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Opera Review Print

Opera Carolina Shines in Novel Marriage of Figaro

March 7, 2009 - Charlotte, NC:

Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro is always a musical delight and in this performance, a great comedy which kept the audience laughing. Opera Carolina’s Artistic Director and distinguished conductor, James Meena, delivered on his promise to give us “a new approach” and “an entirely new view of the work.” Instead of placing the orchestra in the pit, beneath the stage, the orchestra was on stage, at the back, and the action took place between the orchestra and the audience, in plain view of the orchestra musicians. The harpsichord was placed against the side wall to the audience’s right with the un-named but excellent harpsichordist facing the hall with a full view of the stage

This novel approach emphasized the intimate interplay between singers and orchestra, especially the fine woodwinds of the Charlotte Symphony. With their backs toward the conductor, the cast of singers was able to follow the maestro’s gestures on four monitors discretely positioned along the lip of the stage. Ensemble was not a problem, nor were there any problems in balancing the orchestra’s level with the vocal sound. A transparent gauze scrim, however, was a source of irritation, coming down in front of the orchestra during the two slow and tender arias of the Countess Almaviva and rising afterwards.

Obviously, such a set-up on stage reduces the need for elaborate scenery. Projections of windows on a large screen behind the orchestra provided a hint of the setting of a nobleman’s castle, and costumes (designed by John Lehmeyer) and an occasional piece of furniture provided all the rest. The only moment that required the “willing suspension of disbelief” was in the second act when (non-existent) doors were locked, shaken and finally unlocked after being threatened with a very real ax.

Originally a story which pitted the wits of the common man against the privileges of the nobility and intended to be polemic in Mozart’s time, the plot revolves around the Count wishing to exercise the feudal "right of the first night" (“droits de seigneur”) over his barber’s fiancée, Susanna. Susanna and the Countess successfully plot to thwart the Count and to renew the Count’s love for his spouse.

Kristopher Irmiter sang the title role with humor and wit, while Anne-Carolyn Bird was warm and saucy as his fiancée, Susanna. Kyle Pfortmiller was the suave and scheming Count Almaviva and Ailyn Pèrez sang the role of his aggrieved spouse. This was a well-matched quartet and all singers varied the tones of their voices to suit the moods of the songs, at times tender and seductive, at others biting and haughty. The over-sexed adolescent, Cherubino, was sung in an appropriately strident manner by soprano Diane McEwan-Martin (a "pants role") and his erstwhile girlfriend, Barbarina, was sung by the very young-voiced Jenny Chen. Adding comic relief were Marcellina (Stephanie Foley Davis), Bartolo, her ex-lover (William Roberts) and the music master Basilio and the judge Don Curzio (Daniel Ross Hinson*). Byron Barr was perfect as the tippling gardener, Antonio.

Except for one tenor whose voice dominated, the opera chorus sang well, and two female soloists were excellent in the wedding scene. And except for a few typographical errors, the projected translation of the sung Italian libretto was the source of great mirth for the audience.

*Edited/corrected 3/11/09.