Figaro in English Offers Charm and Wit

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By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

Imagine stepping into an interior courtyard of a country residence; a group of ticketholders are being treated to a private performance of a comic opera. The guests munched on chocolate bars and sipped bottled water during intermission. The year is 2010.

And so opened Opera Atelier’s new production of Mozart’s beloved The Marriage of Figaro at the Elgin Theatre Saturday night, when director Marshall Pynkoski recreated the private performance of Beaumarchais’s stage comedy of the same title that took place in the home of a French nobleman prior to its official debut in Paris in 1784.

Sung in English with a modern, clever translation by British director/writer Jeremy Sams, the “play within a play” saw singers addressing the audience directly and nimble dancers rearranging the set artfully.

Music director David Fallis, who also leads the Toronto Consort in his spare time, conducted Tafelmusik Orchestra in the pit in fine form. Starting with the auspicious and exciting overture, much of the music during the three-hour performance was exceedingly well played with precision and colour, including that from Charlotte Nediger, who accompanied the recitativi on the fortepiano as light as a soufflé.

Figaro is rarely this tall, but in the long legs of Canadian bass-baritone Olivier Laquerre, Figaro has never been more adorable or likeable. Laquerre’s voice is so expansively warm and smooth, I only wished his lower register was projected better. That being said, the sharp contrast between Laquerre’s mellow tone and the bright tweets of Susanna, sung brilliantly by soprano Carla Huhtanen, added interesting textures throughout to the work’s otherwise cheerful and harmonious lyricism.

The jealousy-driven Count Almaviva, portrayed by baritone Phillip Addis, came across strong and hot-headed, but short on authority. Addis sings well, even passionately at times. But when paired with soprano Peggy Kriha Dye, whose Countess Rosina is layered with emotional turmoil despite the farce, Addis’s Count — perhaps because he’s confined in the same type of tights and riding boots as his valet Figaro is — appeared boyishly powerless.

Fresh out of school and already making a buzz on the operatic scene is mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta, who is an absolute delight in the pants role of page boy Cherubino. Hiding her fiery red hair under the hat, Giunta’s supple voice is light and refined. Her Cherubino is on the girly side for someone who is supposedly sexually charged, but sympathetic and lovable all the same.

Overall, the ensemble work stood out and it’s nice to see a young cast that includes Laura Pudwell as Marcellina, Curtis Sullivan as Dr. Bartolo, Patrick Jang as Don Basilio and Curzio, Vasil Garvanliev as Antonio, and 17-year-old Cavell Wood as Barbarina.

While no English version of the opera will ever be quite the same as librettist Da Ponte’s original tongue-rolling Italian, this Figaro is refreshingly charming, witty, and there is no shortage of laughs.

The Marriage of Figaro continues at Elgin Theatre on April 25, 27, 28, 30 and May 1.

» Opera Atelier’s website


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