Review: The Golden Ticket at Cobb Energy Centre

Atlanta Opera

Grade: B-

Atlanta Opera. 8 p.m. Friday; 3 p.m. March 11. Family package: $150, two adults, two children. $15 children’s tickets with full-priced adult tickets. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 404-881-8885, (Benjamin Wenzelberg as Charlie)

There may come a day when music teachers everywhere will use characters from “The Golden Ticket” to teach lessons about voices in opera.

What does a bass-baritone sound like? They would listen for Willy Wonka.  Charlie Bucket is a soprano, but so is Veruca Salt. Students would have to explain the difference. There’s potential for extra credit for kids who could recognize bel canto or a countertenor.

“The Golden Ticket” has other potential, too, especially as a tool to bring families to the opera. The audiences that have already seen Atlanta Opera’s “The Golden Ticket”  at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center are among the few in the world to witness a staging of this comic adaptation of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. " While the story may be familiar, the music is not, and that will simply take time.

The youth-oriented opera composed by Peter Ash with a libretto by Donald Sturrock recounts the well-known tale of Charlie Bucket finding a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

Charlie, along with Mike Teavee, Violet Beauregard, Veruca Salt and Augustus Gloop, each reveal their true character to Willy Wonka. The lyrics are filled clever rhymes, and the roles are performed with a good balance of wittiness and schtick, even if there is a bit of toilet humor.

The cast is led by Daniel Okulitch, who originated the role of Willy Wonka at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. He is a charismatic performer, giving the character  eccentricity and irreverence. Okulitch's powerful bass-baritone works in counterpoint to the soprano of Ruben Roy, of Atlanta, who performed with joy and confidence.  At age 14, Roy is in the sunset of his vocal range but shows promise of a bright future as a singer.

The seasoned cast of bad kids gave a master class in how singing skills can illuminate negative qualities. Gerald Thompson, the countertenor used cackling coloratura flourishes  to create a delightfully obnoxious Mike Teavee, while soprano Abigail Nims’ performed a narcissistic, yet captivating Veruca Salt with the best kind of Broadway camp.

The production, directed by Michael Shell, is held together by eye-popping costumes by Martin Pakledinaz and brilliant lighting by Christopher Akerlind, along with a use of digital screens that are well-integrated into the sets. The result is fitting for audiences who get their entertainment through touch screens and 3-D movies.

It’s unfortunate that Ash, who is conducting the orchestra, didn’t give the audience a chance to get involved and applaud. That constantly downbeating baton left both Thompson and Nims free of some well-deserved cheers. (Isn’t part of music education learning when you’re supposed to clap? Even experienced opera patrons were questioning the awkward silence).

Keeping the score moving also left the Atlanta Opera Chorus hanging for acknowledgement for their hard work as Factory Workers, Oompa Loompas, Gargoyles and Turkish Squirrels.

A lot of “The Golden Ticket” score is written at high registers and soft volume. While the orchestra could be easily heard, the performers lacked adequate mic amplification, so voices didn’t always project past the middle of the theater. It became apparent that the audience had to rely on the supertitles to anticipate when they were supposed to laugh. This is a technical flaw that seems to plague Atlanta Opera performances at Cobb Energy Centre -- but takes nothing away from the cast.

For parents and teachers who want to introduce young people to the opera, “The Golden Ticket” is  a good start.  Still, there is  probably not enough in “The Golden Ticket” to satisfy adult opera neophytes.  They will want to wait until April 28, when Atlanta Opera stages “Don Giovanni.”

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