The Janiec Opera Company’s final production, The Marriage of Figaro, the most beloved of the trilogy of Mozart/Da Ponte operas, caps what is surely one of their finest seasons yet. Director David Gately’s fine theatrical sense coupled with conductor Chris Lorkin’s very brisk tempi made for a lively dress rehearsal of this complex comedy. The performance is slated for August 7. The imaginative sets by Adam Koch, especially those of the third and fourth acts, evoked appreciative murmurs and applause. The lighting (Joe Hodge) and sound (Brady Hislop) are spot on, and the work of costume designer (Glenn Avery Breed) and wig/make-up designer (Brittany Rappise) give the production its elegant period look. Maestro Lorkin, who doubles as the continuo player through the recitatives, not only supports the singers but deftly paces the action. All singing is in the original Italian with English supertitles. Jacquelyn and Bruce Rogow and the Rogow Greenberg Foundation are the production sponsors.
The lengthy first act opens with the bustle of Figaro and Susanna making plans for the room they will inhabit after their marriage. The two principals were in a flurry of activity, and some of it seemed to be born of nerves. Susanna (Sara Ptak) at first rushed ahead of the orchestra, but soon settled into more rhythmically secure singing, and Figaro (Jonathan Christopher), somewhat stony faced, seemed absorbed in concentration for the first scene. Things loosened up considerably with the arrival of the scheming pair Doctor Bartolo (Geoffry Penar) and Marcellina (Christina English), and the “hormonal” Cherubino (Reilly Nelson), who adorably looks the part. We also encounter the gossipy music master Don Basilio (Nathan Taylor) and Count Almamiva (John Allen Nelson) who were perfect fits for their respective roles. The tempi throughout the evening were so fast that at times it was all the characters could do to declaim their parts, especially patter songs such as Bartolo’s “La Vendetta,” and Cherubino’s breathless outpouring “Non so piu.”
It is in Act II where we meet Countess Almamiva (Véronique Coutu), a stunning singer in gorgeous array who opens the act with the heartbreakingly beautiful “Porgi amor.” Other notable musical numbers in this act were the trio of Count/Countess/Susanna (“Susanna, or via sortite!”) and the glorious and lengthy ensemble in which ultimately seven singers weave their particular agendas together into a comical, seemingly inextricable knot. Each act features some central comic antic, here done to perfection—in act I it was Count Almaviva and Cherubino both hiding in and behind the same chair, and in this act it was the hiding of Cherubino and then Susanna in the Countess’s closet which baffles all but Susanna (and the audience), and necessitates Cherubino’s hasty jump out the window.
Acts III and IV were presented with only a brief pause in between for a set change. In Act III, Count Almaviva was at his best when venting his suspicions in “Hai gia vinta la causa...Vedro mentr'io sospiro” and the Countess’s “Dove sono,” a remembrance of past love, was another of her lyric highpoints. I could not take my eyes off her sumptuous costume and piled-high wig adored with white feathers. Barbarina (Megan Ann Slack), the gardener’s daughter, is a delightful addition to the tangle of characters as she makes a play for Cherubino. The final dance scene at Figaro’s wedding was beautifully choreographed to facilitate the passing around of a note, an invitation to a garden tryst addressed to the Count.
Act IV takes place in the Almaviva’s garden, where the Count thinks he’ll meet Susanna, but he meets and woos his wife instead, who’s disguised herself as her maid. Though behind the plot to bring the Count to his knees, Figaro nonetheless briefly gets caught up in it, becoming confused and upset by what he thinks is his wife’s flirtation with the Count, and sings “Aprite un po'quegli occhi” about the falsehood of all women. Ultimately, of course, the comedy ends with the Count’s follies exposed and with the asking for and granting of pardons all around.
During one of the intermissions, I overheard a young girl tell her mother that she’d never realized opera was actually theater and that she loved the way the story was supported by music. Oh, yes, but only when it’s done well, as in this beautifully crafted production.
As noted, this production repeats August 7. For details, see our calendar.