|Maestro Joseph Colaneri and the cast from Mannes Opera's production of Le Nozze di Figaro|
We have often averred that we could attend Mozart's masterpiece of social commentary on a weekly basis without getting bored. Actually we have been seeing it that often and we haven't changed our mind. Mozart's melodies delight the ear and Lorenzo da Ponte's thoughtful yet humorous libretto provides ample food for thought--and not a few giggles.
At the time of The Enlightenment, society was questioning a number of issues, including the inequalities between master and servant and the place of women in society. Sitting in the audience at the comfortable Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College, we mused on the wisdom of Artistic Director Maestro Colaneri and Stage Director Laura Alley who gave us a traditional production, one which allowed us the freedom to see the parallels with our own society in its present state of upheaval.
There is no need to force feed an audience to make them appreciate these similarities by changing the time and place of the opera. As a matter of fact, references to the droit de seigneur make such updating wrong-headed and despicable. We do not need pandering. We love authenticity.
The performances we witnessed were honest and true to the story. The members of The Mannes Opera performed with true ensemble spirit and, by the end of the evening, we felt that we knew and cared about the characters. We have been writing a lot lately about characterological growth and transformation. Mozart's music limns each character and his/her evolution. It takes a good conductor to bring this out in the orchestra and a good director to show this onstage.
In Laura Alley we had a first-rate director who served the story and not her own ego. It would seem obvious that such is the goal but so many directors nowadays betray that maxim. Ms. Alley not only kept everything moving onstage but provided "stage business" that heightened our awareness of each character's motivation. It's the tiny details that count. Let us offer just one example. When the Count ships Cherubino off to war, the page joins Susanna and Figaro in a parade around the room. Susanna picks up a curtain rod with a curtain suspended and carries it as a battle flag. This tells us that she is clever and resourceful. There were many similar touches to come.
This resourceful Susanna was performed by the winsome soprano Ana Capetillo who captured our attention from the first moment as she tries to get Figaro's attention away from measuring the room to focus on her bridal veil. Ms. Capetillo is full of personality and possesses a sparkling soprano that seems meant for Mozart. We were surprised to learn that she is an undergraduate! Her "Deh vieni, non tardar" elicited torrents of applause.
She is more than a servant to the Countess; she is a confidant and helper. The Countess was portrayed by soprano Lauren Yokabaskas who employed her fine instrument in lovely legato lines to convey the sadness of a neglected wife who has lost her husband's attention. She sang her two arias with despair and dignity. Anyone who wasn't moved by her "Porgi amor" and "Dove sono" must be horribly hard hearted.
Susanna's nemesis in her struggle to get married to Figaro is Marcellina, here performed by the excellent mezzo-soprano Wan Zhao. We loved the scene where they dish each other and we loved watching the lightning shift in attitude when Marcellina learns that Figaro is her long lost son. She is instantly motherly toward Susanna but it takes Susanna a bit longer to be convinced. We wish her aria "Il capro e la capretta" had not been cut. But it generally is.
The role of Cherubino was interpreted by mezzo-soprano Perri di Christina whose acting measured up to her vocal skills. She was quite convincing as a male youth and just as believable as a youth pretending to be a girl. We better appreciated the texture of her voice in "Voi che sapete", in which the more leisurely tempo than that of "Non so piu" gave us the opportunity to really hear her.
As Barbarina, petite soprano Sara Law was exactly what the role called for. She sang with brightness and lightness and clarity of tone.
And now for the men! In the title role we heard Chase Cornett who we believe to be a bass baritone. The darkness of his tone and a bit of stiffness in his acting threw us off at first but we warmed up to his performance when he relaxed physically and allowed Figaro's playful side to emerge. By the end of the opera we were really enjoying his performance, especially watching his indignant rage when he thinks Susanna is unfaithful.
Baritone Sunyeop Hwang made a fine Count Almaviva--arrogant, clueless, and lecherous. (Does this sound like anyone we know?) His "Crudel! perche finora" was splendidly sung. Of course, we enjoyed his comeuppance at the end and hoped against hope that his transformation would endure past the final curtain.
Bass Michael Pitocchi impressed us with his interpretation of Don Bartolo. In spite of his youth, his acting and the color of his voice convinced us that he was an old fellow, grumpy and disdainful of his servant Marcellina but ready to help her win her suit and later willing to marry her. His Act I aria "La vendetta" was brilliantly sung.
Tenor Hyun Ho Cho made a fine slimy Don Basilio, always ready to gossip and make trouble for others. As the gardener Antonio, bass Jongwon Choi avoided all the drunken clichés and gave a fine realistic interpretation of an aggrieved servant struggling to make his case.
The role of Don Curzio the notary is a small role but tenor Andrès Peñalver made the most of it. Every time he sneezed, the hair on his wig flew up, providing a lot of laughs. Wigs are credited to Amanda Miller.
We are not sure who coached the chorus but they sang beautifully and intelligibly, especially in the beautiful chorus that brings the drama to a happy end with "Gloria tutti".
Roger Hanna's sets were simple but effective. We particularly liked the set for Act I which looked exactly the way a storage room in a palace would look--shelves and cubbyholes filled with all kinds of stuff.
Helen E. Rodgers' costumes were perfect. They were not only accurate to the late 18th c. period but sported flourishes and furbelows of definite Iberian flavor. We knew exactly where we were!
Where YOU should be is at today's matinée, the final performance!
(c) meche kroop