PERSÉE by Jean-Baptiste Lully (Opera Atelier). At the Elgin Theatre until May 3. $38-$166. 1-855-622-2787 Rating: NNN
Opera Atelier's production of Lully's Persée has become a signature work for the company, and no wonder. It's filled with everything that makes them special: sumptuous sets and costumes, and a witty, lively take on a lesser-known baroque opera gem. What it lacks this time around, however, are compelling voices in the leads.
The latest production, enhanced since its 2004 version and heading to Versailles after its run here, takes a while to ignite, since it's mostly set-up. Ethiopia under King Céphée (Olivier Laquerre) and Queen Cassiope (Carla Huhtanen) is being decimated by Méduse, who turns all who look at her to stone. When the King brings in Persée (Christopher Enns) to fight the monster, promising his daughter Andromède's (Mireille Asselin) hand if he succeeds, he raises the ire of Phinée (Vasil Garvanliev), Andromède's betrothed, and the queen's sister, Mérope (Peggy Kriha Dye), who's secretly in love with Persée.
The second half is much more exciting, particularly the famous Méduse scene, in which Persée, aided by Mercure (Lawrence Wiliford) and other gods, charms the monster (played by Laquerre in drag) and her two Gorgons (Curtis Sullivan and Aaron Ferguson, ditto), and the scene in which Adromède, Fay Wray-style, is chained to a rock to be sacrificed to a sea monster. Gerard Gauci's painted sets in both scenes are wonderfully vivid.
But apart from Wiliford, whose nimble grace and pure tenor are a delight, and the rich-voiced Kriha Dye, whose Mérope seems genuinely conflicted, there's not much sparkle from the cast. Garvanliev is so over-the-top, he seems to be in a panto, and there's no chemistry between Enns and Asselin.
Thankfully, there's lots to look at in Jeannette Lajeuesse Zingg's elegant choreography, and the Tafelmusik Orchestra, under David Fallis, adds a propulsive vigour that's often missing on the stage.