On the weekend I sampled some French culture, visiting the francophone town of Lafontaine Ontario for their Festival du Loup¸ followed by a visit to the nearby town of Midland and the Shrine to 17th Century Jesuit Martyrs.

PerseeToday I am thinking about my DVD of Lully’s opera Persée, both in context with Bastille Day –the day symbolizing  the end of ostentatious displays of royal wealth—and the imminent premiere of Opera Atelier at Glimmerglass Festival later this week.

The DVD is from Opera Atelier’s production of a few years ago, but has a lot of resonance with their new production of Armide that i reviewed when it appeared in Toronto back in April.

  • Both operas are by Jean-Baptiste Lully, opera composer, ballet master and friend of Louis XIV
  • In other words, both operas blend singing and dance more fully than any other opera one could name and therefore a natural for Opera Atelier, who are as much a baroque ballet ensemble as an opera company
  • Two of the principals on the DVD of Persée will also appear in the Glimmerglass Armide namely Colin Ainsworth (Mercure the messenger god) and Curtis Sullivan (playing multiple roles, including a funny turn as one of the gorgons)

Persée includes some wonderful music, such as the scene where the young hero is equipped for his battle with the Medusa, or the hilarious encounter with the gorgons.  Throughout we’re lulled by the sweet sound of Tafelmusik Orchestra and Chorus, authoritatively led by baroque scholar Hervé Niquet.

I bought this recording recently after seeing Armide.  I looked online to see what was available by Lully from Opera Atelier (needing to hear that unique sound again): and was happy to see this DVD, from a production I thoroughly loved.  It’s in the usual Opera Atelier style, which is to say, informed by scholarship about movement, costume & design, yet informed by modern values while remaining respectful of the original.  For those fearful of Regietheater, director Marshall Pynkoski always works from the text, preserving the original sense even as he sometimes offers wonderfully original touches (as he did in his recent production of Don Giovanni).

It’s true that Opera Atelier’s Persée omits the Prologue (an allegorical discussion with Virtue and her attendants).   I don’t miss it, both because the opera was unknown to me before i encountered their production, but also because they make something marvellous from the rest of the opera.

For anyone coming out of the Glimmerglass production of Armide and needing a fix of Lully via Opera Atelier, they may want to obtain the DVD of  Persée.

Opera Atelier’s co-production of Armide with Glimmerglass opens July 21st, running until August 23rd.  As a teaser, here’s a small sample of the fearsome (and silly) gorgons. 

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