Le nozze di Figaro Tickles the Ribs and Warms the Heart
by Ken Hoover
Capital Opera Raleigh's performance of Le nozze di Figaro at Meredith College on Sunday afternoon, October 2, was certainly not a Glyndebourne or a Salzburg production, but we didn't expect that – and it didn't matter a bit. All the charm, humorous intrigue, and shimmering melody that was there at the Burgtheater in Vienna in May 1786 made it intact to the stage of Jones Auditorium. So the orchestra consisted of ten musicians – four strings, five woodwinds, and harpsichord? They played their hearts out under the direction of Al Sturgis, who obviously knew the score well and moved it along nearly flawlessly. So what if the singers were not international divas and stars? All of them had previous stage experience and winsome voices, and with make up, thoughtful blocking, and skilled acting, they were absolutely convincing in the roles Lorenzo da Ponte and Mozart created. So what if the sets were not blockbuster designs by Franco Zeffirelli? They were clever, realistic, and symbolic at the same time – the main panels at the back of the stage changed colors reflecting something of the predominant mood of each act. Tom Mauney was scene and lighting designer, and David Serxner was the costume designer.
Director Wayne Wyman chose a manor house in England in the 1930s for the setting, rather than Count Almaviva's castle in Seville in the late 18th century – fitting enough. Mozart had in mind a contemporary or reasonably contemporary setting. Da Ponte's libretto turns the 1778 play by Beaumarchais into a typical silly comedy on the battle between the sexes very similar to some of Shakespeare's comedies, like A Midsummer Night's Dream. That means that we are presented with lots of confusion, mixed identities, and hilarious dialogue with lots of double entendre. There's a mezzo playing a boy (Cherubino) who dresses up as a girl – very well done by Stephanie Foley. And there's a very satisfying, humane, happy ending. Who could ever see or hear this opera and leave it without humming, whistling, or da-da-ing Cherubino's second act canzona, "Voi, che sapete," or carrying in the heart the Contessa's "Dove sono i bei momenti"?
For almost two hundred and twenty years, this work of heavenly genius has pleased audiences in every corner of the globe. It has arias, duets, trios, quartets, and sextets, all of exquisite musical creativity, and wonderful closing choruses (Lisa Fredenburgh was chorus master), so it is no wonder that an afternoon with Mozart, even in perilous and stressful times like these, leaves one feeling warm and confident that all will come around right in the end. I felt that way when I first saw it at the 39th Street Met with my bride in 1962 (the cast included the likes of Kim Borg, Lisa Della Casa, Laurel Hurley, Cesare Siepi, Rosalind Elias, Mignon Dunn, Ezio Flagello and Teresa Stratas), and I felt that same way in Jones Auditorium.
Krassen and Summer Karagiozov were solid and sincere as the Count and the Countess. Erin Cates was a beguiling and wise Susanna, and Brian Lowry, the Figaro, was a fittingly love-struck but easy-going suitor. Olive McKrell (Marcellina) and Robert Chapman (Dr. Bartolo) were delightful comic foils who displayed fine vocal talents. Stephanie Foley, already mentioned above, was an impetuous and charming Cherubino, and Nikki Jenkins, as Barbarina, was sweet and vulnerable. (Both were conceived in da Ponte's libretto as pubescent adolescents.) Tom Link was the gardener, Diego Ubiera was the judge, and Daniel Stein was Basilio, the music master. All have pleasant voices and played their roles very well indeed.
Opera, the grandest of all the arts, is neither easy nor cheap to produce. Somewhat trimmed-down productions like this are very worthwhile. The modest price of tickets – at least a fourth (or less) of the cost of tickets to big-budget "professional" productions – made this treasure available to many who could not otherwise have afforded it. Of course, ticket sales do not begin cover the costs, even of productions like this. CapOpRa is dependent on contributions from individuals, corporations, and benevolent funds to keep going. I hope those who are able to help support this very important contribution to the community will see its lasting value. And I hope the public will take advantage of the extraordinary opportunity CapOpRa offers us and turn out for their other performances. For information on the company's season, click here.