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Gerard Gauci.

When attending an Opera Atelier production for the first time, the visuals make an immediate impression. Words like "opulent," "decadent," and "sumptuous" are often used to describe the Toronto-based opera company's work, and with good reason. Opera Atelier's specialty is producing work from a very distinct and notably decorative time in history--the Baroque period--and their stage designs are celebrated for the attention to detail and old-world aesthetic they bring to an ever-evolving art form.

The credit for much of what has become Atelier's visual branding certainly lies with company founders and co-Artistic Directors Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, but this merit extends equally to longtime designer Gerard Gauci. Since joining the company in 1983, Gauci has integrated the worlds of music, art, and dance with his fantastical creations.

"That's the lovely thing about the work we do at Opera Atelier--it's a very rounded experience for the audience," he explains. "We try to make it as visually lush and satisfying as possible, so for anyone who's not an opera aficionado, but is interested in visual arts, there's a lot to look at."

Gauci always had a longstanding love of the theatre, and initially contemplated pursuing studies in theatre design. "Ultimately, I went to the Ontario College of Art and Design, but in a funny way my painting brought me back into the theatre anyway. It became kind of a complete circle."

Gauci's work is striking, and his creative stylizations seamlessly integrate the art forms Atelier focuses on: music (performed by the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir), dance (choreographed by Lajeunesse Zingg), and visual art.

"We're not trying to resurrect original productions, but we're looking at the period for inspiration," Gauci notes."For me, when I look back at theatre design in the 17th and 18th centuries, it really is about designs mostly painted on flat surfaces in a trompe l'oeil style, to give an illusion of three dimensions."

When told that his sets sometimes produce an effect of watching paintings move, he laughs. "That's [what] I'm going for! Designing this period is all about painting, and I'm a painter. For me it's kind of like the art is jumping off the easel and coming to life."

Gauci takes his inspiration not solely from period-specific theatre designs, but from the eras the operas were written in. "The inspiration can come from anywhere ... that's the great thing about this career, it really means you have to keep your eyes and ears open all the time," he says. "Everything is potential inspiration for the stage."

A mutual fascination with 17th and 18th-century design connected Gauci with Pynkoski and Lajeunesse Zingg. When he learned the pair was developing a period-focused opera company in the early 1980s, mutual friend and photographer Taffi Rosen passed Gauci's contact information on to the group that would later become Opera Atelier.

"I never looked ahead 30 years and thought, 'Oh, I'll [still] be designing for Opera Atelier!' It's just gone from show to show," Gauci says. "The great thing about it is we're all artists. We've all grown in very personal ways, but our interests have always paralleled each other's."

"Gerard sketches like other people write," Pynkoski says. "I'll be talking to him about what I think the production needs, sometimes technically, but also what the scenes feel like and he's drawing as fast as I'm talking!"

"If I find something exciting, I talk to Marshall about it and vice-versa," Gauci notes. "Often we'll go to see the same exhibition or movies or productions. It becomes a kind of shared dialogue for us."

Pynkoski and Gauci are currently planning for the 2018 season, which includes the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, Italy. Opera Atelier's entire creative team will create a new production of Rossini's Ricciardo e Zoraide featuring two superstar singers, tenor Juan Diego Florez and soprano Pretty Yende, along with conductor Giacomo Sagripanti.

"We're not trying to be attractive for the sake o fbeing attractive," Pynkoski says." We want things to be in proportion. Things become beautiful because they're clarified ... it's not just about being beautiful, it's about clarity."

"The visuals are a very important part of any theatrical production," Gauci says, "and if people remember my sets once they've left the stage, then I feel like I've done my job."
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Title Annotation:Artists on Stage
Author:Kustanczy, Catherine
Publication:Opera Canada
Date:Jun 22, 2017
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