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Awash in a sea of prettiness

The Elgin Theatre
10/20/2016 -  & October 22, 23, 25, 28, 29, 2016
Henry Purcell: Dido and Aeneas
Wallis Giunta (Dido) Christopher Enns (Aeneas), Meghan Lindsay (Belinda), Laura Pudwell (Sorceress), Ellen McAteer (First Witch), Karine White (Second Witch), Cory Knight (Sailor), Irene Poole (Narrator), Artists of Atelier Ballet
The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Opera Atelier Chorus, Toronto Children's Opera Chorus, David Fallis (conductor)
Marshall Pynkoski (director), Gerard Gauci (set designer), Michael Legouffe (costume designer), Michelle Ramsay (lighting designer), Jeannette Lajeunesse-Zingg (choreographer)

W. Giunta & C. Enns (© Bruce Zinger)

Dido and Aeneas was Opera Atelier’s first fully-staged production back in 1986. A subsequent - and very lavish - production first staged in 1994 has toured widely since. This new production involves a degree of re-thinking, as the company has over the years modified its approach in a way that stresses the drama of a work as opposed to the style of presentation. Company co-director Marshall Pynkoski describes this production as “stripped down” but this is relative. The earlier production was gilded to an almost self-satirizing degree; this plainer version is still sumptuous.

However, despite toning down the stylistic overload, they have chosen to expand the length of Purcell’s compact work, inserting dances as indicated in the original scenario. The music has been lost, but other pieces by Purcell easily fit. This is all extremely nice, but it ends up weakening the dramatic pulse. They have also devised a prologue that seeks to explain the origins of the historical/mythological situation of the Carthaginians and Trojans. This is urgently narrated by actress Irene Poole - but is absolutely redundant.

With the add-ons and a lengthy intermission, we end up with a two-hour work with sadly diluted impact.

The Elgin Theatre really ought to have a clever acoustic enhancement system installed, at least for the rear section of the main level. Right now it is an uphill battle for most singers. The main victim is Aeneas, a role usually assigned to a baritone, sung here by tenor Christopher Enns. It is a brief role that requires a punchy delivery to provide some sort of counterweight to Dido and the other female roles. While he looks and moves just fine, his few lines are almost lost.

Wallis Giunta, however, gives a true star turn as Dido. For her big aria she is given the sweet spot and a single spotlight. The fancy surroundings and dancers disappear. A magical moment.

Meghan Lindsay gives a decent if over-refined account of Belinda. Laura Pudwell makes a patchy impression as the Sorceress. Cory Knight’s Sailor, like Mr. Enns, gives an amusingly animated performance, but his voice gets lost.

The chorus comes across very nicely; eight members of the Opera Atelier Chorus are joined by 22 members of the Toronto Children’s Chorus. This makes for a lovely fresh sound that hearkens back to the first known performance of the piece at a school for girls. Eighteen members of the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra makes all the right sounds, as usual. It isn’t their fault that the production lags.

Michael Johnson



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