Prague Summer Nights Festival 2018 Review – The Marriage of Figaro
Cast Spins its Magic with Mozart’s Comedy, Despite Many CutsBy Logan Martell
This review is for the performance on July 14, 2018.
Following a highly evocative night with “The Magic Flute” at the Estates Theatre, the Prague Summer Nights Festival put on the first of its two performances of “The Marriage of Figaro.” Whereas the work of the previous night illuminated the artists through its minimalist staging, Saturday’s performance saw the cast of young artists utilizing every prop on stage and skill in their performer’s toolbox to tackle one of opera’s most enduring, and most manic, comedies.
Among the first things, noticeable was the ubiquitous eavesdropping throughout the four acts. While it’s not uncommon for productions to have the principal members of the cast snooping about the set in search of manor intrigue, this one saw the servants of the household relaying information about with industrious speed, often resulting in the appearance of a main character shortly afterward.
A Strong, if Safe, Lead
In the title role of Figaro was Nico Laruina, who’s opening duettinos “Cinque, dieci, venti,” and “Se a caso madama la notte” were both charming and playful, and established early on his chemistry with Juyeon Yoo’s Susanna. When it came time for his cavatina “Se vuol ballare,” the harpsichord rushed towards the final chords of the recitative but made a swift recovery. Laruina’s delivery emphasized the almost game-like machinations running through Figaro’s mind, rather than the pain and outrage of having discovered his employer and old friend desires his bride-to-be. During his later reprise of “Se vuol ballare,” we see Laruina play and dance with two children before carrying them off during his exit; while undeniably adorable, the atmosphere was somewhat wanting for urgency. This capacity for play appeared again for his aria “Non piu andrai, farfallone amoroso,” where Laruina managed to make military life sound almost fun as he, Susanna, and Cherubino pretended to crawl through trenches and unload rifle fire.
A Swift, and Sonorous, Lady
In the role of Susanna, Juyeon Yoo eloquently navigated the flurry of emotions and vocal color required for the part. Highly dynamic throughout, she ended up having to be carried away in several moments, either from swooning in fear or to prevent her from laying dainty hands on Jessica Gonzalez-Rodriguez’s Marcellina. A particular highlight came during her recitative and aria “Deh Vien Tardar.” While Figaro, crawling ever closer to his disguised bride seated on a bench, drew the audience’s eyes, this distance shrouded her and illuminated the beckoning aspect of her serenade. All of this was crowned by Yoo’s floating F natural to sustain the phrase “ti vo’la fronte in coronar.”
A Highly Charged Ensemble
Providing antics as well as antagonism was Matthew Brennan as Count Almaviva, going from flirtatious to furious, and even fearful after unveiling the hiding Cherubino. This exchange was somewhat lessened by the cut to their recitative where he questions him on what he has overheard. As Countess Almaviva, Samantha Long’s portrayal elicited the tears to accompany the laughter of the evening. When she was introduced in Act two to sing “Porgi amor” she was able to deliver the sonorous high notes while still reclining on her chaise lounge. Many performances see the Countess relishing in the morendo of the closing phrase, but Long instead ended rather plainly, as if the Countess had started to become numb to her own pain, thus beginning to die on the inside. Long experienced a rebirth of her own when it came time for her to sing “Dove sono, I bei momenti di dolcezza.” Her duettino with Susanna “Che soave zeffiretto,” felt as if the Countess had once again become the clever vixen Rosina in “The Barber of Seville.” All of this made for a highly satisfying conclusion at the end of the opera when she grants clemency to her wayward Count; the pleading in Brennan’s delivery of the line “Contessa, perdono,” was well-captured by his leap of a 7th to begin the closing phrase that would taper into a repentant silence. Though he is seemingly contrite, the joyful ensemble which ends the opera is given one major caveat to its direction: as Figaro and Susanna kiss next to the Count and Countess, who are doing the same, the Count and Susanna take each other’s hand, perfectly in sync and suggesting of future infidelity.
As the vengeful Dr. Bartolo, Patrick Scully exhibited a comedic sensibility that would make his blood connection to Figaro highly believable. His aria, “La Vendetta,” was highly spirited, as shown when he forcefully took over Marcellina’s plot to marry Figaro, even as she tried to leave with him, Scully wrestled his way to the front of the stage to deliver more lines and relish his upcoming revenge. When it came time in the aria for the pattering of legal nomenclature, Scully’s voice was more subdued, becoming somewhat muddled in the orchestra. However, his sustained D natural which ends the phrase was followed by the triumphant laughter and demonstrated no lack of air on Scully’s part. Another moment of laughter came after introducing Marcellina to Figaro as her mother, he crept off to attempt an escape before being brought back to meet his son.
An unexpected source of comedy came in the form of Al Dresden Ramos in the role of Don Basilio. While this character is almost universally portrayed as sleazy, Ramos’ interpretation was crass, effeminate, energetic and yet strangely captivating. A prime example was when the chorus of women entered to sing “Giovani liete, fiori spargete,” and Basilio conducted them with a cavalcade of wild, nonsensical gestures, even going so far as to break the fourth wall by signaling for the orchestra to cease. While many productions, including this one, omit his aria “In quegl’ anni, in cui val poco,” this is one of the rare instances where I believe omitting it was not the right thing to do.
Concentrating the Comedy
A more significant cut was Figaro’s aria “Aprite un po’ quegl’occhi,” only its preceding recitative being spared to illustrate his anguish with the fairer sex. In the interests of time, dialogue was cut from a number of recitatives, some more noticeable than others. Examples included Susanna’s explanation of her suspicions before “Se vuol ballare,” Cherubino stealing the Countess’ ribbon from Susanna, as well as the dialogue between Cherubino and the Count after the latter’s aria.
Apart from the interests of time, one explanation for the many cuts might be found in the fact that the direction was highly engaging physically, having no shortage of falls, slaps, spins, and a quadrille country dance to close the festivities of act three with the chorus “Ecco la marcia, andiamo.” Even this had its use as members of the women’s chorus listened in on their lecherous count. Another sharply executed moment came when Brennan’s Count presents the marriage contract between Figaro and Marcellina before the eyes of everyone assembled; each trying to grab it, the two sides of the legal case quickly swap places on stage and then back again as Brennan turns to maintain his hold on the coveted document.
The sheer exuberance of the opera was deftly handled by the young artists of the Summer Nights Festival and was performed again by a second cast on July 15, 2018. The cast of July 14, had no shortage of knockouts, who will no doubt go on to bare their gifts before future audiences.