Opera Atelier

February 1, 2013

Opera Atelier infused its production of Charpentier’s Médée with dance.
Bruce Zinger, courtesy Opera Atelier

Opera Atelier

Elgin Theatre
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

November 1�10, 2002

Reviewed by Paula Citron

Opera Atelier’s production of Charpentier’s 1693 masterpiece Médée could be the company’s finest to date. The internationally acclaimed, Toronto-based Baroque “Opera-Ballet” company (which is what these productions were called during the Baroque era) takes its mandate seriously. Dance is just as important as the singing, as it was in the time of the various Kings Louis of France, when the two art forms were completely intertwined. The company was founded in 1985 by director Marshall Pynkoski and choreographer Jeannette Zingg, and from the very beginning, they breathed life into rarities through the stunning period costumes of Dora Rust-D’Eye and the brilliant perspective flats of Gerard Gauci. Each production contains the special effects so beloved in the Baroque era, and Médée had a child Cupid descending from the ceiling in a garlanded gondola, and a first-rate grotesquerie�a “Furies” scene resplendent with the fires of hell. All the singers were coached by Pynkoski in period movement. Thus, in both the singers and dancers, the era was authenticated. As well, the company worked with a first-class, period-instrument ensemble�Toronto’s Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra augmented by members of Paris’s Le Concert Spirituel�under the musical direction of distinguished French conductor Hervé Niquet, who also led the excellent, offstage Tafelmusik Chamber Choir. The quality of the singers was simply sublime.

Zingg seems to have reached her stride as a Baroque dance choreographer who can transform a subtle and limited vocabulary into something meaningful. The high port de bras, gentle wrist flicks, dainty jumps, intricate footwork, and deep pliés of the women were extended for the men into more vibrant leaps and vigorous tours en l’air. In fact, some of the dance sequences were the most riveting of the production, and having young men from the National Ballet of Canada as part of the sixteen-member corps de ballet, certainly strengthened the ranks. A particular standout was the charismatic Patrick Lavoie, as the most sexy and infernal of Furies.

The dancers were cleverly integrated into the entire production. For example, they were the stately, flower-bedecked, courtly attendants in the pageant that greeted the arrival of King Oronte (Canadian bass-baritone Olivier Laquerre). They were an integral element when the vengeful Médée (American mezzo-soprano Stephanie Novacek) destroys her rival, Princess Créuse (Canadian soprano Nathalie Paulin), by poisoning a dress that is a gift for her. The scene was cocooned in Kevin Fraser’s magnificent red lighting, with Lavoie adding his rippling muscles in isolations to conjure up the lethal sensuousness of a deadly snake, as the golden garment plummeted from the sky. The sword fight, when the merciless sorceress turns the men-at-arms of King Créon (Canadian bass Alain Coulombe) against each other, was dangerous and exciting, yet danced totally within period. In contrast was the gentle dance of peace by the women to lull Créon’s court into Médée’s snare.

Musically, Niquet led his forces on a dash to the finish, a speed that aptly suited Médée’s destruction of her betrayer Jason (French countertenor Cyril Auvity), and Pynkoski went for the jugular in demanding acting singers who really took risks with voices and bodies. If there was one cavil, it was that the singing was, at times, not loud enough, either because Niquet had balance problems or the Elgin acoustics swallowed up sound.

In the title role, Novacek was sensational as the ruthless Médée, while newcomer Auvity displayed a bright voice, good looks, and wonderful interpretive skills as the duplicitous Jason. The rest of the Canadian cast�including Krisztina Szabó, Curtis Sullivan, Colin Ainsworth, Michiel Schrey, Shannon Mercer, and child soprano Cynthia Smithers�was an embarrassment of riches.