Mozart’s entry into the Commedia dell’ arte canon (and the favourite opera of his Viennese followers) made a rare appearance on this side of the Atlantic in the acoustically resplendent Elgin Theatre but despite a promising beginning, couldn’t move beyond clean, crisp and cohesive into the heady realm of vim, vigour and vibrant.
To be sure, there was much to admire not least of which was Gustav Andreassen’s spectacularly hued bass that effused his portrayal of Osmin—the blood thirsty henchman for Pasha Selim (Curtis Sullivan, a bass-baritone with considerable musical ability but a stage presence and stature at odds with his position as heartless ruler whose harem could have given the Deal or no Deal ladies a run for their money).
A pair of tenors rounded out the male leads: Frédéric Antoun brought his easy-flowing if occasionally pushed, tone into the role of Belmonte—the vrai hero whose undying love drives him to the Pasha’s palace to liberate his captured lover, her maid and boyfriend. Their watery abduction provided one of the show’s funniest scenes as the beleaguered Brits were tossed overboard by the gleaming-chested Turks who delighted in hurling dummies—metaphors everywhere—into their holds only opting to leave the gallant red-and-white-striped Belmonte on the pier (why kidnap the competition?). Director Marshall Pynkoski’s conception of the crime, choreographer Jeannette Lajeunesse-Zingg’s realization (coupled with the cast’s boisterous execution) set the bar high early on. Here was a chance for the magical merger of genius-crafted music and first-class staging that, if continued, should make the singspiel fly by in a hilarious—at times poignant—flash of high art.
So what held back this production to remaining just very good?
In the pit was Tafelmusik Orchestra (its chamber choir offering their solid contributions from a box stall), conducted on this occasion by David Fallis. While the band acquitted themselves with customary aplomb (although it took a few numbers for the horns to find their groove and the oboes were not always true to pitch), the maestro’s edgy baton ushered most of the notes to their duly appointed places (still, some of the transitions were more exciting than the composer intended), yet the vital sense of line, harmonic progression (yes, even from the “exotic” percussion) and resonance of phrase endings were largely absent. The result was a too frequently bland accompaniment even as the vocal contributions (especially the ensembles—the Act I Trio: “Marsch, Marsch, Marsch!”—of Belmonte, Pedrillo and Osmin was superb) out coloured the largely beige orchestral sound.
On the female side of the ledger were two strong performers. As the ever-faithful Konstance (same name—hopefully, same character as Mozart’s wife, cross-reference below), Amanda Pabyan provided many memorable moments—her ornaments and melissmatic passages a constant delight that were only slightly marred by a penchant for shrillness in the extreme top and a hand-clenched arm-frame posture that quickly became monotonous during her arias. Carla Huhtanen’s expressive, flexible delivery matched with a wonderful comedic sense informed her depiction of Blondie with an engaging sense of fun and style. Her intended, Pedrillo (Lawrence Wiliford who served up several slices of ham as he kept the comedy moving), gamely wore his couple-defining leotard (both lovesick pairs sported the same fabric and colour scheme—an amusing touch from Margaret Lamb and her covey of costume elves) and happily stripped down for an offstage quickie with lusty conviction after managing to steal Osmin’s image-rich chastity-belt key—one of several “behind my back” gags that titillated the throng.
Adding movement and zest to this sassy tale were the Artists of Atelier Ballet. After the Keystone Cops zaniness of the opening was behind them, the energetic, poised troupe filled the stage with captivating humanity even as their ensemble improved with every entry. Once the “torture” ballet was in full swing the potential for consistent excellence became appetizingly apparent (the celebratory jump, turn and land executed flawlessly by four of the men made the eye hungry for more).
The happily-ever-after conclusion brought a hearty smile to every face. As sson as the momentum and shared purpose above and below the “footlights” achieves unanimity, all of the remaining mysteries will be revealed. JWR