Modern Mozart with deft conductor touch

FIGARO22
A scene from the Curtis Opera Theatre’s production of "Le nozze di Figaro" at the Kimmel Center through May 7. Photo: Karli Cadel.

If you like your Mozart opera upholstered in petticoats, wigs, and silk stockings, the current Curtis Opera Theatre production of Le nozze di Figaro at the Kimmel might well cure you of any pangs of tradition. There is something in the crisp efficiency of Karina Canellakis' conducting that matches the clean, cool sets and costumes that bring the action into the present day. Sleek white curtains enveloping the room might speak of human innocence. But the line of needled cacti just beyond could draw blood.

Aspects of this production by Jordan Fein are slightly overdone. It didn't do anyone any favors to bathe singers in red light for so long. We could hear they were angry without having it spelled out. Having the cast do a police lineup during the overture set up the guilt that gets absolved three hours later. Clever. Snow falling over a dining room table was a more enigmatic decision.

As these singers go from school into opera houses all over, they will encounter all sorts of productions. What was nice about this one, despite the minor irritations, was the smallness of the house (the Perelman), which allowed singers to explore without strain, and a superb conductor and orchestra.

Canellakis - a Curtis violin and Juilliard conducting graduate who is now assistant conductor with the Dallas Symphony - has the gifts of immediacy and warmth, and the wisdom to balance the two. She won an obvious sense of security from the singers, who varied on the scale from promising to highly evolved.

About half the cast rotates among four performances, but at Wednesday's opening, standouts stood out for a variety of tantalizing reasons. Barbarina is a small role, but some moments in Ashley Robillard's lithe soprano touched on deeper possibilities to come. Thomas Shivone was a resonant Figaro, even if he sometimes produced less sound than would have been ideal. Mezzo Kendra Broom was, in voice and characterization, a perfect Cherubino. Ashley Milanese's Susanna grew in emotional range as the drama - an elaborate spinning of amorous subterfuge - continued to develop. Kirsten MacKinnon was the kind of mature Rosina who could already handle a professional role; her big sound is richly nuanced. She has presence.

But it was the ensemble work that was the most satisfying Wednesday night - stretches where several voices and Canellakis' smartly mediated orchestra found the strange complexities where Mozart shows us, in sound, just how self-contradictory, fickle, flawed, and beautiful is the affliction of being human.

pdobrin@phillynews.com

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