(Los Angeles, CA - Sept 26, 2010) What could be more refreshing on a hot Sunday afternoon than Placido Domingo, Mozart, belly laughs, and air conditioning? Nothing! That is our firm conviction after attending the spectacular opening performance of LA Opera's The Marriage of Figaro at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
The tour de force performances by the orchestra and the chorus, the spot-on casting choices for the very well developed characters, and the skillful and often rowdy delights in the height of farce make this a must-see show.
Like many operas, the plot is silly. But here it is so twisted and witty that the audience must give it up. Every character is trying to outwit the others. Every line is a topper. All enacted with glorious voices and Mozart rapture. His music keeps up with and enhances the wit, and the wit keeps up with the intricacies of his music.
Let's just say it, Figaro is fun. If you're not already an opera fan, perhaps you think of Mozart as, well, stuffy. That's probably because Beethoven, who followed him in history, was so much more dynamic. But during that period, orchestral instruments increased in range - you could say music technology changed. Mozart had the delicate harpsichord, Beethoven the thunderous piano. (And Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio, was no comedy.)
But meticulous as Mozart's symphonies were, he let out all the comic stops and seemed to enjoy himself immensely in opera. No doubt he would delight in this production, which pushes his comedy over the edge.
The orchestra is rousing under Domingo's direction. The characters are vibrant under the direction of Ian Judge, of the Royal Shakespeare Company. There is much humorous sexiness and indeed all the male characters want to sleep with Susanna, played with great energy by Marlis Petersen. Many of the men literally get a good feel.
Figaro, Canadian bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch and his fiance Susanna glibly prance about the stage, involved in and creating myriad schemes to assure their nuptials will happen according to plan. But the Count, Danish baritone Bo Skovhus, wants to sleep with Susanna, and then Marcelllina, played with pizazz by Ronnita Nicole Miller, wants to hold Figaro to an old promise to marry her.
In this production, it's all played for the lust. The Count comes out glistening and bare-chested, parting his robe, long-haired like Fabio. The Countess, Viennese soprano Martina Serafin, appears in her queenly den, reclining on a luxurious king-sized bed in her white flowing gown, regal and glamorous. Serafin's voice proved to be one of the strongest and most beautiful in the ensemble.
Little Cherubino is perhaps the most winning character. Croatian mezzo-soprano
Ranata Pokupic is a woman playing a man who is stuck on women. She then flawlesslely portrays a young man who tries to play a woman. She has it all - voice, acting chops, comedy. Entertaining to watch.
Another character who stood out especially for his comedic rendition was British tenor Christopher Gillett as Don Basilio. He presented a hilarious, simpering creepiness that made you want to see him in every scene. Doctor Bartolo, played by Alessandro Guerzoni, is as delightfully big and pompous as his overbearing role requires.
One more singer in a smaller role who must be mentioned is the beautiful Valentina Fleer as Barbarina. She is gorgeous, funny, and her voice was one of the sweetest we heard. It is her LA Opera debut, and she is a member of the Company's Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program. We look forward to seeing her at the LA Opera this season. She will appear in Il Postino, Rigoletto, and Il Turco in Italia.
Also of note is the consistently strong support of the LA Opera company's chorus, led by
Grant Gershon. When it comes to opera, our company - its distinguished maestro, orchestra and chorus - make Los Angeles world-class.
The Marriage of Figaro is certainly one of the most familiar and accessible operas as well as being one of the most popular. This production makes it fresh and enjoyable, as though seeing it for the first time.
Georja Umano is an actress/comedienne and animal advocate.
Gerald Everett Jones is the author of the Rollo Hemphill series of comic novels.
Photos by Robert Millard
The Marriage of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro)
September 26 - October 17, 2010