Opera Atelier’s The Marriage of Figaro reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Saturday, April 24, Elgin, Toronto.

The Elgin Theatre refurbished to its plush and gilded elegance is the perfect setting for Opera Atelier’s picture perfect new production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.

The semi-transparent sound of the iconic stand-alone “Overture” performed by Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, conducted at a stately pace by David Fallis, induces a Mozart state of mind in which the serio and comic moods seamlessly unscroll like  engravings round a timeless urn.

The curtain rises on a living tableau of dancers arranged as a porcelain china group with a commedia del’arte flair that—no surprise—reflects the style of characterization librettist da Ponte ‘analogised’ into the cast of this opera. What is a surprise, and a delightful one, is that as the opening tableau of dancers dissolves, and Figaro and Susannah appear to discuss measuring the set  labeled “THE BRIDAL SUITE”, they sing in English. Jeremy Sam’s  colloquial translation, sparkles with its own brilliant wordcraft allowing a whole new level of relaxation and fun.

Keep in mind that we are treated to 3 hours of Mozart’s greatest hits, performed in a set that Gerard Gauci designed to make the audience feel they are invited into “the atmosphere of a private performance taking place in the interior courtyard of a country residence.” Keep in mind, too, that the romantic characters are all young and beautiful, dressed by Martha Mann to display marmoreal contours of flesh above and below, front and back, while the problematic older generation of characters, Bartolo, Basilio, and Curzio are costumed and masked in ‘commedia’ style as if they were a monstrous race living among ‘us’. Let it also be said about this cast, that everyone can really act, and that they are brilliantly directed in both subtle and broad mannerisms that draw and hold the attention for the whole 3 hours.

The singing is generally photographically sharp and clear and punchy: you could understand every word, catch every vocal nuance. Carla Huhtanen’s Susanna comes across as a woman capable of taking charge of her newly emerging life—her voice reflecting a mental clarity with a particular feminine strength and the sense of humour she would surely continue to need. Oliver Laquerre has an ingenuous comic style that served him well in a previous Atelier production as Papageno. He is attractive as Figaro but doesn’t quite clarify the depths of the resources Figaro employs to survive and overcome the weight of his lord and master, Almaviva. Phillip Addis brings the same sort of strengths and style to his top dog role as Jonathan Rhys-Meyers brings to his role as Henry VIII in The Tudors. He is a young hot and heavy guy with more fire than weight, more bravado than brute authority. As such, his voice is clear, bright, vivid, pleasing but not so moving.

Peggy Kriha Dye has the voice that dominates this production. Her sound is thrilling. As the Countess who unaccountably has lost the affections of her once ardent husband, she is literally a-tremble with unhappiness, and the depth of her complaint  soars at every moment. Wallis Giunta’s Cherubino is mercurial, juicy and warm; Marcellina and Dr. Bartolo are well paired—Curtis Sullivan’s “La Vendetta” is impressive, Laura Pudwell’s Marcellina goes smoothly from rapacious to maternal and she manages by her bustling warmth to be an attractive monster. The Artists of the Atelier Ballet directed by Jeanette Lajeunesse Zingg never fail to delight in the way the are used to seduce the modern mind into enjoying the beauty and charm of period balletic tableaux.

This is Mozart at his bubbly best that Opera Atelier plays with zest whirling us along from one operatic artifice to the next without losing a drop of drama. Go see it and catch the high.

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