ARMIDE by Jean Baptiste Lully (Opera Atelier). Runs through Saturday (November 12). See Continuing for details. Rating: NNN
Two virgins define the world of Armide , Jean Baptiste Lully 's psychologically telling opera about the clash of Moslems and Christians in the 1099 Crusade. At first, power and glory are the key motivations for Armide ( Stephanie Novacek ), a sorcerer princess who turns her back on love, and her French foe, the warrior Renaud ( Colin Ainsworth ). But love is too basic a human need to be denied, and what Armide represses bursts out in for her dangerous fashion, as she discovers when she has the Frenchman within reach of her dagger. Innocence doesn't last long when the pair get together.
Novacek is expert at demonstrating the title character's shifting emotions; she's first playful and proud, later lost and desperate, finally vengeful. The work doesn't allow Ainsworth the same range, but in the final act he reveals a touching tenderness toward his former adversary, now his lover. Their one duet, sung by a high tenor and a mezzo, makes for some beautiful music, and it doesn't hurt that the performers are credibly passionate.
Director Marshall Pynkoski taps the work's dramatic moments well but falls short in its comedy. The scene featuring a pair of fearful Christian knights, played large and without much humour, is memorable largely for Monica Whicher 's fine singing as a tempting spirit.
Jeannette Zingg 's choreography, always an integral part of an Opera Atelier production, is more vital than usual here, and the pairing of airy, sensual music and skilled dancers, notably James Leja 's Amour, proves a seductive combination.
Opera Atelier's typically eye-catching production features Dora Rust-D'Eye 's costumes, rich in colour and texture, and Gerard Gauci 's set, which draws its inspiration from Persian miniatures.
The show is as strong musically, with Tafelmusik under conductor Andrew Parrott capturing the score's wide-ranging emotional tones.
But enough, please, of Pynkoski's effusive pre-show talks to a captive audience. This year marks, happily, the company's 20th anniversary, and we don't need Pynkoski sounding like a university lecturer who mistrusts his students' abilities to watch, listen and understand for themselves.