A visit to Henry Purcell's 'Dido and Aeneas' and now I'm hooked

Thank you to Toronto's Opera Atelier for the invitation

Bruce Zinger

Joe Szekeres

After seeing Henry Purcell’s ‘Dido and Aeneas’ staged by Toronto’s Opera Atelier on October 23, I’m keen to learn more about this gorgeous art form.

And while Founding Co-Artistic Directors Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg continue to reach out to new audiences to come to the Opera, I feel strongly convinced the two will succeed in their goal.

They have a new audience member in me. I was always hesitant about attending Opera as I didn’t think I would understand what was occurring.

With Opera Atelier’s forward thinking, I’m not anymore.

What a terrific introduction to Baroque opera for those like myself who want to learn more. So many decisions made with this performance were the right ones. For example, I attended the pre-show introduction which helped to clarify and contextualize what I was about to see.

I’m still looking at the beautiful programme each audience member receives as so much useful information was found there that sharpened further what I had learned in the pre-show introduction. Before the performance began, Pynkoski welcomed the audience with tremendous class. Just judging from the exuberant tone of his voice, he was elated to be back in the theatre and extremely appreciative we were in attendance today.

Pynkoski then focused his attention on those in the audience who are considered ‘first timers’ to Baroque opera or who might have a basic understanding. He assured us that Purcell’s ‘Dido and Aeneas’ was the correct opera to attend if one wants to learn more.

How correct he was on this account.

Dido, Queen of Carthage (Meghan Lindsay) is in distress, but we do not know why. It is her sister, Belinda (Mireille Asselin) who guesses her secret. Dido is in love with Aeneas (Colin Ainsworth), the Trojan Prince who has found refuge at her court following the destruction of Troy. When he appears to press whether the Queen will respond to his love, she declares that fate has forbidden their union but she ultimately succumbs to his charms and his love with the courtiers singing, dancing and celebrating with a hunting party.

Meanwhile, the Sorceress (Measha Brueggergosman-Lee) plots the Queen’s downfall and the destruction of Carthage whereby Aeneas will have no choice but to leave and forsake his love, Dido. The witches present conjure a storm to separate the loving couple within the hunting party. Ultimately, Aeneas is convinced that he must leave as the gods have commanded him to do so. Dido is outraged and sends him away despite Aeneas’s offer to remain. Once alone, Dido is overwhelmed and takes her life. Aeneas will soon fulfill his destiny and become the founder of Rome – the new Troy.

Yes, tragedy ensues within the opera.

But with this production, there was so much to see, hear, listen to, absorb, and admire.

Pynkoski’s direction remained firmly solid throughout the one-hour performance. He establishes dramatic focus where necessary to tell the story clearly. Kimberly Purtell’s stunning lighting design magically encapsulates this tragic love story. Gerard Gauci’s exquisitely gorgeous set designs are extraordinary to behold as was the wardrobe work of Michael Legouffe, Michael Gianfrancesco and Carrie Cooley Barbour. Jeannette Lajeunesse-Zingg’s graceful, spirited and lithesome choreography transported me to another world.

Christopher Bagan was the Assistant Conductor at the matinee performance I attended.

Oh, the sensationally stunning vocal work from the artists. Colin Ainsworth was a dashingly debonair Aeneas. Meghan Lindsay’s tragic Dido passionately resonated from the Elgin stage right to my very being. Mireille Asselin’s trustworthy Belinda becomes that hopeful safe space of hope for Dido even though the tragedy is inevitable.

Measha Brueggergosman-Lee’s Sorceress was marvelous. She owned that stage. She moved with such flurry and purpose that I had to put my pen down from making notes and just admire a veritable vocal artist who just enjoys sharing her talent with all of us.

I look forward to attending Handel’s ‘The Resurrection’ in April 6, 8 and 9, 2023.

To learn more about Opera Atelier, visit www.operaatelier.com.

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