PostHeaderIcon A Marriage In Heavenly Song

FigaroLyric Opera’s “The Marriage of Figaro” is ending the 2009-2010  season on a triumphant  high note.  It must share top honors, however in my view, with the earlier production of Leos Janacek’s tale of sexual and social repression, “Katya Kabanova” that featured an outstanding vocal and gripping dramatic performance by Karita Mattila.  I cannot remember ever attending a more viscerally emotional opera at Lyric.

I had been anticipating this revival of the Peter Hall production, most recently staged in 2003-04, ever since seeing the dream cast Lyric had assembled.  While Kyle Kettelson sang Figaro with full-bodied tone and authority, “Figaro” is an opera that revolves around the leading female roles—Susanna, Figaro’s fiancée who is also being pursued by Count Almaviva, the suffering Countess who gains her revenge and Cherubino, the Count’s young male page who has the hots for every woman he sees, in a superb reverse gender portrayal by Joyce DiDonato.

None of the ladies disappointed as consummate singing actors. Their signature arias were perfect in every detail with special praise for soprano Anne Scheanewilms, the Countess, and her achingly beautiful “Dove Sono”. Unfortunately, Ms. Schwanewilms has withdrawn from remaining performances due to a bronchial infection.  Her replacement for the final six performances, starting March 15th, will be soprano Nicole Cabell.

While Figaro, Bartolo and the Count weave a tangled web of lechery, jealousy, vanity and suspicion, it is, says Lyric dramaturg, Roger Pines, “the women’s guiles, wiles and wisdom (that) save face and restore faith” in the wonder of love. The opera, which dates from 1786, seems quite modern in its focus on the frailty of le relations between the sexes that still rings true.

Lost in all the comic tomfoolery is any recognition that the libretto, based on Pierre-Augustin Beaumarchais’ play of the same name, was initially seen as deeply political. The opera premiered three years before the bloody French Revolution.  It raised official disfavor for both its portrayal of class conflict between the Count and Susanna, the Countess’ maid, and for exposing the Count’s boorish behavior to public ridicule. Depicting the shortcomings of the aristocracy was viewed with serious disfavor.

But politics takes a back seat to Mozart’s magical score. And stage director Herbert Kellner kept the action moving briskly, precisely the right tempo at which to play this Mozart confection. The three-and-a-half hour performance breezed by and I left the theatre feeling giddy and lighthearted.

Seven more chances (through March 27) remain to catch this utterly winning production. For tickets, go to www.lyricopera.org.

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