S. Worthen (owlfish) wrote,
S. Worthen

Lully's Persée

I went to see Opera Atelier's production of Lully's Persée tonight. I've yet to be disappointed by any of their productions, including this one. It was sumptuously lavish and beautifully sung - the only vocal weaknesses were in a few of the bit parts. And I had the best seat I've ever had for an Opera Atelier performance. Colin bought it at my commission only two weeks ago, but I lucked out in two different ways: firstly, I had a very centrally located seat; secondly, although the auditorium was crowded, the three seats in front of me were vacant throughout the performance, so there were no heads anywhere near my sightlines!

The opera is in five acts. The beginning plot is that Juno is jealous of queen Cassiope's pride and is punishing her kingdom as a consequence with Medusa, who (of course) turns all people into stone by looking at them. The queen's sister is in love with Persée, the human bad guy is in love with Andromède, who, in turn, eventually falls for Persée when it's revealed that he really loves her. Most of the plot consists of the kingdom variously trying to placate Juno. The lavish games don't work. When Persée kills Medusa (with a ludicrously excessive amount of godly help - if having all the weapons wans't enough, Mercury puts her to sleep first), it helps the kingdom's death toll, but Juno's not too keen on Jupiter's son killing off her hired hand. Eventually, it's the mortal bad guy's attempted assassination which satiates the goddess, and it ends with echos of my pet peeve ending as the happy couple (Persée and Andromède) are carried off to heaven to live among the stars. What it echoes and what I really dislike in a plot is the moral "You can only be truly happy when you're dead."

The Atelier dancers were particularly well woven into the production, as fighters, sea creatures, supernatural spirits, courtiers, and assassins. Sometimes their presence seems rather artificial and awkward; here, it worked beautifully with the production. The dancer version of Persée was particularly spectacular - aerial cartwheels with foil in hand and rapid, precise leaps of enthusiasm when he sets out to battle Medusa.

Medusa was the comedic highlight of the whole thing. She was played in drag, completely camped up. It was particularly winning to see a cross-dressed Medusa correctly using all the feminine baroque gesturings. I've always like the humor value in Opera Atelier's performance. Normally, they leaven the entire work with knowing winks and the odd implied joke. This time, there was very little of that outside of Medusa's outstanding performance. The audience loved it.

Opera Atelier uses extravagantly lovely and lavish costuming, but I was rather disappointed this time, since I recognized most of their costumes from other productions, so there wasn't as much novelty to them. Oh, the main characters' outfits weren't familiar looking, but mostly, the secondaries' outfits were. I know it's hard work to produce these confections, but I was curious to see what else the costume designer would come up with for them. The only other particular flaws I noticed were one missed cue and the occassional distraction of the surtitles.

The surtitles were done differently than I've ever seen before: they were in both French and English. I suspect the French was because when Opera Atelier mounted this production four years ago, it toured in Versailles as well. Still, it meant every line in the work was displayed in both French and English. If they showed both languages all the time, I could just have followed one line, but they didn't. They did that with any line of text which was only said once, but if a line was repeated, then the first time the whole surtitle slide would be in French (several slides in a row, if necessary, to finish the sentence or idea), and then, on the repeat, the whole slide would be in English. Consequently, I ended up reading both the French and the English most of the time, instead of just one language, and I suspect my eyes were looking at the surtitles rather more than they would have been otherwise.

The Tafelmusik orchestra and choir were in fine form, solid, competent, a seamless part of the overall production. There was so much else going on that, alas, I didn't pay as much attention to them as I could have.

It was a mesmerizing performance, if you asp me. We were chained to our rocks by the sibilant sonorousness which the production produced.

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