Magic on stage as dancers join orchestra for Mozart classics
French conductor Laurence Equilbey and the Insula Orchestra returned to the Grand Théâtre after two years, this time to perform Magic Mozart, a performance incorporating the choreography of Philippe Decouflé – and “spectaculaire” it was.
Magic might be in the title, but love was really the order of the day, with the arias and pieces chosen, mostly from The Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. The joy and happiness of love was effortlessly interwoven with the sadness and bitterness of unrequited love and a broken heart, in between some fun, such as the cat duet (Der Stein der Weisen) and Bastien und Bastienne.
Mozart purist critics wrong
Purist critics who reviewed the recording of this performance – brought out when performances were postponed due to the pandemic – are quick to criticise the lack of logic or arbitrary nature of Equilbey’s choices which see arias from Don Giovanni performed out of their usual order. Yet the choices are made for a live performance, when the context of the entire opera is not required, as the choreography often interprets the pieces in very unique ways.
With love at the centre, we are taken through the full gamut of emotions that the love-struck and lovelorn experience not just through the music, but the movements of the dancers.
We do not often see the orchestra on stage at a theatre, but rather in the pit, yet here they are the central pillar to the performance. The stage is draped in a giant light blue curtain, the orchestra is set as it would be in the pit, and behind it a smaller stage and a giant screen. At various times, close ups of the orchestra playing are projected onto the backdrop, including the chance to see Equilbey conducting face-on. At other times, the screen reflects the shadows of the dancers or a montage of the dancers, the singers and the orchestra.
Many-layered stage within a stage
This stage within a stage, within yet another stage, gives the audience the impression that we are looking at the many layers of Mozart’s arias and instrumental pieces. Dancers come on clad in floating dresses, suit jackets, under garments, and even pink wigs reminiscent of the ones worn by Tom Hulce in the film Amadeus.
Decouflé cleverly uses shadows which show the dancers twisting and writhing on stage, to paint a visual picture of the torment the singers so lucidly vocalise about a love now lost. This is not classical ballet, and the dancers are not meant to exhibit pure grace, but rather the raw emotions that we hear from soprano Olga Pudova, mezzo Adèle Charvet, tenor Julien Behr and baritone Mikhail Timoshenko.
And it works brilliantly, as you feel carried away with the emotions so beautifully expressed in the music and singing, by the sweeping movements of the dancers’ limbs, but also the jerky jolting ones. On stage it comes together splendidly, with the tempo changing, the dancers alternating classic with more modern styles, and a little humour interjected in the form of a comic (wearing shorts and sock suspenders and sometimes a Mozart-style wig), who wanders between the musicians trying to make sense of it all and to join in the performance, but failing each time.
Occasionally the dancers and singers act as one, combining dance moves with those of the singers, to give the performance even greater fluidity.
If there is one criticism, it is that the orchestra on-stage does not benefit from the acoustics of the pit. The string instruments are far stronger than the wind ones (or so it felt in the audience), meaning that some of the usually louder, tumultuous sections are softer and smoother.
Olga Pudova is pitch perfect
We can thank Russia for Olga Pudova and Mikhail Timoshenko. Having listened to many renditions of the Queen of the Night aria from The Magic Flute, I can honestly say Pudova’s is the best I have heard. Pitch perfect, with every word so clear, yet so fluidly sung. Whilst Timoshenko demonstrates the rich velvetiness of the baritone at his best, particularly on the Don Giovanni arias.
It must have been challenging for Equilbey, the orchestra and singers, and Decouflé’s dancers to have performed to a less than half-filled auditorium (due to pandemic restrictions), but the applause they received at the end will hopefully go a long way towards recognising a very noteworthy spectacular.
The Magic Mozart Concert Spectacular will be performed again tonight at 20.00 at the Grand Théâtre at the Glacis in Luxembourg City.