On Friday and Saturday, May 26 and 27, 2017, the Ottawa’s own Seventeen Voyces chamber choral ensemble enchanted Old Ottawa South audiences with a performance of the baroque opera “Venus and Adonis”. They were accompanied by the Ottawa Baroque Consort, and joined by some very special (and excited) collaborators: Old Ottawa South’s very own Makin’ Moves Children’s Dance Theatre.
Since 1997, Seventeen Voyces has been performing choral music in Ottawa under the direction of Kevin Reeves. “Venus and Adonis”, an opera by Dr. John Blow originally presented around 1683, is typical of the “hidden musical gems” that the ensemble focuses on. For this performance, Seventeen Voyces was joined by three young, rising, professional opera singers in the lead roles, and accompanied the Ottawa Baroque Consort, a professional baroque orchestra who perform a regular concert series in Ottawa on period instruments.
But the opera also needed dancers. As luck would have it, Kevin Reeves had read about a Makin’ Moves Children’s Dance Theatre performance in this very paper. He contacted Michelle Priel, Artistic Director of Makin’ Moves. Before she knew it, Michelle was recruiting dancers and giving herself and her kids a crash course in English country dancing - a fun and challenging departure from Makin’ Moves’ usual focus on ballet and modern dance.
“Venus and Adonis” is a retelling of the traditional Venus and Adonis myth. The opera keeps the tragedy of the original myth, but adds a number of subversive twists, most notably through comic scenes where Cupid muses that almost no one in the court is faithful - a risqué commentary on British nobility at that time. The opera veers from comedy to tragedy, requiring skillful direction and performances to keep it coherent and engaging.
The opera was presented over two nights at Southminster Church. And it was a truly unique and magical production. The polished harmonies of Seventeen Voyces meshed beautifully with the Baroque timbre of the Ottawa Baroque Consort, turning the Church into a sort of time machine, transporting the audience back to the 17th century. The three lead singers were masterful. Ryan McDonald brought the perfect blend of humour and mischief to his role as Cupid - and it was a rare treat to see a countertenor, singing in such a soaring falsetto, in a live performance. Joel Allison displayed his rich, stirring baritone as Adonis, and as Venus, Bronwyn Thies-Thompson sang brilliantly and projected compelling emotion and presence throughout her performance.
The Makin’ Moves dancers performed beautifully as well, and were used with great creativity by Kevin Reeves and Michelle Priel to illustrate key plot points and reinforce the emotions and themes of the opera. The younger dancers, as little cupids, charmed the audience with their group dance. Audrey Darcovich (the hunter) pursued Anousha Scullino (the boar) in a mad and silly hunt. As the opera veered towards its conclusion, the dancing became more dramatic, with a convincingly somber and elegant dance by the Three Graces foreshadowing Adonis’ tragic end.
The night ended with a well-deserved standing ovation. The Makin’ Moves kids, in particular, were giddy with excitement at their first experience with this level of live performance. As Michelle Priel described it, “There is a magic in live theatre that is just that...it’s live, it can never be repeated, it happens in real time, in front of a live audience, and the feeling of standing before a crowd who are applauding something you had just poured your heart and soul into is an indescribable joy”. We are truly lucky to have the opportunity to experience this type of event in our neighbourhood.
Originally published in the July/August 2017 OSCAR.