Haymarket Opera enchants with Charpentier

Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 12:22 pm

By Elliot Mandel

Olof Lilja as the title character in Charpentier's "Acteon," presented by Haymarket Opera comany.
Olof Lilja as the title character in Charpentier’s “Acteon,” presented by Haymarket Opera Company. Photo: Chuck Osgood

A bear, a goat-man, and a group of bathing nymphs are only some of the surprises and delights of Haymarket Opera Company’s Actéon. This collection of three short pastorals by Marc-Antoine Charpentier is the finale of HOC’s third season, and the capacity audience at Mayne Stage Friday evening enjoyed an overall delightful romp through Greek mythology set to exquisite 17th-century music.

In the opening pastoral, two shepherds bicker over which of them is the better singer. Pan – the half man, half goat – appears and judges the ensuing sing-off. Playful characterization and solid singing propelled the short scene, though tenor Olof Lilja was the clear standout. Before a winner can be named, a bear appears and chases Pan and the shepherds away.

The same bear is pursued by three hunter-nymphs who pause to lament the death of Adonis. Soprano Angela Young Smucker’s voice was appropriately weighted, not too heavy or too light, easily fitting with the orchestra. The nymphs are met by two hunters who would rather pursue love than a bear. The group pranced about the stage, each singer touting the virtues of love, youth, or chastity, in a scene that looked like an oil painting come to life. Soprano Nathalie Colas, too, sang with a balance of ease and strength.

Still chasing the bear, the hunter Actéon (Olof Lilja) appears in the final pastoral, but decides to take a nap in the woods. He wakes to discover the nymphs and the goddess Diana bathing, and is turned into a stag as punishment. The story takes a dark turn when the hunters return with their kill, only to discover the deer was the transformed Actéon. Lilja’s singing again was filled with warmth and emotion as he morphs from happy-go-lucky hero to disgraced creature.

The 90-minute performance was purely enjoyable, thanks to well-directed scenes, smart pacing, and enchanting scenery. HOC succeeds in its unique ability to make a small-scale work seem larger. Charpentier’s brilliant music was always the focus, driving the plot and emotion.

Playing on period instruments, the orchestra – led by Craig Trompeter alongside some of Chicago’s top early music specialists – radiated with grace and buoyancy. The singers, too, displayed great affection for early music, and the entire company shone with a love of the material.

Actéon will be repeated 5 and 8 p.m. Saturday at Mayne Stage. Haymarketopera.org

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