Art Beat – Beautiful Monsters Take Over The National Gallery

Phyllis Odenback Sutton

The Ottawa Baroque Consort brings baroque music back to its roots. Photo Supplied

The Ottawa Baroque Consort brings baroque music back to its roots. Photo Supplied

An appreciative audience was treated to a marvellous matinee performance at the National Gallery of Canada on January 25 featuring the Ottawa Baroque Consort, master storyteller David Brennan and a selection of pieces from the Gallery’s special exhibition, Beautiful Monsters in Early European Prints and Drawings (1450–1700). This exhibition, which runs until March 29, 2020, showcases a selection of 15th – 17th century engravings, etchings, woodcuts and drawings from the Gallery’s collection.

The idea of pairing Baroque music with Baroque art arose over a year ago; the Beautiful Monsters exhibition provided the perfect artwork, and the storytelling element was added to bring the monsters to life – with great success – in this onetime performance. Fusing three art forms, the performance alternated between stories, music and art. A full Baroque orchestra on stage and large-screen projections of the artwork made this a tightly-coordinated production.

The material was a new take on Greek and Roman mythology, written by Consort artistic director Olivier Henchiri and Jacinthe Hudon, director of multidisciplinary projects. The concert audience was regaled with stories about the deadly allure of sirens and their songs as we heard of Lorelei distracting sailors with her song and causing them to crash on the rocks. We met the full chested and full-bearded Neptune, god of fresh water, the sea and earthquakes – a lusty, temper filled god who was bored and always seeking something else as he travelled across the sea perched on a horse-drawn chariot.

Host David Brennan tours the audience through the nine levels of Hell in the Inferno. Photo Supplied

Host David Brennan tours the audience through the nine levels of Hell in the Inferno. Photo Supplied

We learned how freshwater stored in oak barrels on ships often turned mouldy and rancid, as our storyteller, armed with a stein of beer, captivated us with stories of sea monsters, whales circling ships and giant squids. We were told, among others, the storey of Cadmus and the Dragon’sdteeth and, finally, we were treated to very vivid descriptions of the nine levels of hell in the Inferno. One could only be agreed with Ottawa Baroque Consort executive director Lisa Wall that Host David Brennan, a stand-up comedian and storyteller, “was perfect for the part.”

And while the stories washed over us, so to did the beautifully performed music of Pietro Locatelli, Georg Philipp Telemann, Charles Avison and Vivaldi. Of particular note, Winter from “The Four Seasons” was used to wonderful effect with the Inferno artwork and story!

The Consort’s multidisciplinary concerts have garnered quite a following over the past few years. “People know they’re in for a powerful experience,” says Olivier, adding that “In a way, this brings Baroque music back to its roots: word-painting, stirring the passions and moving people emotionally.”

The next performance of the Ottawa Baroque Consort Musically In$u!t*ng will be at Glebe St-James Church, 650 Lyon Street – a short walk across the Flora Bridge – on May 23, 2020 at 7:30pm. Tickets are available at www.ottawabaroque.ca, or by calling 613-400-1511.

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