Reviewed by James Karas
Toronto’s remarkable Opera Atelier has scored another remarkable cultural event with its production of Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Medea. The opera was first performed in 1693 and the dynamic duo of Marshall Pynkoski (director) and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg (choreographer) give us a production that captures the drama, choreographic splendour and colour of the piece with astonishing success.
Médée is a killer role for a soprano. (Pynkoski uses the English version of Medea for the title but employees the French names for the characters and I am following his example). Soprano Peggy Kriha Dye has all the equipment to tackle the role and come out on top. Médée has enough faces to make your head spin. She killed her father and her brother because she was in love with Jason and she helped him steal the Golden Fleece. She is angry because he is about to dump her for Princess Créuse. She is furious with King Creon because he is throwing her out of Corinth where she has taken refuge, she is also a sorceress who can call on the spirits of the underworld.
All of these facets make vocal and acting demands on Ms Dye. She is in love, in hate, in vengeance, in rage, in lamentation and in killing her children. She gives a stunning performance.
Tenor Colin Ainsworth plays the perfidious Jason who is in love with Ceruse, pretends to still love Médée and becomes the target of her furor and lust for revenge. Ainsworth takes on the role with vocal and physical agility and tries hard to beat the odds as Jason but he does not stand a chance.
Soprano Mireille Asselin is the basically nice Créuse who is in love with Jason and must beg Médée to restore her father Creon’s reason after she has driven him to insanity. That is a very dramatic scene as is her own death from the poisonous gown provided by Médée. A fine performance all around.
Exceptional performances are turned in by bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus as the dictatorial Creon who gets a going mad scene and baritone Jesse Blumberg as Oronte, the man who is after Créuse.
Set Designer Gerard Gauci has created a number of backdrops and effects from the monumental to the idyllic to the fiery to indicate the underworld.
As expected in French opera of the period there is generous use of dancing and Ms Zingg has choreographed a number of sequences from the elegant dance of the spirits, to dances of warriors, demons and phantoms.
Medea has a rich and highly varied score that deals with all the situations and moods mentioned above. The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra under David Fallis give a superb performance.
Medea has been quite popular with composers and there are more than fifty operas based on the myth. The most famous treatment is perhaps Luigi Cherubini’s Medea of 1797. The earliest treatment of the myth seems to be Cavalli’s Giasone of 1649 and the most recent appears to be Gavin Bryars’ Medea (1982).
Opera Atelier is taking this production of Medea to Versailles to show them what Canadians can do. Too bad Canada is not funding more productions of baroque operas. At two a year by Opera Atelier it is pretty pathetic but don’t tell the French that. They probably think we have so many productions, we actually export them.
Medea by Marc-Antoine Charpentier with libretto by Thomas Corneille opened on April 22 and will be performed until April 29, 2017 at the Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario. www.operaatelier.com