Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Pictured: Curtis Sullivan,
Ambur Braid

Special to TorSun,
28 OCT 2013
R: 3/5

TORONTO - It may be hard to walk a mile in another man’s shoes, but it can be even harder to re-walk a mile in your own, attempting to retrace your own footsteps exactly. But don’t just take my word for it. Ask Opera Atelier’s Marshall Pynkoski, whose revival of his 2008 production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO at the Elgin Theatre (where it opened Saturday) leads his audience through familiar territory, but shows them a radically different adventure.

Where Pynkoski’s original take was so deliciously light it threatened on to take wing, his new take seems often laboured, even desperate, as it struggles to escape the cocoon of Gerard Gauci’s lush Persian sets and take wing, arrayed in Margaret Lamb’s jewel-tinted costumes. In attempting to recapture his vision, Pynkoski has even recruited some of the same players to help re-tell this comedic tale of two British women, kidnapped and held captive in a pasha’s harem, from which their paramours try to rescue them.

The always-delightful soprano, Carla Huhtanen, succeeds in recapturing the magic of her winning performance as the morally adaptable maidservant Blonde, while bass-baritone Curtis Sullivan and bass Gustav Andreassen do some fine work in their returns as Pasha Selim and his bloodthirsty henchman, Osmin, respectively. To round out the cast, soprano Ambur Braid steps into the role of the noble Konstanze, mistress to Blonde and object of Selim’s affections, while tenors Lawrence Wiliford and Adam Fisher are cast as the noble twit, Belmonte, a man madly in love with Konstanze, and Pedrillo, manservant to Belmonte and Blonde’s paramour, respectively.

And while they all try, the production just doesn’t come together, as Pynkoski forsakes his hard-won reputation as a director with a light, deft touch and strains for a broader, more frantic comedic take, throwing off the production’s timing in the process. Things become tedious, despite some lovely interventions by choreographer Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, who manages to bring the stage to sparkling life with her corps of dancers, every time things get deadly.

Pynkoski’s over-reach is particularly evident in the performances of the new-comers, for while Braid does her usual fine work vocally, she clearly hasn’t been given a clear vision of just who her character is. Wiliford, meanwhile, seems totally at sea and, as often as not, is content to merely show up and sing, an approach which, ironically, Fisher, who brings so much in the way of over-the-top mugging to his performance, might want to consider on occasion.

But all is not lost, despite Pynkoski’s apparent decision to transform Mozart’s opera buffa into an opera boffo — apparently wooing an audience steeped in the frenetic comedic styles of Robin Williams and Jim Carrey without much success. There is still the enduring charm of the music, and with David Fallis in superb control of the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chorus, it is the music that saves the day. If not the production.

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