Opera Atelier: Together/Apart

Review by Paul Merkley F.R.S.C.
Toronto ON May 14th 2020


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Like many of us, you have probably been almost overwhelmed by the number and variety of performances made available to stream. Never have we so sorely needed the art that Shakespeare called “the food of love,” and not in recent experience has the production, performance, and economy of music been so grievously disrupted. Particularly painful are the cancellation of large, music-theatrical productions that were about to open; performers and directors having gone through the labours of Hercules to prepare, and having spent on personnel, props, costumes, and rehearsal space in expectation of making their money back at the gate. It is easy for us in the audience, charmed and absorbed by what we hear and see, to forget the colossal investment of time and resources that goes into an opera.

If one positive thing has come out of this time, perhaps it is a chance for us to inquire, to make the acquaintance of groups or repertoire that have previously escaped our attention. It is with this idea in mind that I wish to take a few words to write of Toronto’s Opera Atelier, which is streaming an event with several of its performers on May 20th 2020 at 8 PM EST.

Opera Atelier is a period performance company, specializing in opera of the Baroque period. In the preparation and execution of their productions, historical performance practices are learned and carried out. This includes not just period instruments, but styles of playing and singing, and most particularly dance. Dance plays a very large role in opera, and not only the formal choreography, but every movement of the dancers and singers on stage is precisely planned and executed in respect of historical performance traditions and to stunning artistic effect. The company’s co-directors, Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, both recently named to the Order of Canada, are dancers by training and historical dancers and choreographers by vocation and professional experience. Their creations have been performed widely, including in the Royal Chapel of Versailles.

The company has all of the challenges of a large production group coupled with the circumstance that all responsibility for creative unfoldment rests on the shoulders of its two Herculean directors. Still, I do not think they would want me to belabour the emotional and financial losses from this situation. I think they would want to look forward to the future.

Pynkoski intends the May 20 streaming to be “an authentic, genuine experience for viewers—beautifully realized but not overproduced… music and dancing under what could be seen as extenuating circumstances—but have become a catalyst for each artist’s creativity.”

I myself am thinking of the May 20 streaming as a chance to appreciate the talents that are waiting to be deployed as soon as feasible, as a promise of future beauty, and as a tribute to the steadfast spirit of perseverance and fidelity that characterizes the greatest artistic achievements. I will also think of the ring depicting the heroic Hercules, a family ring that La Jeunesse Zingg gave to Pynkoski in recognition and encouragement of his artistic and personal bravery. I know that he has already accomplished some of the seven labours, and I have no doubt that he will continue. I recommend the performances of May 20 at 8PM, and I look forward to the bright future of this talented, diligent, accomplished company.