Toronto’s Opera Atelier brings excellent performances to the early opera Armide
First performed in 1686, Armide, by Jean-Baptiste Lully, is widely recognized as a masterpiece of early opera. Opera Atelier’s production featured beautiful sets, vibrant costumes, and of course, wonderful singing. Despite the high production value and prodigious artistic talent, the story did not stand the test of time from my perspective and this affected my overall enjoyment of the work.
The narrative explores issues of forbidden love and inner conflict. Armide is a warrior princess and sorceress defending her homeland against the knights of the crusade. She falls hopelessly in love with Renaud, who has liberated all of her captives and is her sworn enemy.
She falls in love with Renaud while he is fast asleep under an enchantment so her reasons for feeling so passionate towards him are not clear. The Muslims attempting to fend off invasion by Europeans are portrayed as villains who call the forces of hell to their aid. These ideological issues aside, the pacing of the storytelling dragged and contained many plot holes.
Clearly, Opera Atelier is not responsible for these issues with the story; they can only work with what has been passed down through history. Despite the fact that I did not enjoy the plot, this production had a number of strengths.
Peggy Kriha Dye gave a wonderful performance in the title role, both vocally and dramatically. She is able to elicit a wide range of colours from her instrument and is not afraid to make sounds that are not pretty if this technique serves the storytelling.
Colin Ainsworth, who sang the role of Renaud, has a beautiful and robust sound and his voice is ideal for early music.
Atelier’s ability to coach its performers on period gestures and stage movement is peerless. Everyone in the production demonstrated ease and grace in this regard.
This production also outdid itself with regard to costumes. The attire was sumptuous, elaborate and highly colourful. The set was also beautiful and well designed. They made very effective use of a scrim which allowed them to illuminate and elevate characters behind the main action. This was at times used to depict what was going on in a character’s mind or in a dream.
The use of ballet dancing is always an enjoyable element of Atelier productions and this production has a substantial dance component. The dancing was very well choreographed and executed.
While both my companion and I felt that issues with the content and pacing of the story affected our overall enjoyment of an otherwise excellent performance, this opinion did not appear to be shared by other audience members. We heard avid positive feedback from some patrons during the intermission. I think lovers of early music who value form and interpretation over content will be very pleased by this production.
– Armide plays at Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street from April 14 to April 21, 2012. All performances begin at 7:30 pm, with the exception of the Sunday, April 15 3:00 pm matinee.
– Tickets can be bought online or by phone at 1-855-622-2787, or at the Elgin Box Office at 189 Yonge St.
– Group tickets are also available ; those under 30 can purchase tickets for $20 each with valid ID
– Regular ticket prices range from $40 to $180
Photo of the full company by Bruce Zinger