I recently met with David Menzies, artistic director of the Compagnie Baroque Mont-Royal, to chat about their upcoming performance of Actéon at Victoria Hall. Over a cup of coffee (tea in my case), David talked about the company’s plans for the opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, one of the leading exponents of French baroque music.
The plot line for the opera, David explained, is rather straightforward. Acteon, a daring herdsman peeps on the goddess Diana while she is bathing in the forest. Diana, who doesn’t take transgressions against decorum lightly, turns him into a stag. Acteon’s raging hounds, unable to recognize their master, tear him apart. The simplicity of this pastoral tragedy is balanced by the richness and texture of the music, spearheaded by the distinctive sound of the harpsichord. On the other hand, the singing for this opera is diaphanous and rather short of intricate lyricisms. The voices, David explained, in French singing usually lack the coloratura of Italian opera and are focused on a declamatory style aimed at pushing the story forward.
The Compagnie Baroque Mont-Royal has been active since 2011, staging intimate performances at particular homes, presenting salon concerts and culminating with the annual production of a fully-fledged opera. For Actéon, they have prepared a hybrid production consisting of more than the opera. The orchestra will also play music by contemporaries of Charpentier, and a dancer will perform in between acts.
Rona Nadler, a renowned harpsichordist at McGill’s Schulich School of Music, will be in charge of musical direction. The singers and musicians are all up-and-coming talents in the process of expanding their baroque repertoire. Some of them have recently finished grad school at McGill, while others belong to different ensembles in the city, with connections to the Montreal Opera and the Université de Montréal.
This performance is an interesting proposition for opera ingénues willing to dip their toes on the often-intimidating waters of this art form. With an estimated duration of forty-five minutes, Actéon is very different from the sprawling operas that are sometimes considered an endurance sport. So come to Westmount’s Victoria Hall this weekend to enjoy some great music and memorable performances.
Acteon plays April 25 and 26 at Victoria Hall (4626 Sherbrooke W). 8 p.m. on Saturday, 3 p.m. on Sunday. $30/25