ARMIDE by Jean-Baptiste Lully, directed by Marshall Pynkoski, conducted by David Fallis (Opera Atelier). At the Elgin Theatre (189 Yonge). April 17, 18, 20 and 21 at 7:30 pm. $35-$175. 1-855-622-2787. See listing. Rating: NNNN
Opera Atelier's production of Jean-Baptiste Lully's 1686 baroque opera Armide is gorgeous in so many ways that you might forget it's a psychological drama pitting hatred against love.
That battle takes place both between the central characters, the sorceress Armide and the warrior Renaud, and within the soul of Armide, forced to weigh her initial feelings of anger at Renaud against the warm passion she later feels for him.
Both characters derive their protection from their virginity; Armide defends her Muslim warriors with her purity while Renaud seeks glory as a Christian knight. But when Armide, who inflicts love on others but doesn't feel it herself, uses her enchantments to make Renaud love her, she falls for him without the use of charms.
Armide's is a tragic tale, caught as she is between conflicting emotions. But that story is told through exquisite music, elegantly played by Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and sung by the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir under conductor David Fallis, the action given a mostly vital staging by director Marshall Pynkoski.
Peggy Kriha Dye's vocally adept Armide is staunchly proud at the start, then painfully torn as she acknowledges her own love. Her Renaud, Colin Ainsworth, has a bright tenor voice that impresses the first time he sings. Singly and together they generate a wide range of emotions vocally and dramatically; their one love scene together is charmingly sensual.
There are other fine voices onstage, too, including a resonant João Fernandes as Armide's uncle, Carla Huhtanen and Meghan Lindsay as various seductive figures and Curtis Sullivan as La Haine, the swaggering personification of hatred.
Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg's choreography, always a part of Opera Atelier productions, has rarely been as central and effective as it is here. Among her memorable numbers are a confrontation between Armide and La Haine that turns Love (dancer Jack Rennie) into a helpless victim and, earlier, Renaud's pursuit of shadows in an enchanted forest.
That forest is one of the several attractive Persian-inspired sets by Gerard Gauci, filled with Dora Rust D'Eye's colourful costumes and lit by Bonnie Beecher.
There are a few infelicitous moments, including some unnecessarily heavy-handed comedy, but Armide is worthy of being one of Opera Atelier's signature pieces.