Conductor David Fallis leads soprano Carla Huhtanen and members of Tafelmusik in a recording session for Opera Atelier’s production of Handel’s The Resurrection. Photo by Bruce Zinger

Pandemic halts theatric run, so Opera Atelier turns production into film

By 
  • April 9, 2021

Resurrecting The Resurrection has not been easy. Over 80 singers, dancers, musicians, set designers and more have been through quarantine, donned masks, practised at a distance to remount an Opera Atelier production that was stopped dead in its tracks just before Easter 2020.

“I was mid-rehearsal, I was in rehearsal when I was called by stage management to the phone,” co-artistic director Marshall Pynkoski told The Catholic Register as the 2021 version of Handel’s oratorio-turned-opera was again in rehearsal. “The executive committee of my board saying, ‘Stop rehearsal instantly. Send everyone home at once. Leave the Elgin (Theatre) and we’ll talk about how you get your belongings after. Everyone leave.’ We didn’t even see it coming. It was so shocking.”

The shutdown happened the day after The Catholic Register published a cover story about the Opera Atelier’s The Resurrection as the whole world began dealing with the pandemic that is still upon us.

After tickets were refunded the Toronto company made two attempts to present the opera. Each time it had to be called off as infections soared and restrictions clamped down.  But thanks to technology and a young filmmaker, Opera Atelier finally has an opportunity to put its vision of Handel’s first big composition and the central moment of Christian faith before an audience.

“The COVID situation has been a serious situation. I understand that,” Pynkoski said. “But it has also been a catalyst for creativity. We would never have created this if it weren’t for the situation we find ourselves in now.”

The production will be livestreamed for an at-home, live audience May 27 with tickets going for $25. Pynkoski had been hoping for an Easter Sunday debut, but the difficulties of bringing artists together to perform in the circumstances of a pandemic made that timeline impossible.

The new production has spawned a making-of film, outlining how the artists have been brought out of the cold storage of COVID to create together once again. Pynkoski is convinced that when people see what dancers and musicians went through to be able to perform, they will simply have to see the production itself.

“I’m really proud of the fact that this is happening,” he said.

Even if they couldn’t present Handel’s story of Good Friday through Easter Sunday on Easter Sunday, Pynkoski is certain this opera is the perfect way to look forward to the end of the pandemic.

“It is the perfect piece. I think it is the perfect message at this time — when there is so much fear and so much negativity,” he said. “We want a message of positivity. We feel positive. We have created something that is beautiful and positive.”

The message is universal.

“For me, I happen to be a Christian, so this has particular resonance for me and for (co-artistic director) Jeanette (Lajeunesse Zingg),” said Pynkoski. “But these stories (of resurrection) contain truths that will speak to anyone who has a mind open enough to listen. If they’re not seduced by the story, they will be seduced by the music.”

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