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The Rover 21.04.2012

I didn’t see much of the Rialto theatre while arriving—one never does from inside a litter—but once the boys put me down and I’d got out of the awful velvet and silk swaddling, I was pleasantly surprised. What a grand place to begin something.

The something last week was the inagural performance of Montreal’s newest vocal-instrumental ensemble, the Mont-Royal Baroque Collective. Artistic directors Susan Toman and David Menzies introduced their group of a variable size, a mass of musicians like a bee hive, I imagine, who will perform one intimate chamber work a year. When a production calls for fewer instruments, the unnecessaries will be cut and eaten and their bones used to build out the lair. And when they need more musicians, well, you figure that out.

They chose Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Pygmalion because it was a “symbol of beginnings” and also, I suspect, because it is a short, lively, and very manageable production. An ideal chamber piece, it even contains a ballet, danced at the Rialto by members of the Jardins Choréographiques.

Librettist Ballot de Sovot’s version gives Pygmalion a girlfriend, Céphise, a choice that helps the drama by confusing its ideas. The original Pygmalion-the-bachelor can be read as parable about artistic endeavour, the role of love in creation, and moral purity. Do Sovot’s guy comes across as a whiny, perhaps loony pervert who likes to touch statues. Tenor David Menzies uncontrollable Pharonic eyebrows and mildly acidic tone did not help this characterization.

The object of his desire, later named Galatea, is only called The Statue by de Sovot. She comes to life with a line out of 18th century male fantasy: “What should I think?” And returns Pygmalion’s affections, it seems, mostly because she can’t conceive of alternatives. Recently arrived to Montreal, Soprano Ellen Wieser was an easy actress as the half-wit statue, a beam of sunshine in Menzies’s cloud of discomfort. I know her and can’t comment on the sound (I just hope to hear more of it.) Mezzo soprano Ghislaine Deschambault was tragically lush as the discarded Céphise, and if she’s finished doing nice things to French ears, I trust she’ll stay and do them to ours.

Though the musicians could have used a couple more rehearsals, they mostly carried it off under Toman’s direction from the harpsichord. Costumes, sets, and lighting were mercifully minimal and reminded me to light the dynamite I put under the Opera de Montreal’s set storage. I hope it’s not damp.