Torontonians have an unusual luxury this time of the year. They can see a play about the beginning of the Trojan War and an opera about events at the end of that great, mythical conflict. You remember the 1000 ships moored in the harbour of Aulis ready to rescue the gorgeous Helen, Queen of Sparta from the nefarious Trojans? Small problem: no wind to help them sail across the Aegean. Solution: sacrifice the daughter of King Agamemnon. So goes Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis as adapted by Sina Gilani as Wedding at Aulis for Soulpepper.
At the end of the war, Idomeneus, King of Crete, is returning from the war but the sea god Neptune causes a storm that threatens to swallow the king. Solution: Idomeneus promises to sacrifice the first person he sees in Crete if his life is spared. Neptune agrees and the first person the king sees is his son. So, we start with human sacrifice of a daughter and end with the sacrifice of a son. A good plot for Mozart’s opera seria Idomeneo.
Opera Atelier holds the distinction of giving the first production of Idomeneo in North America on period instruments back in 2008. What was good then is even better now. Director Marshall Pynkoski with Set Designer Gerard Gauci and Costume Designer Marco Gianfrancesco set the opera in its 18th century roots as a work of beauty, elegance and grace. Choreographer Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg and the Artists of Atelier Ballet add to these attributes so that the entire production, in addition to all its operatic and balletic qualities, becomes a visual delight.
Mozart is an equal opportunity composer who provides virtual concert pieces for the main characters of the opera. The cast is exemplary starting with Opera Atelier stalwart, tenor Colin Ainsworth as the unfortunate Idomeneo. He is a haunted man who has made a terrible choice. Ainsworth has a finely tuned voice and his Idomeneo expresses vocal finesse and delivery of character as much as is permitted in opera seria.
His son Idamante, the intended sacrifice to Neptune, is sung by mezzo soprano Wallis Giunta. The role was written for a castrato but is frequently sung by a tenor. It can be done quite well by a mezzo soprano and Giunta with her lovely voice gives a marvelous performance as the prince who is loved by two women.
The lushly voiced and dramatic Measha Brueggergosman is back as the love-struck but ill-fated Electra. She is in love with Idamante, but he is in love with someone else. She goes from passion to being unhinged as she realizes that she is the loser of the love triangle.
Soprano Meghan Lindsay runs away with kudos for her performance as the Trojan princess Ilia. She is brought to Crete as a trophy and then falls in love with her owner. We hear her pain and her love in a vocally and theatrically superb performance.
Opera Atelier usually performs at the gorgeous Elgin Theatre but they have been squeezed out of there and sent to the Ed Mirvish Theatre up the street. It is not made for opera and the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra was hemmed in around the stage looking a bit uncomfortable. That appearance was not reflected in their playing under the baton of David Fallis.
Idomeneo is based on a less than satisfactory libretto by a cleric named Giovanni Battista Varesco and its form of opera seria does not help it. But despite those shortcomings, Opera Atelier has managed one more time to give us a production that is a feast for the eyes, a banquet for the ears and ambrosia for the soul. A highly civilized evening at the opera.
Idomeneo by W. A. Mozart, presented by Opera Atelier, is being presented between April 4 to 13, 2019 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre 244 Victoria St. Toronto, Ontario. www.operaatelier.com