Moving past the tragedy of Verdi’s Rigoletto, the Atlanta Opera changed gears and delighted audiences with performances of Mozart’s masterpiece “Le nozze di Figaro”, and the company should pride itself in the big success that it proved to be. The dimensions of the piece, though a mainstay of the standard repertoire, are surely daunting for any company: It is a very long opera with a large cast, filled with sprawling dramatic complications and musical pitfalls. Thus it was to the Atlanta Opera’s credit that so much of this presentation struck the right chord, and between the hours of 8 pm and midnight on the performance of April 10, there were many long stretches of time where Mozart lived. The credit belonged to a rather unlikely cast comprised of both young and veteran singers, who were able to bring forth the score’s vitality through their elegant declamation.
Less credit belonged to the orchestra, which ranged from perfunctory to sluggish under the baton of Maestro Arthur Fagen, and frequently seemed at odds with the Lauren Rogers’ piquant and alert harpsichord. While the pit provided few revelations, maestro Fagen managed to carry on the evening well enough, and in several moments permitted his stars to luxuriate and carry the weight of the evening’s success, and here gambled happily. The musical direction came to greater grief by the surprising and random cuts made throughout the score. Though budgetary and time constraints do frequently result in customary cuts in this opera (Marcellina and Basilio’s arias are expected losses), this production saw the omission of Susannah’s Act Two aria, which in addition to the obvious musical loss deleted the segment where the character en travesti is hilariously reverted back to her natural state onstage. A more confusing cut removed some fragments of the exchange between Figaro, Barbarina and the Count prior to the Three Act finale, keeping the character of Barbarina wholly unexplained. More damaging, this cut restructured the beginning of act’s finale, robbing it of some boldness and verve. Let well alone, it seemed to cry, all the while jokes set up during the second act finale would remain unresolved, a bigger shame when taking into account the great comedic timing of the evening’s leading man.
As Figaro, bass-baritone Craig Colclough exuded the charisma and swagger necessary to dominate the proceedings, his every entrance benefiting from a brawny bearing that helped cement his position with the audience. The voice was nice too. The large auditorium of the Cobb Energy Center required big voices to make the event function, and Mr. Colclough’s gritty bass-baritone met the sonic challenges with admirable ease. In both timbre and approach, his Figaro was a throw back to the days of big house Mozart, and his singing displayed a conviction that underlined the fact that Le nozze di Figaro is indeed an Italian opera. This is not to say that his Mozart was filtered through a verismo approach (his singing was consistently elegant), but it certainly erred away from the wet noodle blandness that has marred the Mozartian movement for the past 20 years.
The same could not be said for his nemesis, the Count Almaviva of baritone John Moore, whose contribution was held back by undernourished tone and faulty intonation. This was a real shame, because Mr. Moore is a striking-looking man onstage and his basic vocal method was of greater variety when compared to Mr. Colclough’s forward and bright approach, but was ultimately unable to put his art together in a more convincing light.
By all accounts, the Atlanta Opera debut of soprano Katie van Kooten in the role of the Countess Almaviva made for a momentous occasion. Reports following the opening night performance spoke of a creamy voice, fresh in bloom and richly warm. Much was said as well about the remarkable buoyancy and limpidity of her tone. Your friends at newoutpost confirm these claims, and recognize in Ms. van Kooten a special talent. Hers is a junior soprano exponent of the lirico spinto fach, and distinguished by its remarkable beauty. Her sound is plush and well modulated, allowing for the type of singing that made the careers of the likes of Teresa Zylis-Gara, Kiri Te Kanawa and Meta Seinemeyer. From moment she entered offered her exquisite rendition of her act II aria “Porgi amor”, Ms. van Kooten revealved herself to be the featured star of the evening.
A word of caution though, customary for young artists who we want to hear for a long time, is in order. The tendency to over- mould the line is there, and currently overlooked by grace of the natural beauty of her instrument. If that were ever to diminish (as it most often does), her future interpretations may be misinterpreted as mannered. Indeed, some limitations could be heard Mozart’s score, as there were moments when her legato was at odds with the distribution of breath, leaving the tail ends of her declamation undernourished (akin to the inaudible sections of a yawn). And while she excelled in moments where long suspended lines were called upon (the opera’s concluding ensemble was particularly fine), the allegro section of the famous “dove sono” had its awkward moments, and did not claim much of a trill. Still these were minor concerns, fully outweighed by the splendor of her voice. The Atlanta Opera would do well to extend her a second invitation to this promising artist.
The role of the Countess’ maid and Figaro’s fiancée, Susanna, has been routinely dismissed as a thankless part: A lot of work and little pay off. Nothing could be further from the truth. She is one of Mozart’s most complete creations: Effervescent and charming, she is the character that audience ultimately roots for, and is arguably the heart of the opera. For these performances, she was well realized through the efforts of soprano Lauren Snoffer, whose even and clear soprano bestowed the character with elegance and wit throughout its numerous ensemble pieces. Due to the unfortunate cuts mentioned earlier, the audience had to wait a long time for Ms. Snoffer’s solo contribution. This being the famous “Deh vieni non tardar”, for which Lorenzo da Ponte saved his best poetry and Ms. Snoffer her best singing. Held before us without interruption, the voice revealed itself to be a lyric instrument of light color but handsome weight, finely delivered by this lovely young singer. She was often harassed by the young Cherubino, a role also entrusted here to a young artist: Mezzo-soprano Naomi O’Connell. Like Ms. Snoffer, she has the physique du role to portray a young lad convincingly, and though her instrument was of generous size and appeal, it was her acting that did the heavy lifting in creating the illusion of a hormonal tween.
The character of Barbarina was somewhat mangled by the random cuts made throughout the score, and her Act Four opening aria was greeted by the confused reshuffling of programs from the auditorium. This was a real shame, because Megan Mashburn’s rendition of “L’ho perduta” revealed a fresh soprano of note. Alas, a greater demerit could be found elsewhere. Always pitted alongside Marcellina, the doctor Bartolo of the venerable Bruno Pratico was thoroughly dwarfed by the Wagnerian resources and outrageous personality of the veteran mezzo-soprano Victoria Livengood. Yet again, the same applied to the rest of the cast, all of whom seemed more than happy to let Ms. Livengood sweep the stage like a tornado in the form of Victoria “PorkChop” Parker. While both artists registered well past their vocal prime, it was Ms. Livengood who made best use of an instrument of ridiculous size and intonation and used it to create a scene stealing yet wonderfully likable character. The omission of her Act Four aria “Il capro e la capretta” was a missed opportunity for the company, if only to provide the artist with a truly complicated soliloquy to resolve…at least just to see what happened. The Count’s corner was further complimented by tenor Jason Ferrante as Don Basilio. As seen earlier this season in the curiously similar role of Goro in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Mr. Ferrante brought a nuanced reading of the scheming music teacher in both his acting and singing. He had the gossip, and rejoiced in telling it, and in a world without budgetary constrictions the reintroduction of his aria “In quell’anni in cui val poco” would have made a valid case. Alan Higgs was an appropriately hilarious and disoriented Antonio. Adam Kirkpatrick as Don Curzio and Carrie Anne Wilson and Sakinah Davis as the young bridesmaids completed this sturdy cast.
The Atlanta Opera concludes its 2014-15 season with performances of Jake Heggie’s chamber opera “Three Decembers” at the Alliance Theater. For more information, please visit the company’s website at: www.atlantaopera.org