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Cory Knight (wearing hat), Ellen McAteer, Laura Pudwell and Karine White 
Photo credit: Bruce Zinger ​

Opera Atelier’s Dido and Aeneas combines pageantry and drama in a spectacular production!​​

Christopher Enns (back), Meghan Lindsay and Wallis Giunta
Photo credit: Bruce Zinger

Well over thirty years ago, two young performers along with a few singers and an accompanist arrived at Downsview Secondary School to demonstrate the special nature of Baroque opera and dance. You might imagine that the topic might be a stretch for most high school students, but I remember clearly that Marshall Pynkoski and Jeanette Lajeuness Zingg not only held their attention for the hour-long programme, but thrilled them with their artistry, their commitment to an ideal, their knowledge and their humour.

Thirty years later, Opera Atelier has grown from those early days of piecing together a living out of their passion to what it is today. With countless performances in Toronto and international acclaim, Pynkoski and Zingg are in the vanguard of a western revival of Baroque performance. Thirty years ago, one could hardly imagine that Toronto would support two opera companies performing two Baroque operas in the same week. And that is exactly what is happening this week with Opera Atelier’s spectacular production of Dido and Aeneas at the Elgin Theatre just a few blocks from the COC’s Ariodante.

Yesterday’s performance of Dido and Aeneas demonstrated the growth of the company by letting down its hair both figuratively and literally. A stunningly beautiful production with ample Baroque features in dance, pageantry, singing and period instruments, the opera nevertheless let go of some of the overdone Baroque exaggerations when it came to sets, costume and make-up.

Set designer Gerard Gauci and costume designer Michael Legouffe teamed up to create a remarkably lavish and colourful production. Gauci used his painting skills to create scenes with fabulous backdrops and scrim paintings of storms, sea-scapes, a forest and a moon-lit night. Legouffe created brilliantly coloured dresses, as well as spectacular sailor, sorceress, and witch costumes.

The prologue, usually performed as a ballet, in this production was performed by narrator Irene Poole who gave a powerful dramatic account of the backstory to the opera in Virgil’s Aeneid. But with all the innovative features of the production, its beauty rested on the shoulders of exquisite singing and elegant orchestral work.

Mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta was stunning in every aspect of her performance in the role of Dido. Giunta’s appearance marked a return to Opera Atelier by a much sought-after Canadian singer who has gained an international reputation. “When I am laid, am laid in earth” commonly known as ‘Dido’s Lament’, was performed with such heartfelt beauty that the audience was left breathless in grief. Dido’s lady in waiting, Belinda, soprano Meghan Lindsay balanced her vocally and dramatically from the first lines “Shake the cloud from off your brow”. Tenor Christopher Enns in the role of Aeneas gave a strong performance as Dido’s lover.

Ellen McAteer (left), Laura Pudwell (centre), and Karine White (far right) with artists of Atelier Ballet 
Photo credit: Bruce Zinger ​

Others in the cast with exemplary roles included mezzo-soprano Laura Pudwell (Sorceress), soprano Ellen McAteer (First Witch), soprano Karine White (Second Witch), and tenor Cory Knight (Sailor).

Review by David Richards
Toronto ON October 24thd 2016

Wallis Giunta and Christopher Enns  
Photo credit: Bruce Zinger  ​

Wallis Giunta (centre) with artists of Atelier Ballet 
Photo credit: Bruce Zinger ​

When I think of Baroque opera, the usual stereotype of stylized emotionless performance was stripped away as is so often the case with productions by Opera Atelier. This was a gripping performance that made the audience look forward to the company’s next production: Charpentier’s Medeo will run from April 22 through April 29, 2017.

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The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, led by conductor David Fallis, provided a wonderful foundation to the production. The orchestra’s accompaniment was sensitive, and the dance sequences rhythmically charged. The orchestra was at its finest in the overture to Act II when it was left to play without dancers, singers or actors vying for the audience’s attention. The stylistic beauty of the orchestra’s playing was truly uplifting.

True to the original performances of the opera in 1688 at which time it was originally written for a girl’s school, a children’s choir was used for the treble voices of the chorus. The Toronto Children’s Choir sat in the side balcony of the theatre and gave an extra measure of interest with their wonderful sound and youthful liveliness.The opera was not without the splendour of dance and comedic effects created by the spectacular sorceress, witches and sailors. The balletic sequences are essential to the story-telling as well as the pageantry in this opera. The dancers of Atelier Ballet, choreographed by Jeanette Lajeuness Zingg were magnificent.