Opera Atelier's Dido and Aeneas

 

Dido & Aeneas

Director: Marshall Pynkoski

Conductor: David Fallis

Choreographer: Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg

Opera Atelier

Elgin Theatre

October 20-29 2016

 
REVIEWED BY TED FOX
 

The Atelier ballet dancers excel in the latest Opera Atelier production of Dido and Aeneas.

Actor Irene Poole beautifully narrates  a prologue prior to the beginning of this opera. As she does so, the overture to the opera is played by the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra.
 

She tells us about Prince Aeneas, the goddess Juno's hatred of him, and her attempts to destroy him at sea. Neptune saves them and they manage to crawl up on the shores of the harbour of Carthage. We see the sailors in tattered clothes roll onto the beach.

The opera proper begins much later, with the recently widowed Dido falling intensely in love with Aeneas.
 
A sorceresss and two cackling witches conspire to separate them and destroy Carthage. For me, the witches are costumed like cheerleaders. Mezzo-soprano Laura Pudwell portrays the sorceress with devilish relish. Her movements, body language and maniacal laughter are creepy and hilarious.
 
Jeanette Zingg's choreography of the court dances is meticulously researched with attention to subtle detail. The dancers also at times act as a chorus, raptly observing events around them. At one point a dancing sailor moves with a frigate on his head.  The dancers have a  variety of different backgrounds, including contemporary dance and ballet. Two of them are good examples: Tyler Gledhill  trained at the National Ballet School in Toronto and has danced in physically challenging companies like The Chimera Project, ProArte Danza and William Forsythe. Jennifer Nicholls is a CanFit Certified Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer, and Founder of Hit & Run Dance Productions. All their movements are visually compelling and beautifully executed.
 
The  costumes are overall brightly coloured, in shades like purple, gold, yellow and green. Except Dido, who wears dark clothing and therefore stands out, drawing our focus when she is on stage.

Mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta effectively imbues love and anger into her voice and body language in the highly emotional segment where she rejects Dido despite his protests. She believes that the gods have ordered him to leave, when in fact it was the witches' doing.

Director Marshall Pynkoski has stripped down this production. The past ones were very lavish in set design with over-the-top wigs, jewels and costumes. This one focuses on simplicity, zeroing in on the storyline and characters.
 
This opera was written in English in 1689 to be sung at a finishing school for young women. This version is very accessible for the whole family. Members of the Toronto Children's Chorus are featured, with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra.
 
Past productions throughout the world have been very sexy and Atelier promises this in its advertising, which has photos of Dido (Wallis Giunta) and Aeneas (Christopher Enns) in a rather sensual pose. I like though the way the program shows them facing us on the front cover, with the back view showing her clutching a knife. Why a knife? This suggests she committed suicide with it. We are never told in the opera how her tragic death occurred.

Visually and orally, Dido and Aeneas is a very entertaining and tragically dramatic production. A good introduction for those who have never seen opera.