing. Rating: NNNN
Opera Atelier's first venture into German Romantic opera, Der Freischütz (The Marksman), is an impressive work, both musically and visually, though it doesn't always hit the bull's-eye.
Artistic co-directors Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg have long wanted to expand the company's usual repertoire - baroque and classical opera/dance - into other musical periods. As director and choreographer, respectively, of Carl Maria von Weber's 1821 Freischütz, they've created a well-integrated, entertaining production.
Given that the opera is rarely performed and includes spoken text as well as musical numbers, the company wisely offers the former in English and the latter in German.
The story draws on German folk legend combined with a Faustian deal-with-the-devil tale; it's nicely coincidental that the show runs during Halloween week.
Max (Kresimir Spicer), a huntsman, plans on becoming head huntsman and marrying Agathe (Meghan Lindsay), daughter of the current head; he must, though, win a sharpshooting contest to gain both. Having trouble with his recent shots, he's convinced by the devious Kaspar (Vasil Garvanliev), another huntsman who's already in thrall to the powers of evil, to cast seven magical bullets with the help of the devilish Black Huntsman, Samiel (Curtis Sullivan).
There's a happy ending - or at least the anticipation of one - and a plot that includes Agathe's fun-loving friend Aanchen (Carla Huhtanen) and a prince (Michael Nyby) whose stern judgment is tempered by a wise hermit (Gustav Andreassen).
David Fallis guides Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra in an enthusiastic performance of the rich score, which often echoes folk tunes. The horns, conjuring up the hunt, are notably strong, and the peasant dance melodies are zestfully played.
Spicer's large tenor, though pushed in the first scene, sounds right for a mournful, romantic hero, while Garvanliev makes a manipulative, believably charming villain. Huhtanen, as always, wins us over with her vivacious acting and singing, but Lindsay, despite some lovely sounds, isn't fully convincing dramatically. Her first-act aria is bland in terms of its storytelling, and her spoken dialogue is flat. By her second aria, though, she's in tune with the rest of the performers.
The handsome design is up to Opera Atelier's high standards, with Gerard Gauci's set, Martha Mann's costumes, Bonnie Beecher's lighting and Raha Javanfar's projections giving atmospheric life to the story. The spooky Wolf's Glen scene, with a commanding Sullivan and writhing spirits - all seemingly naked - is an inspired piece of staging.