Monday, October 29, 2007

Opera Atelier's The Return of Ulysses

Opera Atelier is putting on "Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria" and we saw one of the shows yesterday.

Compared to past performances we have seen (a search on this blog will produce many enthusiastic reviews), this was far more serious and dramatic, and in some ways perhaps the least entertaining for us in a few years of faithfully seeing all their productions. Part of this is that we have become trained to the light humour in the productions, and this story is not wide open for that - we are heading, after all, for major slaughter, even if it does lead to the reunion of separated spouses.

But, as SillyWife pointed out, this company is great at finding hunky guys to play its roles. Olivier Laquerre, absolutely the best Papageno I have ever seen, in a performance last year, here does a wonderful job as Ulisse, trying to figure out what is happening to him, and then following the orders of Minerve, played by Carla Huhtahen, who was his superb Papagena in that other production.

And they find new guys! Cory Knight was a great Telemaco, both acting and singing playing a key role.

Curtis Sullivan was a suitor as a West Side Story gang leader and fine at it, as in his other roles in the performance.

SillyMe, mind you, is mindful of the female roles. Jennie Such as Melanto was all charm, and Stefanie Novacek conveyed confusion beautifully as Penelope.

I hate ballet, and I always like the dancing sequences in Opera Atelier shows. Why? I do not know.

Laurence Wiliford as Eumete also stood out for me.

So the opera itself lacked the usual humour, but this company cannot make everything all serious.

Marshall Pynkoski came out on stage before the show to deliver a speech (and I trembled in fear,recalling the last time he did this, making all sorts of bad analogies about world history), but this was good, all really about Bluma Appel, someone who has contributed enormously to the pleasures in my life living in Toronto.

And at the end, what wit! For the post-show applause they staged a little on-stage ballet, wonderfully exposing what bad dancers some of the performers are, and also engaging the conductor of the Toronto Consort (also not a dancer).

The spirit of this triggered what I would guess was a five to ten minute ovation, with large parts of the audience standing.

I often think this must be one of the most idiosyncratic companies in the world. It performs Baroque opera in period performances, well, in a mix between the creativity of the artistic leads, and what they understand of period performance. But it works - it works so well.

They seduced me finally several years ago with a Marriage of Figaro that just felt perfectly right, and since then I have seen every one of their productions; and I hope I can go to my grave seeing all the rest.

But more idiosyncratically, they are drawing mildly mass audiences in Toronto, at ticket prices that are well above the normal for opera here. What is going on? How do they do it?

I don't care at the moment. They are just a great part of what makes the city so liveable.


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