opera atelier

How this pair of artistic directors met, married and became Toronto opera royalty

From practically living at the Louvre to receiving the Order of Canada

Husband and wife duo Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg founded Opera Atelier 35 years ago and have brought award-winning opera and ballet productions to Toronto audiences and beyond. When the pandemic hit last year, their planned presentation of The Resurrection for April 2020 was cancelled, and now after overcoming many obstacles and adhering to COVID safety protocols, the production will finally hit the stage on May 27 at 7 p.m.

The fully-staged production was filmed at St. Lawrence Hall and will be the Canadian premiere of the Handel operatic piece. The film will be available to stream from May 27 to June 10 and tickets can be purchased at OperaAtelier.com for $25. The production features choreography by co-artistic director Lajeunesse Zingg. Here, she and Pynkoski share the story of how they fell in love.

How they met

Marshall: We met each other in ballet class. I was chosen to partner Jeannette for pas de deux – being an ideal height to partner her effectively when she was en pointe. When we first met, Jeannette was still in high school and we were taking classes in the studio of our much loved ballet teacher – Florentina Lojekova, who was master artist of the Czech Republic.

The first date

Jeannette: It would be difficult to say when Marshall and I had our first date. We were in class constantly and saw each other on a regular basis. Because we had so many interests in common, we often went to the ballet together – to exhibits at the art gallery, and special concerts by ensembles such as Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. Marshall often attended family events with me and was on excellent terms with my parents. The relationship grew very naturally from friendship to something more.

 

opera atelier
Pynkoski and Lajeunesse Zingg in a dance class

The courtship

Marshall: We decided to audition as a couple for one of the major cabarets in Paris – our height being a tremendous advantage, and we vacillated between auditions for the Moulin Rouge, the Lido, the Folies Bergere, and the Crazy Horse. While we were en route to Zurich, we discovered that the Moulin Rouge was holding auditions for their new season, and it seemed meant to be. We auditioned and were accepted at once – our working papers were looked after by the Moulin Rouge and we found ourselves living just outside of Montmartre the next year. It was an extraordinary way for us to experience living together in extremely close quarters and working together seven days a week. It served only to deepen our relationship.

Jeannette: Our courtship took place primarily in Paris, where we were perpetually exhausted, but happy. We danced two shows nightly, seven nights a week, but had our days to ourselves. We practically lived in the Louvre and other smaller, but significant galleries. We also used this opportunity to deepen our knowledge of Baroque opera and ballet. Happily, we had letters of introduction from curators from the Royal Ontario Museum, and this allowed us access to important theatre archives and the Bibliotheque Nationale. It was a period of extraordinary discovery and excitement in the most romantic city in the world.

The proposal

Marshall: I asked Jeannette to marry me while we were visiting the Sully Gallery of the Musée du Louvre. This is the wing that contains the most beautiful paintings by Jean-Antoine Watteau in the world and it seemed a fitting location for the event to take place. Consequently, Watteau’s miniature masterpieces such as L’indifferent and La finette have always played an important part in our lives. When visiting these same paintings almost three years ago, Jeannette and I received a phone call from the Governor General’s office telling us we had both been awarded the Order of Canada. We felt that our lives had gone full circle.

The wedding

Jeannette: Marshall and I were married in St. James Cathedral in downtown Toronto. The organist Giles Bryant planned an all-Bach program of music and we were joined by our dearest friends, teachers and relatives from Switzerland. My wedding gown was created by one of the designers for the National Ballet named Angela Arana, and for our honeymoon, I surprised Marshall with a trip to New York and tickets for two special exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum and the Frick. It also provided us with our first opportunity to see New York City Ballet live – an unforgettable experience we try to repeat as often as possible.

Balancing careers and marriage

Jeannette: There is nothing to balance – our careers and our marriages are inextricably tied up with each other. We have never wished for an instant to draw a line between our personal lives and our professional lives!

The home

Jeannette: We live close to Avenue Road and Eglinton Avenue, in the house where I first lived when I came to Canada from Zurich. Consequently, I now live in what is very much a family home, and Marshall and I have lived here ourselves since 1995.

Secret of success

Jeannette: Separate bathrooms!

Article exclusive to TRNTO