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If opera is meant to lift us out of the humdrum of every day life, Opera Atelier did just that last night in the opening night performance of two one-act operas: Actéon by Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Pygmalion by Jean-Philippe Rameau. These two operas not only lifted us out of our reality, but they transported us to the world of Greco-Roman mythology and two tales from Ovid’s epic-like poem Metamorphoses where gods and goddesses interact with humans with divine intervention to dispatch punishment and rewards.

Last night’s operas, by French composers of the late 17th and mid 18th centuries respectively, both have themes of love. In the first by Charpentier, love sparks the tragedy of the huntsman, Actéon, who has declared that he is impervious to love. In the second by Rameau, Pygmalion’s infatuation with the statue he has carved becomes the central theme. In both operas, there is supernatural intervention in the transformation of humans. In Actéon, the hero is punished by being turned into a stag and then devoured by dogs. In Pygmalion, the hero is rewarded for his passion by the transformation of his sculpture, Galatée, into a living human who falls in love with him. 

Opera Atelier: A joyful evening of escape to the world of mythology

One can’t say enough about the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra which kept the performance moving forward with colourful playing that matched the sets, costumes and acting on stage. With twenty-seven performers playing on authentic baroque instruments including a viola da gamba, two theorbos, harpsichord and recorders, the playing was magnificent. Conducted by David Fallis and led by Tafelmusik Artistic Director Elisa Citterio, the orchestra was central to the production.

Between operas, after intermission, the first commissioned work by Opera Atelier was performed. Inception, a work for solo violin and dancer, depicts the primordial deity Eros as the world comes to life from nothingness. Composer/violinist Edwin Huizinga and choreographer/dancer Tyler Gledhill combined to create a baroque inspired prologue to Pygmalion. Gledhill’s modern dance along with Huizinga’s lyrical playing began against a dark and empty stage which gradually filled in with life-affirming backdrops of blue sky and clouds. 

Opera Atelier’s production pushed all the right buttons for a spectacular evening of uplifting entertainment. Whether it be in the dance, music or theatrics, there was abundant energy and attention to detail. Director Marshall Pynkoski, Choreographer Jeannette Lajeunesse Zing, Conductor David Fallis, Set and Costume Designer Gerard Gauci, and Costume designer for Pygmalian Michael Gianfrancesco combined to make this production a highlight of the season and a must-see for anyone at all captivated by historically-informed performance practice. Each opera reflects the morality of its time. The puritanical court of Louis XIV is reflected in the punishment given for lust in Charpentier’s Actéon, while the spirit and joie de vivre of Louis XV and his mistress Madame de Pompadour is echoed in Rameau’s Pygmalion.

There an abundance of dance in these operas. In fact, Charpentier’s Pygmalion has been called an Acte de ballet with at least ten dance sequences contained within it. The twelve dancers who make up the Artists of the Atelier Ballet led by Lajeunesse Zing were spectacular at every turn. Lajeunesse Zing was honoured before intermission for her 33 years of choreography and dancing with the company.

Among the fine cast of first-rate singers, tenor Colin Ainsworth stole the show with his clear, powerful vocal lines and strong acting. He played the title role in both operas convincingly. Each of the leads was splendid in their characters, both theatrically and vocally. Mireille Asselin, Meghan Lindsay, and Allyson McHardy each had major parts in both works. Others in the cast making strong contributions included Jesse Blumberg, Christopher Enns, Anna Sharpe and Cynthia Smithers. I particularly enjoyed the ensemble singing of this group. The singers were augmented by a superb chorus, who like a Greek chorus dressed in black, added to the performance with its commentary and support of the ensemble singing. Led by Daniel Taylor, the chorus was made up of singers from the Theatre of Early Music and theUniversity of Toronto Schola Cantorum.

Tyler Gledhill and Edwin Huizinga in Inception; Photo credit: Bruce Zinger

The Company of Actéon, Photo Credit: Bruce Zinger

Tyler Gledhill, Meghan Lindsay and Colin Ainsworth in Pygmalion; Photo credit: Bruce Zinger

Opera Atelier’s current production at the Elgin Theatre continues with performances October 27th, 28th, and November 2nd and 3rd. Don’t miss the enlightening pre-performance chat by Deanna Gontard. Following the run, the entire company will travel with this production to Chicago’s Harris Theatre in mid-November and then to Versailles, France and the Royal Opera House for three performances. 

​​Review by David Richards
Toronto ON October 26th 2018

Colin Ainsworth with Opera Atelier’s company of Actéon, Photo credit: Bruce Zinger