Now that Opera Atelier’s latest production of The Return of Ulysses is up and running, Co-Artistic Director Marshall Pynkoski has a story to tell.
It all started prior to opening night last Friday of The Return of Ulysses, starting mezzo-soprano Mireille Lebel as Penelope.
Leading up to the rehearsals for Ulysses, Lebel suffered a serious accident in her apartment. While her golden voice was left intact, the same could not be said for her right arm, which had been badly burned.
Lebel was immediately admitted to the hospital to treat extensive third-degree burns to her entire arm. Over a three week period, the mezzo underwent two extensive surgeries which required skin grafts taken from her left leg.
The doctors told Lebel that there would be no way for her to rehearse or perform during her extensive and painful recovery.
“Mireille had prepared for more than a year for the role of Penelope and her major concern during her entire three-week stay in the hospital was that we not re-cast,” Pynkoski explained.
But Lebel was determined not to let the accident come in between her commitment to the role. She refused any painkillers for fear they would impact her voice. In order to keep up with the production, Pynkoski sent her videos made from each day’s rehearsals, which were delivered to her hospital bedside. In recovery, she spent each day studying the videos and rehearsing her parts from her hospital room.
While Pynkoski was confident Lebel would pull through, mezzo-soprano Anna Sharpe had been waiting in the wings as Penelope’s understudy just in case.
As Friday approached, and despite the fact she has not participated in any rehearsals, Lebel decided she was able to join the cast for the opening night. While wearing a special medical sleave to protect her healing arm and a long dress to conceal her leg which has been operated on just weeks prior, the occasion marked only the second time she had performed the entire role — the first being dress rehearsal the day before.
Pynkoski admitted that her physical and emotional fragility had an immensely inspiring effect on the cast. “She displayed a strength of will and determination unlike anything I have ever encountered!”
“I am always amazed at what we all learn when working with artists who are performing under duress, and I thought you would be intrigued to know some of the details behind the performance of this remarkable artist,” Pynkoski concluded.
Lebel’s story of personal triumph is something that makes the very existence of Opera Atelier’s The Return of Ulysses all the more astonishing.
Opera Atelier’s The Return of Ulysses featuring Mireille Lebel as Penelope continues through April 28 at the Elgin Theatre. operaatelier.com