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A glorious Monteverdi experience

The Elgin Theatre
10/27/2007 -  & October 28, 30*, November 1, 2, 3, 2007
Claudio Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria
Olivier Laquerre (L’Umana Fragilita, Ulisse), Stephanie Novacek (Penelope), Jennie Such (La Fortuna, Melanto), Michiel Schrey (Eurimaco), Vicki St. Pierre (Ericlea), Carla Huhtanen (Amore, Minerva), Lawrence Wiliford (Eumete), Cory Knight (Telemaco), Christopher Temporelli (Nettuno), Curtis Sullivan (Il Tempo, Antinoo), Kevin Skelton (Giove, Anfinomo), Laura Pudwell (Pisander), Artists of the Atelier Ballet
The Toronto Consort, David Fallis (Conductor)
Marshall Pynkoski (Director), Jeannette Zingg (Choreographer), Gerard Gauci (Set Desinger), Dora Rust D’Eye (Costume Designer)

Opera Atelier’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria is a happy occurrence where all the required elements of a great work are pulled together with great assurance.

The work has been on the Opera Atelier’s wish list for 15 years or so (and, by the way, it is the first time the piece has been fully staged in Canada). A shortened version is used, clipping the entire role of Iro, the glutton who has attached himself to Penelope’s suitors. Some of the gods’ interchanges are omitted as well, thus eliminating one of their roles (Giunone, or Juno, wife of Giove). Budgetary reasons seem to dictate a running time (with intermission) of less than three hours. The broad humour of Iro’s scenes could easily become tiresome, but it seems a shame to eliminate any part of a work that is staged with such elan.

In the title role, Olivier Laquerre (a bass-baritone), must at some moments stretch his voice upwards into a zone that is less than perfectly comfortable for him, but he gives a stalwart portrayal physically and vocally. Equally strong is Stephanie Novacek as Penelope. The role can be a bit unvarying as Penelope absolutely refuses to be anything but melancholy until the very end, but this singer maintains a riveting focus throughout.

Carla Huhtanen is a revelation as Minerva. She is a slight person with a self-effacing - even demure - manner, but here her very presence states “Attention Goddess at work”. Along with this, her voice seems to have developed a stronger core. Equally consistent and riveting is Lawrence Williford’s Eumete. As Telemaco, Cory Knight’s boyish tenor is absolutely right for the role and shows promise as well. Jennie Such and Michiel Schrey do fine work as the two servants, Melanto and Eurimaco, whose frolics contrast with the more profound drama enacted by the noble characters. Vicki St. Pierre is a characterful Ericlea and one wishes the role of Nettuno were longer in order to hear more of Christopher Temporelli. Kevin Skelton sounds a bit ethereal as the great god Giove himself, but perhaps this is appropriate as he must sing while perched in mid-air in his cloud chariot. The smaller roles are adroitly performed.

The sets and costumes are most pleasing to the eye, and the sets easily adapt to the required scenic shifts.

The Toronto Consort has 29 players on hand for this show, and they sound just glorious despite the somewhat constrained acoustic of the Elgin Theatre. No doubt their sound is enhanced by the raising of the pit, the removal of the front barrier and the placement of some players in the stage boxes.

Opera Atelier founder/directors, Jeannette Zingg and Marshall Pynkoski, seem finally to have developed a new type of opera performer, namely the singer-dancer. The trick seems to be: hire slender singers (who, after all, ought to have a sense of rhythm) and teach them to dance, just like in a Broadway musical. Don’t expect them to sing and dance at the same time, and don’t expect pointe work or lifts. The results (in this case anyway) are delightful.The ecstatic duet between Ulisse and Penelope that ends the piece is appended by a rejoicing dance in which most of the cast participates. Monteverdi does not seem to have provided such a piece, but he ought to have as it works extremely well.

Opera Atelier has toured several of its other productions. Here is another one that deserves to be widely seen and heard.

Michael Johnson



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