The emotional clash between warrior princess Armida and valiant virgin knight Renaud in a 16th century epic poem by Torquato Tasso launched a couple of centuries worth of operatic inspiration with its promise of war, seduction, vengeance and the triumph of purity over malice.
Opera Atelier has revived and embellished its 2005 production of Jean-Baptist Lully and Philippe Quinault’s grand, five-act “tragédie en musique” from 1686 in glorious style at the Elgin Theatre.
At the opening performance on Saturday night, the corps de ballet was in brilliant form as it spent almost as much time on stage as the strong vocal cast during the 2-1/2 hours (plus intermission) of opera.
But not even all the brightly coloured silks on Queen West can mask the slow pacing and preponderance of recitative in much of Baroque opera.
For those willing to let the pageant unfold at its own pace, there are many treats, starting with brilliant turns by the two main singers, soprano Peggy Kriha Dye as Armide and tenor Colin Ainsworth as Renaud.
It’s wonderful to see Ainsworth back on a Toronto opera stage.
The rest of the cast is strong, especially sopranos Carla Huhtanen and
mezzo Meghan Lindsay. Baritone Olivier Laquerre helps deliver a welcome dose of comic relief, with the help of fellow chevalier, tenor Aaron Ferguson.
Everything on stage is tidily organized by Opera Atelier co-artistic director Marshall Pynkoski, who relies heavily on his stock of Baroque-era dramatic gestures to help tell the emotional narrative.
Co-artistic director and ballet mistress Jeanette Lajeunesse Zingg has done a particularly fine job in choreographing the long stretches of dance interlude in all sorts of creative ways, as the story moves from Armide’s premature celebration of victory over her foe Renaud’s armies, her resolve to seduce and then kill him, her inadvertent falling in love with him, and her ultimate desolation as Renaud is rescued from love’s literal spell by his comrades.
It sounds like a lot of grist for fine stage drama, but the long stretches between sung scenes repeatedly sapped the narrative tension in each act, making Armide seem even longer than it is.
Gerard Gauci’s trompe l’oeil sets are a treat, as are Dora Rust D’Eye’s costumes. Bonnie Beecher’s lighting is in perfect step with the dramatic needs of each scene.
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, divided into two continuo sections placed at opposite ends of the orchestra pit, had a few moments of disarray on Saturday night, but, with the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, otherwise did a fine job of bringing Lully’s rich score to life under conductor David Fallis.
Fans of Baroque opera should enjoy every minute of this presentation — and recognize what a treat Parisians have in store when the company takes this production to the Palace of Versailles next month.
There are five more performances, starting Sunday afternoon. For details, click here.