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Figaro in Love

Los Angeles
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Music Center
01/21/2001 -  January 24, 26 and 30, February 1
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro
Richard Bernstein (Figaro), Maria Bayo (Susanna), Claudio Otelli (Count Almaviva), Pamela Armstrong (Countess Almaviva), Megan Dey-Tóth (Cherubino), Cynthia Jansen (Marcellina), Jonathan Mack (Don Basilio), Jamie Offenbach (Dr. Bartolo), Shana Blake Hill (Barbarina), James Creswell (Antonio), Bruce Sledge (Don Curzio)
Los Angeles Opera Production by Sir Peter Hall from Lyric Opera of Chicago
Los Angeles Opera Orchestra, Los Angeles Opera Chorus, Marco Guidarini (conductor), Thor Steingraber (director), John Bury (designer), James Sale (lighting designer), Peggy Hickey (choreographer)

Mozart’s three central operas — Don Giovanni, Marriage of Figaro and Così fan tutte — work best either as sophisticated political satires attacking (figuratively, at least) the old order, or as seductive comedies in the midsummer tradition of Shakespeare and Ingmar Bergman. The challenge in both cases is allowing the music to play a role as if were itself a character, inseparable from the fabric of the play. If the music insists on taking center stage as a formal succession of individual recitatives, arias, and ensembles, Mozart’s human insights and illuminations, whether satirical or comedic, are blunted. In Sir Peter Hall’s production, revived here for the third time since 1990, his deeply romantic approach expresses the sublime effects of love by first demonstrating love’s power at work on the singers themselves, and only secondarily on the audience. As with previous incarnations of this production, Figaro (and Susanna) triumphed, and the audience fell in love.

There was not one weak link in a youthful cast, equally at home with the work's musical and dramatic demands, that featured Maria Bayo, Pamela Armstrong and Claudio Otelli making their company debuts. Responding to Thor Steingraber’s comprehensive direction, and backed by the sexy work of the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra and the determined conducting of Marco Guidarini, the ensemble focused intently on defining and developing their on-stage relationships before turning to the business of drawing the audience into their confidence and, together with the audience, falling under Mozart’s magical spell.

Richard Bernstein’s athletic, plain-as-pigs Figaro and Bayo’s knowing, Carol Kane-ish Susanna made a perfect pair; Megan Dey-Tóth’s gorgeous, love-struck Cherubino sang and moved with the endearing awkwardness of a teen-ager; Armstrong’s sensual Countess was as vulnerable to the joys of rediscovering her slumbering sexual appetite as to the sorrows inflicted by her philandering husband; and Otelli’s tall and handsome Count was not only a model of comedy (highlighted by an audience-pleasing double take when he inadvertently uncovered Cherubino in the opening scene) but of imperious folly.

In the smaller roles, Shana Blake Hill made Barberina delicious to look at and listen to, and Cynthia Jansen made Marcellina believably in love without resorting to misanthropic parody. Aside from a few lovely, liquid efforts by Dey-Tóth, however, none of the singers took any liberties (as they had, with great success, in previous years) with the printed vocal lines.

In the pit, the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra gave conductor Guidarini more spirit than precision, supplied all the dash and compassion Mozart could have hoped for, and kept the action going with a confidence-inspiring, gently relentless momentum which provided the singers, though they were occasionally out of synch, plenty of room in which to expand their phrasing and to act, and react, with convincing emotion. The seductive woodwinds in particular lent the score the inimitable color that is Mozart's alone; when principal clarinetist Stephen Piazza applied his ravishing tone to the opening bars of “Voi che, sapete,” the audience sighed with delight. Helping the recitatives along, harpsichordist Paul Floyd played a mean continuo line.

And while John Bury's sets were too small for the vast Music Center stage, faux brick retaining walls, like wings on window air-conditioning units, plugged up the holes, and the singers had no trouble making the space work totally in their favor.

Laurence Vittes



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