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Mozart’s masterwork Le nozze di Figaro is one of those great operas that never fails to delight its audiences. The fortunate collaboration of a superb cast from the Opera Company of North Carolina, the excellent playing of the North Carolina Symphony conducted by Grant Llewellyn, and the impeccable singing of the North Carolina Master Chorale Chamber Choir, directed by Alfred E. Sturgis, presented to the appreciative audience in Meymandi Hall an evening of Mozart at his best.
The evening began purposefully and zestfully with Llewellyn and the orchestra presenting one of the greatest opera overtures, with an energy that inspired all cast members to bring the same level of energy and musical skill to their performances. This was especially true of Sari Gruber (Susanna) and Barbara Shirvis (Countess Almaviva), whose voices epitomized the bel canto style of the true Mozartian soprano; the control of vibrato, the beauty of tone, the vocal flexibility, and the clear, ringing focus that allowed them to sing to everyone in the house.
Gruber’s beautiful, soaring soprano expressively conveyed Susanna’s warmth, wit and light-heartedness as well as the sincerity of her love for Figaro and respect for her mistress, the Countess. The role of Susanna is long, demanding and requires professional caliber endurance; however Gruber never appeared in the least tired. From her two spirited duets with Wayne Tigges (Figaro) in the first act until the last note of the fourth-act finale, Gruber showed no sign of fatigue as she effortlessly sang Mozart’s unrelenting long lines and coloratura passages.
Shirvis as the Countess Almaviva is no less a fine singer and actress. Her powerful, touchingly beautiful dramatic singing made all listeners sympathize with the woman whose husband has done her wrong before and no doubt will again. Her second-act cavatina, “Porgi’amor, qualche ristoro,” and her most moving aria, “Dove sono i bei momenti” in the third act, are filled with long, fairly slow-moving lines deeply expressive of the Countess’ breaking heart, and demand the utmost in vocal control.
The third major female principal was Krista River in the trouser role of the lovelorn young teenage page Cherubino. River was delightful, and her sure comic timing and excellent acting were complemented by a warm mezzo-soprano voice which easily handled considerable technical demands, especially in the first-act aria, “Non si più cosa son, cosa faccio.”
The two major male characters, the valet Figaro and Count Almaviva, were likewise superbly portrayed throughout the performance. Bass-baritone Wayne Tigges as Figaro and baritone Stephen Powell as the Count sang superbly and also showed their strong comic abilities. Tigges sang with energy from the beginning, and also was a very lively Figaro, moving rapidly about the stage while keeping up an almost ceaseless vocal conversation with Gruber’s Susanna. In the fourth act, Figaro’s angry rant against the faithlessness of women gives Tigges a fine opportunity to show off his technical proficiency both in recitative and aria.
Stephen Powell as the Count had many opportunities to show off his considerable vocal and dramatic skill, from pompous aristocrat to thwarted lover in his pursuit of Susanna, to a truly contrite husband. He stood out most brightly in the hilarity of the second and third acts, especially when he must show by vocal inflection and increasing vocal power the Count’s growing frustration and rage with his wife and servants. But his best singing was his third-act recitative and aria, “Hai già vinta la causa,” expressing his rage that all his plans have gone awry.
Other singers who deserve mention in assessing the great musical and dramatic worth of this performance are; Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Seiger (Marcellina), soprano Teresa Winner Blume (Barbarina), tenor Wade Henderson (Don Basilio/Don Curzio), baritone Scott McLeod (Dr. Bartolo) and baritone David Mellnick (Antonio). All sang splendidly, and obviously enjoyed the sometimes-madcap comic events in which they took enthusiastic part.
Conductor Llewellyn always knew where the singers were on stage and exactly how he and the orchestra could help them. The orchestra played brilliantly and supported the singers rather than covering them up. The entire organization is to be praised for the success of this dazzling production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. From this example we can anticipate the prospect is good for future operas this season.