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Lovely Music, Great Art at its Best

Author: haygraphics from Sarnia, Ontario
6 August 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

There may be a spoiler here but I doubt it. If there is, please accept my apologies.

About five minutes into 'Infortunés, qu'un monstre affreux' mezzo soprano Marie Lenormand sings a line of music that's indescribably beautiful. A moment later Monica Whicher sings the second part of it. Their voices are perfect. The accompaniment is perfect. The next four minutes are rapturous musical bliss. No subtitles are needed. They're meaningless anyway. They don't matter. The sets don't matter. The story doesn't matter. Just the music …only the ravishingly beautiful music … this is the type of thing a person gets lost in, the type of thing only the greatest art is capable of. It's pure perfection, something that's worth any amount of searching. It's priceless. Wow!

This production didn't settle in that easily, not at first anyway. Even with some acquaintance with Lully's music the prominence of lutes over strings (violins etc.) and harpsichords made the style of his music feel unfamiliar. For one used to the more rigid forms of opera seria opera buffa the blurring of lines between recitative and full number created another hurdle. The sets, costumes and lighting all seemed to belong to one family of colors. They aren't really. But the predominant (some would say excessive) use of browns and related colors created that impression—at first glance it was like watching something filmed in sepia. Skipping through chapters in search of a highlight probably didn't help either …

But patience is a virtue. On the second evening the film was started at the beginning and watched properly (at least until the sixteenth chapter but I'll get back to that later). It was worth the effort. After a short period of acclimatization everything meshed. The lack of distinction between song and recitative was serving the drama wonderfully. The use of both lutes and harpsichord for the continuo enriched its tonal coloring with each being used to highlight the other. The singing and acting was all of the highest order. The music was a delight. The set was still a little brown but that was a tiny detail. This production is fabulous. The section (chapter sixteen) mentioned at the beginning of this review stopped me in my tracks. It was watched about five times (give or take a few) before moving on.

There's not enough kind or complimentary words in the English language to do justice to this stellar but (largely) not well known cast. Marie Lenormand has one of the silkiest mezzo soprano voices I've heard in a while. Monica Whicher's voice is radiant and her technique is excellent. Cyril Auvity sings in a soft but powerful tenor with no hint of shrillness that powerful tenors often fall into. Oliver Laquerre and Alain Coulombe have commanding bass voices that never sounds harsh. Mezzo soprano Stephanie Novacek sings in creamy tones marginally lower than those of pure sopranos. Colin Ainsworth is one of the few countertenors (I've heard) who uses his tonal qualities without sounding as if he's singing in a falsetto voice. Vilma Vitols has a flexible mezzo voice capable of immense power and enormous subtlety. Lully's vocal writing stressed subtlety over power and all of these singers shade the nuances in his music beautifully often seeming to glide through the work as opposed to just singing it. The combination is exquisite.

Opera Atelier and Tafelmusik are both familiar names in Canada. And that's as it should be. Tafelmusik has been one of the leading period instrument ensembles for ages and their recordings (usually under the baton of Jeanne Lamon) are invariably excellent. Here they're working under the baton of Hervé Niquet and the result is great. He clearly has an affinity toward this repertoire. Opera Atelier is committed to both performance excellence and introducing young people to the medium of opera. Over the years their productions have been consistently phenomenal. Their revival of this piece (which they did for the first time in 2000) was hailed as the operatic event of the year. It was the first time Persée had been performed since the 18th century.

This is a great production. The staging is largely traditional with the exception being the costumes which (appear to) draw their influences from the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries with a touch of modern ballet thrown in. The sets are ornate and reminiscent of the era the music stems from. The sets are spacious and leave plenty of room for the considerable amount of dance used to portray the action sequences. Director Marshall Pynkoski (one of the founders of Opera Atelier) did a great job of pacing the action and keeping the story moving. The orchestral playing is great. The quality of the sound is pristine. And the singing is marvelous. Browns and reds occasionally seem a bit overused but that's a minor complaint about a magnificent production.

It gets the highest rating.

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Well and truly stunning

Author: TheLittleSongbird from United Kingdom
20 January 2013

For me, this Persee is one of the best productions of any opera I've seen recently. The opera itself is such a subtly powerful one dramatically and musically from a composer who revolutionised French opera and I think opera in general. It is a gorgeous looking production with sumptuous costumes and some of the most beautiful sets I've seen in any opera production. They don't just look gorgeous, they give the king's court such a rich atmosphere. The staging is entirely respectful to the story and the style of the opera, and succeeds in making an opera from centuries ago accessible to modern audiences. The orchestral playing, while sometimes a little too prominent in the woodwind section, brings out the beauty and depth of Lully's music seamlessly. Hervé Niquet conducts superbly with attention to textures, dynamics and orchestral tone and he chooses tempos that compliment the drama. The cast are without a weak link. Monica Whicher in particular stands out, she is very moving and sings with such radiance. Cyril Auvity has one of the loveliest voices of any tenor singing early music, it is not a large voice nor did it need to be. Colin Ainsworth has a countertenor voice of great purity, Marie Lenormand's singing is like the softest silk and Stephanie Novacek's extremely creamy. Vilma Vitols has a rich voice that she uses subtly, Oliver Lacquerre is both hilarious and commanding. In conclusion, a stunning production, with one of the easiest 10/10s I've given. Bethany Cox

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