Le nozze di Figaro, libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte based on the play by Beaumarchais, music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Directed by Gregory Keller.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"I am more forgiving than you."
no production photos available
The Countess Almaviva, married to a handsome and profligate husband, bares her soul at the top of Act Two of Mozart’s opera, The Marriage of Figaro, currently on stage in Pittsfield at The Colonial Theatre in a wonderful new production by the Berkshire Opera Company. With the help of her maid, Susanna and the servant Figaro whom Susanna plans to marry that day, she decides to teach her husband a few lessons in jealousy and despair. Elegant and not used to trickery, she manages to bring off her little revenge and to be magnanimous in accepting him with his flaws and he is properly - if temporarily - humbled by her love and her graciousness.
Of course it takes three hours and eighteen minutes to get to that point in the opera, but the humor and the beauty of the music make it all worthwhile. Someone has said, and it is often quoted, that drama is easy, comedy takes talent. Mozart had a way of taking a phrase and making of it what he would. In number after number his music makes points for both drama and comedy and the delicious variety in his tunes and his scoring of a phrase can give you goosebumps, chills, thrills and a joy unsurpassed. This opera, the first historically to give more time to the servants than the masters and the first to put onto the stage the real people of the day, is deservedly loved and holds a place unique in the history of stage music.
This production, set in a modern-day Spain, also has the amazing talents of wonderful singer/actors and the equally grand talents of musicians who can play beautifully for them. The Berkshire Opera Orchestra, under the baton of Kathleen Kelly gives the audience a near-perfect rendition of the score starting with the overture, one of the great pieces of music all by itself. Dipu Gupta has created a set that is constantly fascinating, especially in the fourth and final act (there is only one intermission, by the way, so take the necessary precautions early) when the garden set is slowly winnowed away to expose the stage and remind us that the plot has also winnowed away the artifice of lover’s games and revenge. His lighting is also effective and works emotionally for the opera’s lengthy scenes.
Charles R. Caine’s clever costumes work well, providing an almost timeless look to the piece. If it weren’t for the small things, I-Pods and cell phones, it would be hard to place this in a totally modern setting. That is especially true with the plot element of the Count’s "droit de seigneur" the rights to a bride exercised by certain nobility. Not essentially a "today" concept, it still works well in this production.
The Countess is taken by a full-bodied and full-voiced Tamara Wilson. Her third act solo, Dove Sono, was perhaps the most beautiful interlude in the production, worthy of an encore which thankfully wasn’t provided considering the length of the work. Her husband, Almaviva, is played by a tall, slender, handsome and sleekly mysterious Liam Bonner. He sings and acts with a rich tone and masculinity that is unmistakable. He makes a perfect Count, irresistibly sinister at times.
Figaro and Susanna are played by bass-baritone Ryan McKinney and soprano Suzanne Ramo. She is pert and perky and sings beautifully. She is hilarious in the second act as she crawls around the furniture, under beds and such and her anger at her beloved’s perceived betrayal of their love in Act Three is alarmingly charming. He is a star-force in the making. Handsome with a rich, velvety voice he handles both the romance and the comedy with precision and accuracy. He sings like a dream.
Marcellina, an older woman intent on marrying Figaro herself, is played with grand style and a hilarious red wig by Fenion Lamb. She and her vis-a-vis, Doctor Bartolo - played with joy by Jason Hardy - sing, plot, dance and cavort around the stage like two slightly mad puppies. His look and his voice are reminiscent of John Cheek who has often been seen with this company when not on tour or singing at the Metropolitan. They are an excellent pair.
The biggest name in the production is taking on a different sort of role. Having made debuts in a few places in the role of the Countess, Maureen O’Flynn is acting up a storm as Cherubino, a young man in love with just about every woman in the opera except Marcellina. She sings this role, usually accorded to a mezzo-soprano, with a totally disarming sensibility, note perfect as usual but acted to perfection. Not for a moment does she come across as a girl in men’s clothing and even when the lad is disguised as a maid the boyishness in her portrayal is defined and strong. O’Flynn has generally been the dramatic one in a production but here she pulls out all the stops and emerges as a slapstick, Doris Day tomboy who is almost out of control. Whatever the price of tickets, her performance alone makes it a bargain.
The rest of the company help to complete the picture perfect production of Mozart’s best comedy. It is also just right to have this production in the beautifully restored Colonial. Opera looks good and sounds good here. Sung in Italian there are surtitles to help the uninitiated so have no fear of not understanding the show. At the Colonial the Berkshire Opera proves that this is a company to cherish and keep alive. They are providing us with the unique and the powerful and we can watch the next generation of great American singers at work, doing their youthful, exuberant best.
Le Nozze di Figaro plays three more times at the Colonial Theatre: August 20 and 22 at 8PM and August 24 at 2PM. For ticket prices and availability call their box office at 413-442-0099.