THE ATLANTA OPERA’S 2017-18 season lineup has showcased unconventional heroes: Weill’s Anna, Wagner’s Dutchman, Donizetti’s Marie, and Bizet’s Carmen. Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd was a fitting close to this season of antiheroes (seen June 16) and attracted a broad audience to the Cobb Energy Performing to attend the tale, performed by opera singers of distinction. Sweeney Todd was long the stuff of urban legend and nineteenth-century “penny dreadfuls,” but Sondheim’s 1979 adaption of the Christopher Bond play magnified the Demon Barber of Fleet Street to operatic proportions.
Atlanta Opera resurrected Harold Prince’s Broadway version of Sweeney Todd, staged here by Albert Sherman. The mobile sets on castors held industrial metal staircases and a pie shop that rotated, all masterfully designed by theater legend Eugene Lee, who won the scenic design Tony for Sweeney Todd back in 1979. Dingy lighting supplied by designer Amith Chandrashakar brought this gothic horror show to life.
The show was strong from start to finish. The performers were amplified, but not so much so that the sound was distorted. Most of the singers were more than capable of projecting sound on their own. Bass-baritone Michael Mayes inhabited the role of Benjamin Barker a.k.a. Sweeney Todd, the young barber who was wrongly exiled to a penal colony in Australia at the whim of Judge Turpin (Tom Fox) and returns fifteen years later on a trajectory of terror. Imposing in stature, Mayes’s Todd carried the devotion of Rigoletto, the temper of Peter Grimes, and the sociopathic tendencies of Scarpia; his bellowing voice and maniacal countenance were striking. Of considerable note was Mayes’s powerful delivery of “Epiphany” downstage, a portent of things to come.
Mezzo-soprano Maria Zifchak played the kooky, yet equally psychotic Mrs. Lovett. Zifchak demonstrated her operatic chops but graced us with some good old fashioned belting as well; her enunciation of Sondheim’s lyrics and Hugh Wheeler’s cockney-flavored dialogue was brilliant.
Anthony was played by Joseph Lattanzi with boy-next-door dash. A vibrant baritone, Lattanzi sang a satisfying “Johanna.” The object of his affection, Todd’s daughter and Turpin’s ward, was sung by coloratura Vanessa Becerra, whose high-lying, fluttering “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” was charming.
Veteran Tom Fox made his debut here in the 2016 production of Kevin Puts’s Silent Night and returned to sing an oily Judge Turpin. Fox’s “Pretty Women” duet with Mayes was mesmerizing. Christopher Bozeka played the charlatan Adolfo Pirelli with elixirs concocted of piss and ink, his tenor bright and pleasant.
Leah Partridge was the mysterious Beggar Woman, undecided as to whether she was soliciting for alms or a tumble in the sack. Partridge played this holy fool with absolute precision and layers of detail. Like Zifchak, Partridge was able to expertly navigate the waters between bel canto and Broadway. —Stephanie Adrian