A review of Seattle Opera’s staging of Mozart’s madcap “Marriage of Figaro,” a new-to-Seattle production directed by Seattle Opera’s general director, Aidan Lang, and featuring Shenyang in his Seattle debut as Figaro.
Just listening to the effervescent overture that launches Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” is enough to set the pulse racing. What a great score: one hit after another, especially when displayed in a lively Seattle Opera production that just might be the fastest three and a half hours you’ve ever spent in an opera house.
This “Figaro” is the handiwork of Seattle Opera’s general director, Aidan Lang, who created the production as stage director during his tenure with New Zealand Opera. Fast-moving, spontaneous and cheeky, this is a show with comic verve, but it’s also a show that makes you think. What’s really going on with all these elaborate ruses to indulge in, and conceal, infidelity? What does it take for the characters to learn how to really value each other?
Probing these issues and doing justice to the great Mozartean score require a terrific ensemble cast, and Seattle Opera has put together two of them. All five of the major roles — the Count, the Countess, Figaro and his bride, Susanna, and the amorous adolescent Cherubino — are double-cast, and no fewer than five cast members are graduates of the now-suspended Seattle Opera Young Artists program. (If ever there was an argument for restarting that program, this production surely makes it.)
Seattle Opera: ‘The Marriage of Figaro’
By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, directed by Aidan Lang, with Gary Thor Wedow conducting, through Jan. 30, McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $25-$217 (206-389-7676 or seattleopera.org).
This “Figaro” is full of imaginative activity. An Act I ensemble scene takes place against a kitchen backdrop of maids who are chopping and peeling, and a later solo rumination by the Count unfolds while servants are scrubbing walls and floors. The clever set, designed by Robin Rawstorne, uses moving walls and floors to display consecutive rooms in cross-section, so the cast’s action is always clear. (The various spaces created by these moving walls, however, sometimes had the occasional odd acoustical repercussions.)
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The opening-night show Saturday boasted the dashing, resonant Figaro of Chinese star Shenyang, opposite the commandingly nuanced Susanna of Nuccia Focile; suave firebrand Morgan Smith as the Count; and Bernarda Bobro as his delicate-voiced but exquisite Countess. Karin Mushegain was vocally and physically nimble as a particularly athletic Cherubino.
All five brought strong personalities to the stage. Smith was particularly successful as the Count, a wonderful blend of the seductive, the boorish, the bewildered and the repentant. Focile’s Susanna was both spontaneous and polished in every detail. All the cast looked great in Elizabeth Whiting’s imaginative clothes, which combined frock coats and denim with high-tops. Two of the cast members, however, appeared to have visited the hairdresser ofImelda Marcos between the acts, emerging with giant dark pompadours.
The smaller roles were all well taken by singing actors worthy of more major parts: Arthur Woodley as Dr. Bartolo, Margaret Gawrysiak as Marcellina, Charles Robert Austin as Antonio, Steven Cole as Don Basilio, Alasdair Elliott as Don Curzio, and Amanda Opuszynski as Barbarina.
The opening-night casting created one of the funniest “reveal” scenes any “Figaro” could boast. The discovery that Marcellina and Dr. Bartolo are actually Figaro’s long-lost parents is always greeted with dumbfounded disbelief onstage. In this cast, Marcellina is white, Bartolo is African-American, and Figaro is Chinese — so that revelation drew some extra-hilarious incredulity.
On Sunday, the zesty second cast took a back seat to nobody, with a different ensemble full of great voices and vivid interactions. Laura Tatulescu’s feisty Susanna and John Moore’s complex Count were standouts, but keeping right up with them were Caitlin Lynch’s warm-voiced Countess, Aubrey Allicock’s mellifluous and funny Figaro, and Elizabeth Pojanowski’s ardent Cherubino.
Director Lang keeps both casts bubbling with nonstop action and he isn’t afraid to push the characters a bit: The Count expresses exasperation by kicking one of the servants, and Cherubino is almost exhaustingly amorous. The ensemble scenes are vividly effective, with none of the “stand there and sing” direction that so often afflicts Mozart opera.
Conductor Gary Thor Wedow, whose previous work at Seattle Opera has always been both energetic and stylish, returned to deliver a well-paced, brilliantly played show. Philip Kelsey’s fortepiano continuo — just the right instrument, too, a wonderful Anton Walter replica — cleverly knit together the recitatives, arias and orchestral tuttis into a seamless whole.
Jonathan Dean’s translated captions, wittily updated, added an extra punch to the dialogue. The chorus, whisked on and off the stage for brief vignettes, sang with spirit.