Paparazzi swarming everywhere. Police cordoning crowds of fans and lookers-on. People flying into town for the event in their private jets. A red carpet. Glitz and glamour.
It was not a scene from the Toronto International Film Festival this year. Instead, it's what greeted director Marshall Pynkoski and choreographer Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg as they made their way to the premiere of Lucio Silla, the early Mozart opera they created for the Salzburg Festival, maybe the most important opera venue in the world.
For a pair of artists used to walking past panhandlers at Yonge and Queen streets in Toronto to get to their regular Opera Atelier productions at the Elgin Theatre, it was a surreal experience. "There was no sense of reality to the experience," Pynkoski explains. "It was like an extraordinary dream. I'll never get over it."
And it wasn't just being at Salzburg that was exciting to the Atelier principals, who are also a married couple. Their stylistic, period production of opera, familiar to 20 years of theatre- and opera-goers in Toronto, was a revelation in Europe. For a generation or more of European audiences used to postmodern productions of the classics, where everything is torn apart and then reconstituted in the name of contemporary relevance, the authentic reimagining of Baroque and classical opera by Pynkoski and Zingg was a shock – the shock of the new.
"People would stop us in the street," Pynkoski says, "from Japan, from Europe, from the States. They all said the same thing. 'You've created the new avant-garde in opera,' they told us. 'We've been going to opera for 20 years and have never seen anything like it.'"
And it wasn't just the public who raved over the innovations and sumptuous beauties of the Salzburg Lucio Silla, which was blessed with a $1.5-million budget for sets and costumes. Negotiations are under way to bring the production to Italy's La Scala, the world's most famous opera house. "The director of La Scala told us, 'Lucio Silla was originally premiered in Milan. It must come back to Milan.'"
Pynkoski and Zingg say they are also "moving heaven and earth" to find a way to bring the production – sets, costumes, conductor and cast – to Toronto as well.
For now, the Atelier principals are happily ensconced in Toronto again, in preparation for a revival of their production of Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio.
Will they be able to do more productions in Europe? There's at least one more overseas venture. They're taking the Opera Atelier production of Persée to Versailles, France, in the summer of 2014.
After that, who knows? But don't be surprised to pick up a copy of Paris Match or Stern magazines someday in the future with a picture of Pynkoski and Zingg on the front cover. Theirs has been a summer to remember.