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A magnificent achievement

The Elgin Theatre
04/19/2018 -  & April 21, 22, 24, 27, 28, 2018
Claudio Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria
Kresimir Spicer (Ulisse), Mireille Lebel (Penelope), Christopher Enns (Telemaco), Stephen Hegedus (Neptune), Carla Huhtanen (Fortuna, Melanto), Isaiah Bell (Eurimaco, Human Frailty, Sailor), Meghan Lindsay (Minerva, Cupid), Laura Pudwell (Ericlea), Aaron Sheehan (Eumete), Kevin Skelton (Anfinomo, Jupiter), Michael Taylor (Pisandro, Sailor), Douglas Williams (Antinoo, Time, Sailor)
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, David Fallis (conductor)
Marshall Pynkoski (director), Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg (choreographer), Gerard Gauci (set designer), Michael Legouffe (head of wardrobe, designer), Michelle Ramsay (lighting designer)

K. Spicer & M. Lebel (© Bruce Zinger)

The secret to doing works like this (and maybe all theatrical works?) is to embrace if for what it is and get a cast who can do the same. The piece has a slow start, what with the opening scene depicting Human Frailty afflicted by Time, Fortune, and Love. However, as soon as Penelope delivers her anguished monologue this performance becomes a riveting event. Mireille Lebel delivers a heartfelt performance throughout, accompanied by the empathetic, dignified responses of her servant, Ericlea, performed by Laura Pudwell, herself a noted Penelope.

Ericlea can be broadly comic (sometimes performed by a man); the version of the opera used (by Clifford Bartlett) tones down its buffoonish aspect, for example by eliminating the suitor Iro. The other suitors provide a smattering of humour, but the tone is set by the threatening presence of Antinoo. Douglas Williams excelled as Mozart’s Figaro in the fall and he impresses as well both vocally and dramatically in this contrasting role.

Kresimir Spicer in the title role is Lebel’s match in heartfelt utterance, as is Christopher Enns as the reunited son, Telemaco.

OA regulars like Carla Huhtanen, Meghan Lindsay, and Stephen Hegedus do terrific work once again, while debuting performers Isaiah Bell, Aaron Sheehan, and Michael Taylor are all fine discoveries.

A 16-member ensemble from the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra under the direction of David Fallis at the organ provides exactly the necessary tangy flavour. The use of the dancers is more dramatically apt than usual. The battle with the suitors is thrillingly choreographed and the final celebratory dance neatly segues into curtain calls. At one point dancer Dominic Who portrays Cupid by lip-synching Meghan Lindsay; it was uncannily well done - I thought at first that one of the dancers had become an ultra-high countertenor.

There is an appropriate sombreness in Gerard Gauci’s designs, while the moody lighting at the start is marvelously atmospheric. Unusually, no new costumes were designed and instead Michael Legouffe, who has been head of wardrobe for 18 seasons, plundered the company’s costume trove to great effect.

OA produced the work successfully in 2007. This year’s edition is even better.

Michael Johnson



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