Arizona Opera 2018-19 Review: Le Nozze di Figaro
Slapstick Figaro Keeps the Audience LaughingBy Maria Nockin
With an excellent cast and fine playing from the orchestra under Conductor Dean Williamson, Arizona Opera presented Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” at Phoenix Symphony Hall on April 5, 2019.
Moral High Ground
Stage Director Tara Faircloth chose to expand upon the amusing situations in Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto, so that cast members were often running around the stage and pushing each other to the floor while singing the score’s florid music. They never missed a beat or a grace note, either. In fact, they occasionally decorated their arias. Faircloth drove playwright Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais’s sharpest point home because the servants were always smarter and had higher morals than their noble masters.
The set Cameron Porteus originally designed for Canada’s Pacific Opera Victoria and Calgary Opera was inventive with its dark, mirrored revolving doors, appropriate furniture, and dominant chandelier, but it demanded some suspension of belief in Act two when it came to Cherubino’s jump from an unseen window.
Julie Duro’s subtle lighting helped the set become part of the opera’s time period. The attractive, soft-colored costumes by Allen Charles Klein allowed the artists to move while underlining the period of the action.
The translation shown as supertitles was not completely accurate word-for-word, but it communicated the ideas of the libretto effectively in modern language.
Figaro is, of course, author Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799) himself. The son of a provincial watchmaker, he became not only a writer but also a diplomat, an arms dealer, and a revolutionary involved with both France and the American colonies.
Bass-baritone André Courville was a commanding, believable Figaro who sang with burnished tones. His character saw how the nobility was using the common people and objected to it no matter the danger. Watching Courville’s interpretation of the role, today’s audience could understand how the character of Figaro helped foment revolution on two continents. Faircloth and Courville’s Figaro had more than one side to his character, however, and he showed his love for Susanna in the tender moments when they were together.
Jeanine De Bique was a charismatic, appealing Susanna for whom the role seemed relatively easy. Actually, Susanna vies with Isolde for length of time on stage. De Bique dominated most of the ensembles even though her voice was not among the largest in the cast. She sang her final aria, “Deh vieni, non tardar O gioia bella” (“Come, don’t tarry Oh beautiful joy”) with exquisite, silver-tinged high tones.
Like most sopranos, she found the low notes hard to hit, but De Bique’s rendition had a fine sense of style and line. It pleased the Phoenix audience immensely.
Baritone Zachary Nelson was a bully of a Count who thought his birth status entitled him to benefit from the labor of every person in his county. Some counts are seductive, this one menaced his victims. He was the law and he expected to have all of his demands, both official and personal, met with alacrity. Nelson did have some warm tones in his voice, however, and their resonance pervaded the house.
As Countess Almaviva, Katie Van Kooten sang with smooth, creamy sounds. Her “Dove sono I bei momenti” (“Where are the beautiful moments”) was a lesson in communication through legato singing. She showed her audience a messa di voce that began as a smooth, sleek filament, blossomed into a huge wave of tone and then returned to its original state. Van Kooten’s rich voice blended well with De Bique’s lighter tones to produce an exquisite “Letter Duet.”
Since Cherubino is not yet fully grown, his portrayal is a travesty role given to a mezzo-soprano. Katherine Beck was quite convincing in her teenage-boy walk and in other aspects of her characterization. She was a most amusing juvenile who sang with secure tones.
Jana Mcintyre was his sweet-sounding love, Barbarina. Studio Artist Jarrett Porter was hilarious as her father, Antonio, the drunken gardener.
Mark Schnaible was a vengeful Dr. Bartolo who sang his difficult patter aria at a quick tempo with clear diction and booming low notes.
As his feminine counterpart, Marcellina, Lucy Schaefer captured the attention of the audience with her mellifluous singing and suave manner.
Unfortunately, this production included Figaro’s aria “Aprite un po’ quegli occhi,” a denunciation of women, but not Marcellina’s “Il capro e la capretta (“The billy-goat and the nanny-goat”).”
Bille Bruley, an Arizona Opera Studio Artist, sang with trumpet-like tenor sounds. During the intermission, he completely changed his attitude in order to differentiate between his Act one character of Don Basilio, the gossiping music teacher, and his Act two role, that of Don Curzio, the stuttering lawyer.
Dean Williamson provided excellent leadership in the orchestra pit. His tempi were varied but never too fast or too slow for the singers and instrumentalists to follow his beat with their most effective sounds. Like Mozart, this conductor played the harpsichord and allowed the singers to decorate repeated lines.
This entire performance was a joy and at its conclusion the audience greeted the cast with an enormous ovation.