THE RETURN OF ULYSSES by Claudio Monteverdi, directed by Marshall Pynkoski, conducted by David Fallis (Opera Atelier). At the Elgin Theatre (189 Yonge). To November 3. $30-$130. 416-872-5555. Rating: NNN
This has been the season for Ulysses. Stratford presented Derek Walcott's The Odyssey, the National Arts Centre co-produced Margaret Atwood's Penelopiad and now Opera Atelier offers Claudio Monteverdi's 1640 The Return Of Ulysses.
The rarely staged opera is rich musically and dramatically, even in this cut version, though sometimes the singers aren't as strong as the material.
To summarize Homer, Ulysses, wandering for 10 years after the decade-long Trojan War, finally arrives home in Ithaca.
His wife, Penelope, has been defending herself against suitors, especially the bullying Antinous. With the help of the goddess Minerva, Ulysses wins back Penelope.
Monteverdi is an early opera composer, so those who expect lots of arias will be surprised by the amount of recitative dialogue in the piece.
The composer's rich orchestrations, though, give a vibrancy to even the most ordinary lines. When we do get extended musical pieces - the lullaby-like aria for Penelope's servant Melanto, the duet for Minerva and Ulysses's son Telemachus, the final scene between Ulysses and Penelope - they're beautifully crafted and emotionally powerful.
Director Marshall Pynkoski scores visually and dramatically, for the singers all look their parts and act convincingly. There's lots of theatrics, too, in the climactic scene in which the suitors strain to string Ulysses's bow.
Vocally things are shakier, for the lower voices of Olivier Laquerre in the title role and Curtis Sullivan as Antinous/Time need more fullness and weight. That's not a problem for Lawrence Wiliford, whose shepherd Eumaeus is one of the show's highlights, nor for the Telemachus of Cory Knight, whose tone is smallish but expressive.
The women are uniformly strong, the standouts being Stephanie Novacek's emotionally true Penelope, Jennie Such's vibrant, exciting Melanto and Carla Huhtanen as a commanding Minerva.
Jeannette Zingg's choreography is graceful and sometimes surprising; one number has castanets and finger cymbals, and the final curtain call/dance is truly celebratory.
As usual, Gerard Gauci's sets and Dora Rust D'Eye's costumes are finely crafted, and the Toronto Consort under David Fallis gives a proper period feel and catchy rhythms to the music.