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More lively Mozart from Opera Atelier

The Elgin Theatre
04/25/2010 -  & April 27, 28, 30, May 1
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro
Olivier Laquerre (Figaro), Carla Huhtanen (Susanna), Peggy Kriha Dye (Countess Almaviva), Philip Addis (Count Almaviva), Wallis Giunta (Cherubino), Laura Pudwell (Marcellina), Curtis Sullivan (Dr. Bartolo), Patrick Jang (Don Basilio, Curzio), Vasil Garvanliev (Antonio), Cavell Wood (Barberina)
Tafelmusik Orchestra, Opera Atelier Chorus, David Fallis (Conductor)
Marshall Pynkoski (Director), Gerard Gauci (Set Designer), Martha Mann (Costume Designer), Jeannette Lajeunesse-Zingg (Choreographer), Bonnie Beecher (Lighting Designer)

P. Kriha Dye, P. Addis & C. Huhtanen (© Bruce Zinger)

Opera Atelier has replaced its attractive and animated (also well-travelled) 1992 production of The Marriage of Figaro with one that is not all that dissimilar. The commedia dell'arte roots of the work are emphasized and the staging is like a Watteau painting springing vividly to life.

David Fallis conducts the Tafelmusik Orchestra (in its 34-member configuration) with wonderful attention to detail. The music is brisk when it ought to be and caressing when it ought to be. There are occasional surprising pauses to highlight a dramatic point, all of these in accord with the stage directions.

The two soprano leads are well-contrasted vocally, with Carla Huhtanen’s brighter voice in conjunction with Peggy Kriha Dye’s rather more elevated tone. The staging makes it very clear that the Countess is smitten with Cherubino.

Count Almaviva seems on its way to becoming a calling card role for young Philip Addis. Despite his boyish looks, his forthright vocal delivery and well-focused - at times vehement - stage movement, result in making the count a force to be reckoned with.

Making a sparkling debut as Cherubino is Wallis Giunta, a rapidly emerging young singer who is currently a member of the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio. In contrast to the costumes of the other main characters which emphasize their gender roles (men in tights, women in décolletage), Cherubino is dressed rather ambiguously as a Pierrot, or Gilles (as in Watteau’s famous painting) - except of course when “he” dresses as a girl to get access to the Countess.

The big central role is, of course, Figaro. Olivier Laquerre’s voice has a tendency to lose volume in crucial moments when he resorts to a type of parlando. His handling of the language is, as ever, a model of how it ought to be delivered.

Two other members of Opera Atelier’s core troupe, Laura Pudwell and Curtis Sullivan, ably portray Marcellina and Dr. Bartolo. Ms. Pudwell is a gifted comic and her Marcellina, a woman inappropriately setting her sights on a younger man - who turns out to be her son - foreshadows similar characters a hundred years later in the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. (And Dr. Bartolo has a brief patter song as well.)

Three up and coming young singers have been assigned comprimario roles: Patrick Jang performs both Don Basilio and the stammering notary, Curzio; Vasil Garvanliev is the tipsy gardener, Antonio, and Cavell Wood is Barberina. All do well.

The program makes special note of performers who are students or graduates of the Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School. Such a linkage can only be encouraged.

Not only do the performers sing well, they enunciate Jeremy Sams’s translation exceedingly well. It was originally done for English National Opera, where it would have been performed without titles. Here there are titles and I felt they were more a distraction than a help much of the time.

Opera Atelier’s signature approach to stage deportment is dance-based and - no surprise - the Count’s posh household includes a 10-member dance troupe, urged on by music master Don Basilio. The stage pictures becomes a bit over-rich at moments, given Martha Mann’s sumptuous costumes against Gerard Gauci’s atmospheric sets. The dancers treated us to amusingly choreographed scene changes.

Mozart’s great work has been performed a lot in Toronto over the past few years. As welcome as a lively revisit like this one is, it is nice to note that Opera Atelier’s productions for next season are from less well-trodden paths: Handel’s Acis and Galatea, and the first North American authentic instrument production of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito.

Michael Johnson



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