A year and a half ago it was a conceptual Marriage of Figaro including a mysterious cupid and bird carcasses, in Claus Guth’s production at the Canadian Opera Company. Now it’s Opera Atelier’s turn in a production at the Elgin Theatre this week, a revival of one that we saw back in 2010. This is one of the most popular operas, a story to mostly make you laugh with occasional tears, three quicksilver hours that zip by before you know it.
OA seem to improve their productions with every iteration, probing and exploring beyond the previous time. I remember how excited I was in my first experience of Figaro with the previous design concept (one I first saw in the 1990s that was revived in 2003), even if in that earlier version, the company still seemed so obsessed with their mission of foregrounded historicity as to miss much of the fun. What struck me back in 2010 was a growing maturity from Marshall Pynkoski’s concept, a willingness to make great theatre, less interest in proving a point in the history books and–finally! — more of a willingness to just have some fun.
Today I saw a cast working hard to be intelligible, singing the opera in English with surtitles even if we could understand almost every syllable without recourse to those titles: which made the comedy effortless. Conductor David Fallis has Tafelmusik playing gently without ever covering the singers. In the biggest passages that can be trouble for other productions such as the Count’s Act III aria or the finale to Act I –that is, without the protective envelope provided by Fallis, Tafelmusik and the acoustics of the Elgin Theatre–, there was still no problem hearing the singers. It’s an extra pleasure seeing Elisa Citterio, the violinist who is the new Tafelmusik Music Director in the spot once occupied by Jeanne Lamon. Their pace and their approach is the most historically accurate element in this production, from an orchestra that is one of the cultural treasures of this city.
Pynkoski gives us a very theatrical Figaro that opts for winks to the audience over heavy-duty illusion, an energetic romp from a young cast. While the design is influenced by the Commedia dell’Arte subtext, that influence is inconsistent in its application, especially in the jarring use of the sticks smacked together, upstaging anything else happening at the time (especially singing). But other than that minor concern you will come out of this Figaro smiling and happy, I think.
This is the usual handsome stage picture, designed by Gerard Gauci (set) and Martha Mann (costumes). For fans of the Opera Atelier Ballet, it may be disappointing to see so little dance in this opera, but the other bodies onstage are so attractive as to compensate somewhat. The cast are young attractive performers. Figaro & Susanna, the young couple embarking on marriage, are Douglas Williams & Mireille Asselin, while the Count & Countess Almaviva are a striking pair, namely Stephen Hegedus & Peggy Kriha Dye. Mireille Lebel is a charismatic and believable Cherubino both because of her height and body language. In addition to this strong nucleus, as good a cast as any Opera Atelier production I’ve seen before, the smaller parts were also well cast. Olivier Laquerre as Antonio stole the show every time he opened his mouth, while Laura Pudwell as always was a delight as Marcellina.
Hegedus & Dye give the production its necessary gravitas to counter-act the non-stop shenanigans of the servant class. Asselin & Williams are a very classic pair in their lightness of touch, likable manner, and flair for comedy. Lebel makes the most of her vocal opportunities as each of her famous arias is the highlight of that act.
Never mind obscure concepts (thinking of Guth), this opera is a near-perfect creation that is a delight to hear and see, particularly when given to a gifted group of performers. Opera Atelier’s Marriage of Figaro runs until November 4th at the Elgin Theatre. I strongly recommend that you see it and hear it.