Opera Atelier’s production of Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria showcases the company’s considerable strengths while, largely, avoiding many of its indulgencies. The production, directed and choreographed, as always, by Marshall Pynkoski and Jeanette Lajeunesse Zingg, incorporated the traditional Opera Atelier elements to good effect. Painted flats and historical looking stage machinery coupled with Baroque acting style worked well for Monteverdi’s dramatically restrained opera. Dance elements were for the most part judiciously inserted. Doubling a dancer with countertenor Michael Taylor (singing from the pit) for his cameo as The Sailor was particularly inspired. Only the insertion of Opera Atelier’s apparently obligatory finger cymbal number at the beginning of the third act seemed self indulgent, indeed tedious. The bold lighting plot with multiple lightning scenes and effective use of strobes would likely have delighted Monteverdi’s Venetian audience.

Krešimir Špicer (Ulysses) and Christopher Enns (Telemaco) © Bruce Zinger | Opera Atelier
Krešimir Špicer (Ulysses) and Christopher Enns (Telemaco)
© Bruce Zinger | Opera Atelier

Designs were for the most part subdued. Gerard Gauci’s sets consisted basically of an outdoor backdrop with columns descending from the fly for interior scenes; a good case for “less is more”. Michael Legouffe’s costumes were also restrained by Opera Atelier standards. Operatic 18th-century in subdued tones for the most part dominated though some very anachronistic splashes of aniline made an appearance in the second half with the ladies of the ballet.

Ulisse requires a large cast with some twenty named roles. Judicious doubling up reduced that to twelve in this production. The stand out was tenor Krešimir Špicer as Ulysses. He sang stylishly and often quite beautifully but with a steely reserve of power that he summoned up as needed. It was very fine. Mireille Lebel, singing Penelope, was also excellent. She used the colours in her voice to good effect, especially in the second half where her mood swings from despair to hope to relief were nicely characterised. Buffo bass-baritone Douglas Williams impressed as a physically and vocally menacing Antinoo.

Carla Huhtanen (Melanto) and Isaiah Bell (Eurimaco) © Bruce Zinger | Opera Atelier
Carla Huhtanen (Melanto) and Isaiah Bell (Eurimaco)
© Bruce Zinger | Opera Atelier

Countertenors aren’t seen a lot on Toronto stages so it was good to see Michael Taylor get an outing as both a sailor and the courtier Pisandro. Meghan Lindsey was an impressive presence as Minerva. Somehow, however much in the background, she caught the eye whenever she was on stage and sang with considerable authority when required. Kevin Skelton and Aaron Sheehan joined regulars Isaiah Bell, Chris Enns, Stephen Hegedus, Carla Huhtanen and Laura Pudwell to complete a cohesive ensemble cast.

David Fallis led a nineteen-piece band, drawn from Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, from the organ. At first the sound seemed a little underwhelming in the relatively large theatre but one soon acclimatised and the balance between pit and stage worked well for the music. Ed Reiffel as a one-man percussion section was very impressive in supporting numerous stage effects.

Kevin Skelton (Jupiter, above) and Meghan Lindsay (Minerva) © Bruce Zinger | Opera Atelier
Kevin Skelton (Jupiter, above) and Meghan Lindsay (Minerva)
© Bruce Zinger | Opera Atelier

Opera Atelier’s return to the earliest part of the opera repertoire showed up strengths that have not been so evident in some of their forays into post-Baroque repertoire. Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria runs at the Elgin Theatre until April 28th.

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