CONSIDERED OPINION OF OPERA CLEVELAND'S 9/26 PERFORMANCE OF MOZART'S THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro (Maureen McKay, Susanna; Jason Hardy, Figaro; Corey McKern, Count Almaviva; Elaine Alvarez, Countess Almaviva; Carolyn Kahl, Cherubino; Dean Williamson, cond.)
The fact that many of you are hearing this review in the United States of America, as opposed to some piece of the British Commonwealth, owes something to the efforts of Pierre August Caron de Beaumarchais. The American victories at the Battles of Saratoga—often cited as a turning point of the Revolution—were due, in part, to a business venture by Beaumarchais: an import-export firm named Roderigue Hortalez and Company that supplied badly needed armaments and other equipment to the rebels.
It was just one episode in an incredibly rich life. Beaumarchais was, at various times, a watchmaker, music teacher for the daughters of King Louis XV, a secret French envoy, and the publisher of seventy volumes of works by Voltaire. In between, he wrote La Folle Journée, ou Le Mariage de Figaro: the play on which Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro is based. Mozart's Figaro was, according to Opera America, North America's fourth most-produced opera of the 2007-08 season. And Opera Cleveland, having recently presented numbers one, two, and three, turns its attention to Figaro with a production directed by Peter Kazaras and conducted by Dean Williamson. Williamson is also the continuo player, though his electronic keyboard sounds like it can't decide whether to simulate a harpsichord, a fortepiano, or something else entirely.
It's a solid production with a fairly reliable cast. Maureen McKay is just about ideal as the maid Susanna: sprightly and intelligent, with an unaffected sensuality and a sparkling soprano voice. Jason Hardy is an amiable Figaro, though he doesn't evoke the same sense of mischievousness as the role's best interpreters. (Pick up a video of Bryn Terfel in the part to see what I mean.) Corey McKern is a rather youthful-looking Count Almaviva, but he compensates with a fine baritone voice and an appealingly aristocratic air. Carolyn Kahl is a serviceable, if somewhat featureless, Cherubino.
The only real disappointment was Elaine Alvarez's mopey Countess Almaviva. She seemed the sort of woman you'd see sobbing on a reality show rather than the wounded but self-possessed character of Mozart's opera. "Porgi, amor," delivered from a reclining position on a chaise longue, and "Dove sono i bei momenti" seemed overwrought and maudlin. In his notes to the play, Beaumarchais noted that the Countess "should keep a tight rein on her feelings." The same advice can profitably be applied to Mozart's adaptation.
Despite a few such missteps, this Figaro is spirited, lively, and enormous fun. Self-aggrandizing modern directors have sometimes gone to bizarre lengths to highlight Figaro's real and imagined sexual and political subtexts. Opera Cleveland's production doesn't really offer new insights into Mozart's masterpiece. But it does prove just how effective the opera can be when performed as a straightforward farce by decent singers. Caution has its rewards. And sometimes, as Don Basilio notes in Beaumarchais' The Barber of Seville, "A bird in the hand lays golden eggs."
Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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