Opera Atelier returns to the Elgin Theatre with their 22/23 season opener—a handsome production of Henry Purcell’s English-language opera, Dido and Aeneas. Based on Virgil’s epic poem The Aeneid, this is the story of how Dido (Meghan Lindsay), queen of Carthage, falls in love with the Trojan prince Aeneas (Colin Ainsworth). Their marriage plans are foiled by an evil Sorceress (Measha Brueggergosman-Lee) who, planning to destroy Dido and Carthage, sets a stormy plan in motion.
Full disclosure: I am not a fan of Baroque opera. Drawn to the urgency and passion of such composers as Wagner, Puccini, or Verdi, I find the harpsichord and finely-wrought, elaborate gesturing of Baroque opera… underwhelming. I’m not the ideal audience for this, though it is always useful to re-evaluate one’s tastes from time to time.
What intrigues me about Opera Atelier is the attention to tradition and authenticity. Eschewing contemporary, high-concept efforts designed to re-contextualize classic works; they seek to honour the original artists’ creative intentions with period fidelity. Here, for example, the soloists from Tafelmusik perform the score on period instruments.
Marshall Pynkoski’s staging is lavish and precise. Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg’s elegant choreography, though not particularly compelling to me, does trigger my appreciation for its artistry and execution. This can be said for the design elements as well.
Gerard Gauci’s sets and costumes are richly textured and draw our attention to the vast skies that provide a fanciful backdrop. The massive moon that looms over the Sorceress’s cave is a highlight. In her lighting, Kimberly Purtell punctuates ominous thunderclaps with strobe-like bursts of illumination.
The Sorceress is, for me, the most compelling aspect of this opera. Brueggergosman-Lee gives us a flamboyant, pantomime portrait of self-aware villainy. She riles her band of witches up and they all erupt into devilish cackles. She has a direct relationship to the audience and is a real crowd-pleaser.
If Baroque opera with its balletic flourishes are your thing, this really does serve up a genuine, fully-realized example of the form. And if you are unfamiliar, this short presentation could be an ideal, low-commitment introduction.