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The Marriage of Figaro stars Phillip Addis and Peggy Kriha Dye.

Bruce Zinger

  • The Marriage of Figaro
  • Opera Atelier
  • Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • Conducted by David Fallis
  • Directed by Marshall Pynkoski
  • Choreographed by Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg
  • At the Elgin Theatre in Toronto on Saturday

Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro comes along almost too frequently, so any new production has to conquer opera fatigue.

Happily, Opera Atelier manages to keep the audience engaged via a very clever English translation and excellent singing actors.

Courtesy Jeremy Sams's witty dialogue, the audience is always in on the joke, and Figaro is made a more intimate experience. The diction of the singers is astonishingly good, so much so, that the English surtitles seem superfluous. In truth, Opera Atelier's staging flies along with the greased wheels of a well-made play.

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This wonderful merging of text and music rests squarely with the talents of director Marshall Pynkoski and conductor David Fallis. The always meticulous Pynkoski has ensured that the opera is directed to within an inch of its life. Every possible meaningful word, phrase, or sentence is accompanied by a stage action.

Fallis obviously worked very closely with Pynkoski, because the Tafelmusik Orchestra, along with playing superbly well, is absolutely in tune with the singers. Fallis allows for their dramatic pauses. He underlines emotional truths with musical accents. He follows the text as if the orchestra were speaking the lines. For example, the stammer of the notary Don Curzio becomes halting chords for the instruments.

The old production of OA's Figaro was played as commedia dell'arte. This new version retains aspects of commedia such as masques for Dr. Bartolo and Don Basilio, the latter with a slapstick. Cherubino is dressed as Pierrot.

The four major characters, Figaro, Susanna, Count Almaviva, and Countess Rosina, wear gorgeous 18th-century period costumes courtesy of Martha Mann. This allows for a slice of realism amid the high jinks, particularly for dramatic moments.

No matter how intricate or clever the staging, in the end, opera is anchored in the singers, and two deserve special mention. Baritone Phillip Addis (the Count) first burst onto the local stage playing Don Giovanni in Toronto Summer Music's 2006 version of the eponymous opera. Mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta (Cherubino) is familiar to audiences from the Glenn Gould School's student opera performances at the Royal Conservatory.

Both are extraordinarily talented. While Addis looks a trifle young for the Count (a powdered 18th-century wig would have helped), his commanding voice rings rich and true. What a career he has ahead of him as his instrument darkens and deepens. Giunta's honey tone is luscious, and she too is heading for stardom.

The rest of the strong cast is filled with talented OA regulars. Carla Huhtanen has the bright, clear, flexible, lyric soprano needed for Susanna. In contrast, Peggy Kriha Dye's soprano has the heavier, richer, creamy voice necessary for the Countess. While bass-baritone Olivier Laquerre's acting as Figaro is excellent, for some reason, his usually expressive voice sounded muted, and a times he couldn't be heard above the orchestra.

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Mezzo-soprano Laura Pudwell (Marcellina) and baritone Curtis Sullivan (Dr. Bartolo) are their usual reliable selves. New kids baritone Vasil Garvanliev (Antonio), tenor Patrick Jang (Don Basilio/Curzio) and soprano Cavell Wood (Barbarina) are still students, but give very good performances. Wood is only 17.

The dance component, choreographed by Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, is limited in this opera, but the two circle dances that accompany the chorus numbers, and the extended ballet to the wedding processional, are pretty indeed. The latter even sports castanets. The dancers also change the furniture in choreographed symmetry.

This attractive new production features a courtyard set of many doors by Gerard Gauci, replete with 18th-century perspective. Mann's costumes are opulent, with the major characters looking straight out of a Watteau painting.

Mann cleverly has colour palettes keyed to the hierarchy, with garish reds and purples for the ballet dancers, as opposed to the tasteful blues, saffrons, plums and browns of the leads. Only the more vulgar Marcellina mirrors the dancers' colour scheme.

In the final analysis, over-tired material becomes fresh with this production.

Opera Atelier's The Marriage of Figaro continues at the Elgin Theatre until May 1.

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