Opera Atelier presents Armide at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto
Opera Atelier’s sexy production of Armide is a perfect refutation to those who claim that opera is too long or too boring. Overflowing with sumptuous sights and sounds, the production’s two-and-a-half-hour-plus run time sped by in a captivating flash.
Before attending the show, I would recommend Baroque opera newcomers to reacquaint themselves with the music of Bach and his contemporaries. This was only my second time watching an Opera Atelier production and I was soon reminded that the Baroque sound is slightly thinner and more complex than orchestrations that you may hear at the Canadian Opera Company.
Baroque opera is also known for its melodramatic performances. During the show, I could hear some laughter in the audience even before the comedic relief characters came on, so expect a lot of grand, expressive gestures and poses.
The tale of Armide, a Muslim princess who is divided by her love and hate for Christian knight Renaud, was a very prescient choice for this season in light of some of the issues that dominated our recent federal election. I must give credit to the artistic direction of the show, especially the set and costume design, which managed to show the cultural exchanges between Europe and the Middle East, while making it very clear that this opera is firmly set within a European point of view.
I was also pleasantly surprised to see a powerful and complicated female protagonist. Although Armide is tormented by her passions, she ultimately fights to be in control of her own fate, and often physically and figuratively tries to shake off the influence of the domineering male characters. As well, her sexuality is celebrated and praised by her court as a source of power.
Part of the praise must go to Peggy Kriha Dye as Armide for giving such a complex, tour-de-force performance within the constraints of melodrama. Her Armide is tormented but confident, fervent yet thoughtful. Moreover, the sensuous duets between Dye and Colin Ainsworth as Renaud were absolutely breath-taking.
Although there were a few times when it was difficult to hear some of the solos — especially when the actors were upstage — and some of the duets seemed off-rhythm at times, in general I was very impressed with all the performances: Aaron Ferguson and Olivier LaQuerre as Renaud’s compatriots were the comedic highlights of the show and provided some much-needed levity before the devastating last act. Carla Huhtanen and Meghan Lindsay held their own both as Armide’s ladies-in-waiting and in their solo roles.
The lively choreography, a mixture of Baroque courtly dances and ballet, was another highlight of the evening. The choreography was well-integrated into the scenes and smoothly incorporated the singers. There was a particularly beautiful sequence where Renaud is chased into Armide’s hideaway by a collection of dancing demons and then spellbound by a glittering, ballet-dancing Cupid.
The highest compliment I can pay Armide is to relay the comment of my guest, who said that she really enjoyed the production, this being the first opera she had ever seen. The second highest compliment I can give is the assurance that I will definitely attend Opera Atelier‘s next production.
- Armide is playing until October 31st at the Elgin Theatre (189 Yonge Street).
- Remaining shows are this Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 7:30pm, and this Saturday at 4:30 PM.
- Tickets are available online via Ticketmaster, by phone at 1-855-622-2787 (services charges may apply), or in person at the Elgin Theatre Box Office.
- This show contains the use of fog effects and strobe lighting.
Photo of Tyler Gledhill and Peggy Kriha Dye by Bruce Zinger.