Against all odds, Toronto’s Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg have made a career out of works from the baroque era. With their Opera Atelier, a period opera and ballet company, the founding co-artistic directors and couple are a case study in living your art. Pynkoski, who directs the productions, and Lajeunesse Zingg, who choreographs as well as dancing with a full corps de ballet, have been on a journey three decades in the making. This fall, their company’s production of Mozart Don Giovanni runs from October 31 to November 9 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre.
Along with presenting two shows in Toronto every season, the couple has directed and choreographed productions at La Scala, the Salzburg Festival, and the Royal Opera of Versailles. In December 2018, the Governor General announced the two would receive the Order of Canada.
The couple met in the early eighties when they studied at the Toronto studio of Russian ballet teacher Flora Lojekova. However, with Pynkoski’s height being 6ʹ5ʺ and Zingg’s 5ʹ10ʺ, both were too tall for the North American ballet scene. They lived in Paris for a year, performing at the Moulin Rouge by night. By day, they researched baroque opera at the Bibliothèque Nationale and dance in the archives of the Paris Opera, returning to Toronto in 1985, where they performed at the Royal Ontario Museum. The simple performance of two dancers and taped music went over well. “We realized, we can do this all the time,” Lajeunesse Zingg recalls.
Rent-free digs in Lajeunesse Zingg’s father’s home and earnings from their dance studio helped launch Opera Atelier. In the beginning, Zingg also had a part-time job. “Jeannette was modelling at the time,” Pynkoski says. “But she was always trying to squeeze that in between rehearsals.”
These days, their company’s performances place less emphasis on historical recreation, and instead focus on capturing the essence of each piece and period. They use a full company, including a corps de ballet, and live music by Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, their musical collaborator since the company first launched. “Our work looks completely different than it did 30 years ago,” notes Pynkoski.
Photos by Bruce Zinger.
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