From Toronto to La Scala - Opera Atelier makes an international impact

Featured Story: Opera Atelier

March 2015

Adam Fisher as Pedrillo, Gustav Andreassen as Osmin, and Artists of Atelier Ballet in Opera Atelier's production of Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio. Photo by Bruce Zinger (2013)

To make it to Milan’s Teatro alla Scala (La Scala) is, for many, an artist's greatest affirmation. The prestigious opera house has a standard of excellence that appears almost mythic and unimaginable. Built in 1778, La Scala quickly became a world-renowned institution by specializing in opera seria, a serious style of opera exemplified in the music of composers such as Gioachino Rossini, Vincenzo Bellini, and Giuseppe Verdi.

Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, founders and co-artistic directors of Toronto’s Opera Atelier were recently invited to La Scala to stage Mozart’s Lucio Silla, which ran from February 26 to March 17, 2015. Their years of tireless work were both acknowledged and celebrated when the doors of this establishment opened to them.

Yet a lot was on the line. Lucio Silla is an incredibly difficult piece of music, written by Mozart when he was only 16 years old, and Pynkoski and Zingg had only three weeks to work with La Scala’s in-house chorus and ballet to bring it to life. Added to this is the fear most performers and directors feel before presenting their work to the infamous La Scala ‘loggionisti,’ a critical group of upper-gallery dwelling audience members who are known to boo during shows if they don’t like what they see. Yet what may have been a nerve-wracking buildup for the husband and wife duo, ended with high reward. The production received rave reviews; the Torontonians not only pleased the Milanese crowd, they brought them to their feet.

Opera Atelier’s rise to the top is well earned. Their love of 17th and 18th century opera, ballet and drama compelled Pynkoski and Zingg to establish Opera Atelier in 1985, and they have been committed to perfecting their craft ever since. Their mission to be internationally recognized as leaders in period opera (with a focus on Baroque-era opera and ballet) was clear from the beginning, and has guided them to create highly complex, grand and historically informed performances. Their focus on historical accuracy is, for many, a breath of fresh air, and differs from today’s often contemporized productions. With Opera Atelier’s signature theatricality, elaborate costumes and set designs, rare operas are given a new life.

The La Scala production was not the first time the duo staged Lucio Silla. In 2013 they were invited to the Salzburg Mozart Week Festival by French conductor and the festival’s artistic director Marc Minkowski. It was Marc’s suggestion that they take on this challenging and idealistic piece of music that explores ideas of reunited love, hope, longing, forgiveness and freedom. With meticulous research, Pynkoski and Zingg unearthed the original beauty and intent of the work and delivered an extremely well-received production. Among those in the audience was Alexander Pereira who was soon to become the General Manager of La Scala. The performance left a lasting impression on him, and a little more than a year later, Pereira invited Pynkoski and Zingg to La Scala to direct and choreograph the opera again.

It’s thrilling to watch artists receive the recognition they deserve. From their beginnings in Toronto, to making it to Milan’s La Scala, Pynkoski and Zingg have established themselves as leaders in their field. Most recently, Opera Atelier announced that they will be regular guests at the Opera Royal at the Palace of Versailles in France; the company will perform there every second year. This follows an exceptionally celebrated production of Armide at Versailles in 2012.  

If you’d like to see Lucio Silla, you’re in luck. Opera Atelier is bringing the opera to Toronto in April 2016 in celebration of their 30th Anniversary

Toronto Arts Council is pleased to have supported Opera Atelier from its beginnings. The company has received operating funding from Toronto Arts Council since 1988. Before this, Opera Atelier received project grants from Toronto Arts Council in 1986 and 1987.