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First performed at the Burgtheater in Vienna on May 1, 1786, this masterpiece has delighted audiences for over 230 years now. It is based on a play by the French sometime playwright Pierre Beaumarchais and is the second of three plays around the figures of Figaro and Count Almaviva. The first of these, The Barber of Seville, had already received a successful transition to the opera stage by the Italian composer Paisiello and later by Rossini.
Mozart was attracted to the second play, The Marriage of Figaro, and gave it to the librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte. Da Ponte delivered the libretto in six weeks. In the process, he removed some objectionable political references and enhanced Beaumarchais' titillating characters with real emotional depth which Mozart immortalized through some of the most remarkable and delightful music ever penned. It was the first of three phenomenal successes that came out of the partnership; the other two were Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte.
The Marriage of Figaro tells how the servants Figaro and Susanna succeed in getting married; foiling the effort of their philandering employer, Count Almaviva, to seduce Susanna; and in the process, teaching him a lesson in marital fidelity. The plot – replete with disguises, mistaken identity, scurrilous schemes, and surprise discoveries – provides high humor.
The cast was superb from the beginning to the end. Tyler Simpson's portrayal of Figaro was energetic, playful, and warm; and his rendition of "Se vuol ballare signor contino" set a very high standard for the rest of the opera. Jennifer Cherest as Susanna was fetching and effectively portrayed a wide range of emotions both vocally and theatrically. Count Almaviva was played by Steven LaBrie, another powerful and beautifully expressive bass voice. The Countess Rosina Almaviva not only wore the most elegant gowns in the show, but also sang two of the most gorgeous arias imaginable: "Porgi, amor, qualche ristoro" from act II and "Dove sono i bei momenti" from act III. Both were sung, with heart-breaking passion by D’Ana Lombard.
Doctor Bartolo and Don Bassilio were played by two artists whose names are quite familiar to Triangle audiences; Donald Hartmann and Wade Henderson respectively. Henderson's Bassilio was a gem of comedic mug shots and superbly expressive singing. Alissa Anderson sang a saucy Marcellina and was ideally matched with Hartmann's Bartolo for maximum comedic effect and Mozartian charm. Jennifer Panara, in the soprano trouser-role of Cherubino, got to sing the ultimate take-it-home-with-you-and-sing-it-hum-it-or-whistle-it-for-the-next-three-days-aria "Voi che sapete che cosa è amor." Barbarina was portrayed by Kathleen Jasinskas, playfully cute and a nice match for Cherubino to top things off.
This new production was a cooperative effort with Saratoga Opera led by stage director Matthew Ozawa. All of the singers were outstanding. The technical aspects all came off without a hitch. The staging, blocking, gestures, etc. were all done at an outstanding level of professionalism.
I noticed very few weaknesses in the production. The flimsy structures intended to represent doors and windows tended to shake a bit, and when the door was slammed, the structure slid an inch or so. No big deal though. For people sitting in the first five rows or so, it is a daunting task to look up almost straight over head to see the supertitles of the libretto translation. Can't someone come up with a better way?
You are really not supposed to notice the harpsichordist, but the role she plays is very important. Laurie Rogers provided that critical glue that holds things together between the big numbers and the orchestral recitatives, and she did it with great sensitivity and artistic acumen.
It was clear during curtain calls that the perceptive audience had noticed the incredible job the NCO orchestra did under the direction of Steven Jarvi, and the applause for them was loud and long and very well deserved.
It takes an impressive multitude of artists, technicians, artisans, service people, highly trained to bring an opera performance to life. I have not mentioned them all, but please know that they are there. They make the magic of opera happen and for one glorious evening we can find ourselves transported from the ordinary and the mundane and realize when we leave that our lives are richer and, somehow, we are wiser.
The Marriage of Figaro plays through March 5. See our sidebar for details.