A Scene From Opera Atelier’s 2016 Production of Dido and Aeneas
Wallis Giunta (centre) with the Artists of Atelier Ballet
Photo by Bruce Zinger
Wallis Giunta and Christopher Enns
Photo by Bruce Zinger
Opera Atelier: Dido and Aeneas
Monday October 24, 2016
by Brian Hay
The prologue created for this production gave the characters their history, clarified their motives and provided the actors with an additional layer of emotional depth to draw from. Visually, it was a magnificent showcase for the backdrops created by Gerard Gauci, the exquisite wardrobe designed by Michael Legouffe and the lighting schemes of Michelle Ramsay which accentuated the grace of Artists of Atelier Ballet and the choreographic work of Jeanette Lajeunesse Zing. Within that backdrop their actions and the work of Narrator Irene Poole flowed seamlessly with excerpts from some of Henry Purcell’s most ravishing theatre music in a way that was nothing short of sublimely beautiful. It was a masterstroke that was absolutely riveting, and it was only the beginning.
Wallis Giunta created a ‘Dido’ whose character combined emotions of an almost feral intensity with the shrewd intelligence needed to form the personality of a leader able to inspire uncompromising loyalty. Meghan Lindsay depicted a ‘Belinda’ with an equally intelligent but less dominant personality that relied more on subtlety than force to achieve her ends. Together, they complimented each other’s presence with the crystalline clarity of Meghan’s soprano voice offsetting the silken expressive tones of Wallis’ mezzo fantastically well.
Laura Pudwell brought an almost criminal amount of glee to the role of the Sorceress and her performance was complimented nicely by those of sopranos Ellen McTeer and Karine White. Their voices contrasted well and injected comic flair that lightened what could be a purely dark tale well. Tenor Cory Knight added another layer of humour with an inspired few moments as ’The Sailor’. (His costume didn’t hurt either). Tenor Christopher Enns captured both the attractive nature and inherent weakness in the character of ‘Aeneas’ very well. The depth of his expression, both in his singing and use of physical gestures, made the fact that something was lacking behind his heroic appearance abundantly clear.
The work of The Toronto Children’s Chorus Choral Scholars and that of the Opera Atelier Chorus was done brilliantly done. Beyond their wonderful delivery touches such as covering their mouths to partially mute their voices at opportune moments worked to increase the dramatic impact of the music. Conductor David Fallis and the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra gave a divinely lovely interpretation that captured the singularity that sets Purcell’s music apart from much of the material from the era impeccably.
The clarity of Director Marshall Pynkoski’s storytelling can’t be applauded enough. His interpretation, which moved at a pace that achieved the balance between brisk and unhurried, flowed with a focus that allows a viewer to pick up the tale in midstream and understand what’s going on within a few minutes. That was proven when (less than wonderful) traffic conditions led to arriving about twenty minutes after the performance began. Even so, the threads were picked up easily, but, long before the finale, a sense that something important had been missed was firmly in place. Going to a second performance proved that beautifully.
Many things, when seen a second time, carried with an additional perspective. The fun inside Laura Pudwell’s depiction of The Sorceress became even more obvious. Her chemistry with McTeer and White and the flow of their interactions shone with even more brilliance. That the production features two of the most exciting young singing actresses around by pairing Wallis Giunta and Meghan Lindsay is something to marvel at. Both have power that can raise any roof but land with the caress of feathers and are phenomenal actresses. The diction of the singers was amazing. The expertise with which the Stage Management team of Natasha Bean-Smith, Jessica Severin and Nan Shepherd keep the action flowing was exemplary — nothing seemed repetitive on the second visit. The prologue, though the idea of combining spoken narration with music was common in Purcell’s time, was a brilliant piece of innovative thinking, and something that would be welcomed again.
The productions done by Opera Atelier are that good, and it’s because the organization, from the administration through to the artistic direction, has class to match their level of dedication.
This article stems from an incomplete performance watched on Saturday October 22 and a complete one seen on Sunday October 23, 2016. It was written to convey impressions of what it was like to be at the shows.
Below: A gallery of images from ‘Dido and Aeneas’ featuring Wallis Giunta as ‘Dido, Meghan Lindsay as ‘Belinda’, Christopher Enns as ‘Aeneas’, Laura Pudwell as ‘The Sorceress’, Ellen McTeer and Karine White as ‘The Witches’ and the Artists of Atelier Ballet. All photos are by Bruce Zinger.