Medea is Toronto’s Opera Atelier at its finest
As the overture of Opera Atelier‘s 2017 production of Medea began, the image of the Golden Fleece emblazoned on a black backdrop belied the carnage about to descend. The orchestra’s performance of Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s mood-setter for this classic Greek tale did not. From the first note, the overture was writhing with insatiable blood lust and ruthless precision.
Medea is one of the most fascinating and destructive forces in Greek mythology, and one of the earliest incarnations of the “hell hath no fury” archetype. When her heroic husband Jason the Argonaut abandons her to be with the beautiful Corinthian princess Créuse, her vengeance knows no limits.
This production plays to all of Opera Atelier’s strengths– super human drama enlivened with lavish costumes and jaw-dropping dance choreography. Intensely pigmented, resplendent satin and velvet, embellished with intricate crystal bead-work, predominated the costume design. Entwined with the themes of this work, the weighty fabric of the costumes were reminiscent of a gilded cage.
Ballet is always a highly memorable feature of Opera Atelier productions. This production’s choreography sinuously wove elegance with athleticism and violence. The mutinous, enchanted sword fight of the King’s guard during the opera’s blood-soaked climax was some of the most awe-inspiring dancing I have seen from this company to date.
The cast featured several Atelier regulars. Peggy Kriha Dye was magnificent in the title role. Medea is simultaneously sympathetic and irredeemable and Dye’s rich and crystalline voice did justice to the contradictions of the role.
Colin Ainsworth was delicious to loathe in the role of the faithless hero Jason. I think anyone who has ever dated a cad would enjoy watching his punishment. Ainsworth did a fine job of capturing the bravado and self-centred romanticism of this conflicted hero.
Mireille Asselin skillfully injected her naturally dulcet and cherubic voice with calculating shrewdness in the role of home-wrecking princess Créuse. The heartbreak and bitter resignation in her voice was palpable during her vicious death scene.
This opera is a highly musically advanced example from the Baroque period. The score features unexpected dissonance and significant metric contrast. A true feast for the listener, but perhaps this complexity accounts for why the sense of ensemble in this production was not as tight as I have come to expect from Atelier. There were several moments throughout the performance where it felt like there was a lack of consensus between singers and orchestra regarding tempi, with members of the cast and chorus pushing the pace. This made for some jarring moments in an elegant and intricate score.
On the whole Medea is Atelier at its finest. The story is undoubtedly timeless and compelling, and the singing is sublime. It is easy to understand why this production has been invited to France to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, and will certainly be a fine showcase of our nation’s operatic talent.
- Medeas is playing until April 29, 2017 at The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre (189 Yonge Street)
- Show times are 7:30 PM on April 25, 26 & 28; with an additional matinee at 4:30 PM on April 29.
- Ticket prices range from $45 – $189. Patrons under 30 can purchase tickets from $24.
- Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-314-2884
Photo of Olivier Laquerre and Artists of the Atelier Ballet by Bruce Zinger