by Lynn on April 16, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Elgin Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

By C.W Gluck
Arranged by Hektor Berlioz
Directed by Marshall Pynkoski
Conducted by David Fallis
Choreographed by Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg
Set designed by Gerard Gauci
Costumes by Margaret Lamb
Lighting by Michelle Ramsay
Starring: Peggy Kriha Dye
Mireille Lebel
Meghan Lindsay

A typically sumptuous Opera Atelier production.

The Story. >Orpheus & Eurydice is based on the Greek myth. Orpheus loses his wife Eurydice on their wedding day when she dies from snake bites. He is so distraught that he vows to bring her back from the Underworld. He is urged by Amour, the god of love, to use his considerable singing abilities, along with his abilities on the lyre, to calm the frenzied furies of the Underworld.

It works. Orpheus can take his Eurydice home with him on the condition that he cannot look into her eyes before they have returned to earth. It also seems that he cannot tell her
about this condition either. Eurydice misreads Orpheus’s aversion to looking at her as coldness, and that in fact he doesn’t love her anymore. This makes her distraught. Orpheus can’t stand this upset in his wife and so before they reach earth he looks her in the eyes. Eurydice dies slowly in his arms.

Orpheus is now the one who is distraught, so much so that he plans on committing suicide. Enter Amour again with news that the gods are so touched by Orpheus’s devotion and constancy to Eurydice that they bring her back to life. Unlike the Greek myth, this version ends happily.

The Production. The Opera Atelier style is very stylized and precise and specializes in the opera, ballet and drama from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Co-artistic directors, Marshall Pynkoski (who directs the productions) and Jeannette Lajeunnesse Zingg (who choreographs them) aim to be true to the style of a production in its original time, rather than recreate a production in that long ago style. To that end, they are keen observes of paintings and writings of those eras in order to recreate what a production looked like; how a dancer held himself or herself etc.

While the productions have a formality to them, they are also bursting with emotion and feelings. Certainly here the feelings of yearning, loss, love, despair and determination suffuse the production.

Pynkoski’s sensitive direction of Mireille Lebel, as Orpheus and Peggy Kriha Dye, as Eurydice illuminate and realize the intense love they shared and how each is distraught. Orpheus of course is distraught because he can’t look at his beloved wife until they both have reached the earth, nor can he tell her. She is distraught because she believes he doesn’t love her anymore, which makes her anguish twice as painful. It’s Eurydice’s anguish which makes Orpheus reckless and he turns to look her in the eyes to comfort her. And she dies as a result.

The “almost” looks in each other’s eyes is a delicate dance of avoidance and yearning. Orpheus nuzzles Eurydice’s neck, just veering his head to look away. The looks and the body movement even of ‘looking’ takes on a balletic point of view. One holds one’s breath at the near misses because we know what the consequences are. Mireille Lebel, as Orpheus, has a graceful hauteur that almost translates into being ‘masculine’. Peggy Kriha Dye, as Eurydice, is a mass of similar emotions as she pines for her husband when she’s in the Underworld and then has to make the adjustment to go off with him, back to earth.

The Atelier Ballet are dressed in delicate pastels with flowing ribbons. The backdrops are painted in the same graceful colours. The props and set pieces are simple and spare but that gloomy world on earth is realized with efficiency.

Comment. As with any opera or ballet, I will focus on the theatrical nature of the production. I’m not qualified to comment on the singing (which sounded wonderful) or the proficiency of the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir (ditto). These Opera Atelier productions are an education in so many artistic ways; from the introduction to operas we might never have seen before; the precise yet elegant design in sets and costumes; and the exacting way in both Pynkoski and Zingg keep exploring and digging deeper into these works of art.

Presented by Opera Atelier

Run: April 9-18, 2015
Cast: 3 women
Running Time: 2 hours

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