REVIEW: The Marriage of Figaro
If Mozart had been asked which of his operas was the most perfect, he surely would have replied, “My Figaro.” Indeed, there is not a superfluous note or misplaced phrase in the brilliant work. The same holds true for his collaborator Da Ponte’s exquisite libretto. If ever an opera could be described as “easy listening” and flawlessly engaging, The Marriage of Figaro would qualify hands down.
Seattle Opera’s season-ending new Figaro production directed by SO perennial favorite Peter Kazaras makes the most of the composer and librettist’s combined genius to mount a rendering of the work that is at once savvy and nostalgic. Says Kazaras, “color-saturated costumes…a set that suggests things are not quite what they seem…a tantalizing backdrop for the tremendous talent of our fabulous performers.” That talent abounded in the opening night cast.
Baritone Ryan McKinny’s much anticipated SO debut as the cunning servant Figaro did not disappoint. Not only is he a consummate vocal artist with remarkable evenness throughout his entire range, he also is a gifted physical comedian with impeccable timing and his characterization was at once subtle and uproarious. With such impressive vocal splendor, one eagerly anticipates his appearance next season as Kurwenal in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.
Equally skillful was Soraya Mafi’s portrayal of Figaro’s soulmate, Susanna. Last seen playing the child Flora (also directed by Kazaras) in Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, Mafi displayed her maturity and onstage star power, playing Susanna as grown up, sophisticated, and ready to take on any challenge that comes her way. Her rendering of Act 4’s Deh vieni, sung with great beauty and tenderness, was a highlight of the evening, and much appreciated by the audience.
The production was a true reflection of a dual protagonist subject at its core: The Marriage of Figaro meets the Wedding of Susanna. McKinny and Mafi melded perfectly in their equally skillful depictions of the couple of the hour and in their vocal adeptness, each nimbly playing off the other in every scene, culminating in a final reckoning between Mars and Venus that was both pleasing and impressive in its execution.
Making his SO debut as Count Almaviva, Texan baritone Norman Garrett was appropriately unsettling as the nobleman shamelessly trying to exercise his droit de seigneur and paying the price at the hands of women wilier than he. Vocally he was extraordinary: a lush voice that negotiated Almaviva’s wide range, from top to bottom, superbly. Dramatically, he cut a dashing if disturbingly virile figure who will stop at nothing to get his way—until the true power of women stops him in his tracks.
Finnish soprano Marjukka Tepponen as the Countess Almaviva, seen in the 2018 season as another Mozart heroine, Fiordiligi in Cosí fan tutte, was vocally and dramatically convincing in the ensembles and recitatives. In her two arias, however, there was a lack of sureness, especially in the high notes in the virtuoso tour-de-force, Dove sono.
Rounding out the cast was a roster of excellent comprimari: Kevin Burdette (Bartolo), Margaret Gawrysiak (Marcellina), Martin Bakari (Basilio), Anthony Webb (Curzio), Ashley Fabian (Barbarina), and Barry Johnson (Antonio). Among these, Bakari’s Basilio stood out both comedically and vocally. Though the character has relatively little play, when he was active onstage he commanded attention with his riotous horseplay, as exaggerated as successful comedy can be, never failing to entertain.
Burdette’s La vendetta was skillfully done, and his interactions with Gawrysiak’s Marcellina were fun-loving and touching.
Kazaras made the most of the ingenious opera’s comedic opportunities throughout the evening and captured the Rossini-like chaos and confusion of the act-ending ensembles with aplomb. As always, Kazaras excelled in the small touches that came off as waggish and witty yet subtle; e.g., Figaro’s playfully using the tape measure intended for the bed to measure Susanna. Kazaras also made the “Mother-Father” reveal in Act 3 equally funny and tender, especially between Burdette and Gawrysiak.
On the podium, debuting conductor Alevtina Ioffe’s initial impression in the overture was that of a young, energetic and adept chef d’orchestre, with a lively yet not overly hurried tempo. However, a few touches, such as the insistent use of the open “E” string in the violins (which would make any violinist cringe), were grating. And some of the tempi in other sections of the work were rushed, especially in the wedding scene, not allowing the chorus to effectively execute all of Mozart’s wonderful notes.
Belgian set designer Benoît Dugardyn displayed his background as an architect with striking sets for acts 2, 3, and 4 whose immense columns and sparkling chandelier gave a true impression of a wealthy noble seigneur’s palace. Connie Yun’s lighting complemented the sets seamlessly, at times matching the hues in the background with Myung Hee Cho’s exquisitely wrought costumes.
Wade Madsen choreographed a delightful wedding scene replete with Cho’s colorfully clad couples moving about charmingly, either restrained or unrestrained, depending on their station. The fandango clearly was well researched, performed with convincing Spanish panache (excuse the mixed metaphors) by each and every artist onstage.
Photo credits: Philip Newton, Sunny Martini
Erica can be reached at: [email protected]