A DELIGHTFUL FIGARO TO CLOSE OUT THE FESTIVAL
Mozart, THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, Alex Lawrence (Figaro), Caitlin Wood (Susanna), Phillip Addis (Count Almaviva), Leslie Ann Bradley (Countess Almaviva), Ricardo Lugo (Bartolo), Anita Krause (Marcellina), Mireille Lebel (Cherubino), Christopher Mayell (Basilio, Don Curzio), Peter Monaghan (Antonio), Vanessa Oude-Reimerink (Barbarina), and others. Members of the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, Leslie Dala (Conductor), Drew Facey (Scenic Designer), Sid Neigum (Costume Designer), John Webber (Lighting Designer), Rachel Peake (Director), Playhouse, May 11, 2017.
How better to close an opera festival than with music composed in Heaven? In the words of Johannes Brahms, ‘each number in Figaro is a miracle.’ Vancouver Opera Festival’s final offering was a delight, well played, well directed, and well acted and sung, bringing out the exquisite music and drama of this perfect opera. While I have some qualifications about the ‘concept’ underlying this production, let’s first acknowledge its delights.
Leslie Dala’s orchestra was tight, with crisp pacing, most noticeable perhaps in the amazing ensembles that are so marked a feature of this opera. The great ensemble that closes Act 2 and the discovery scene in Act 3 proceeded with sparkle as each added character brought new music and a new dramatic twist, all impeccably timed by conductor, director, and singing actors. The singing and acting were generally excellent, especially from the women. The star of the evening was Caitlin Wood as Susanna, showing great comic flair and a flexible and attractive soubrette soprano, with a lower register that thrilled. The latter was most apparent in her moving rendition of ‘Deh vieni, non tardar’ in Act 4. Leslie Ann Bradley as the Countess was outstanding, acting and singing with grace and dignity. Her two big solos—‘Porgi amor’ opening Act 2 and the Act 3 ‘Dove sono’—she sang superbly with deep conviction. Also outstanding was the Cherubino of Mireille Lebel, with a lovely mezzo voice, fine articulation, and characterful comic acting. Anita Krause as Marcellina was also first-rate, with a strong well-modulated mezzo voice and convincing acting. Vanessa Oude-Reimerink proved a charming Barbarina, making the most of her Act 4 cavatina, ‘L’ho perduta’, with a pleasing and pliant soprano voice.
The men were good, though not as good as the women. Alex Lawrence, an amiable Figaro, sang well, with a pleasing baritone, even if at times his voice had trouble carrying, particularly in piano and in the lower register. Phillip Addis as Almaviva possessed an attractive voice, though his too was not always well projected, and his acting was at times stilted. The rest of the cast were fully satisfactory, Ricardo Lugo a pompous though likeable Don Bartolo and Christopher Mayell a deliciously sleazy Don Basilio.
Rachel Peake’s direction was delightful as well, keeping the action to a good pace, and with much comic invention along the way providing good visual support to the often hilarious writing of Mozart and da Ponte. The sets of Drew Facey and the lighting of John Webber were beautiful, adding their own pleasure as well as facilitating the playing. Particularly stunning was the garden scene of the last act, which drew well-deserved applause.
The questionable aspect of the production was the costuming by Sid Neigum. Somehow, the ‘concept’ of fashion, and the portrayal of Figaro and Susanna as ‘outsiders’, did not materialize very well. Figaro and Susanna never came across as ‘outsiders’— in direction, costumes, or acting— while the costumes generally seemed downright distracting in their eclecticism. And what exactly does fashion contribute to a story about a conflict between aristocratic privilege and a servant class that has grown impatient with such entitlement? Perhaps this is simply one more example of the quest for novelty in staging opera today. But actually de-historicizing this masterpiece by placing it in ‘a time-out-of-time’ (to use the director’s words) vitiated its context and status as a subversive document. However satisfying this production may have been, thematically we were faced with a Figaro that rather wandered away from its social criticism.
But let’s end on the positive, because the opera was well done indeed. Vancouver Opera brought to life a great masterpiece, charming its audience with its musicality, inventive direction, and fine acting and singing. A most agreeable close to a thoroughly satisfying festival.
© Harvey DeRoo 2017