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Thread: Le Nozze di Figaro at the Cincinnati Opera

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    Opera Lively News Coordinator Top Contributor Member MAuer's Avatar
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    Le Nozze di Figaro at the Cincinnati Opera

    13 June 2019
    Springer Auditorium, Music Hall

    Opera in four acts
    Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
    Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte based on the comedy by Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais

    Conductor: Marc Piollet
    Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
    Chorus Master: Henri Venanzi
    Cincinnati Opera Chorus

    Director: Stephen Lawless
    Assistant Director: David Radames Toro
    Set and Costume Designer: Leslie Travers
    Lighting Designer: Thomas C. Hase
    Wig and Make-up Designer: James Geier
    Original choreography: Eric Sean Fogel
    Choreographer: Oğulcan Borova
    Production Stage Manager: Constance Dubinski Grubbs
    Production owned by Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Opera Philadelphia, San Diego Opera, and Palm Beach Opera. Scenery and costumes created by Lyric Opera of Kansas City.

    Figaro: Andrew Wilkowske
    Susanna: Janai Brugger
    Count Almaviva: Joseph Lattanzi
    Countess Almaviva: Susanna Phillips
    Cherubino: Rihab Chaieb
    Dr. Bartolo: Kevin Burdette
    Marcellina: Wendy Hill
    Don Basilio: Thomas J. Capobianco
    Antonio: Martin Bakari
    Barbarina: Victoria Okafor
    Don Curzio: Samuel L. Smith
    Peasant Girl: Claire Lopatka

    The Cincinnati Opera opened its 100th season (the first was in 1920) with one of the repertoire favorites, Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. As usual, my comments are intended as simply thoughts from a member of the audience rather than a formal review -- and this member of the audience certainly enjoyed what she heard and saw yesterday evening. As a whole, musical performance and staging were excellent. Conductor Marc Piollet led a lively, nuanced account of Mozart’s score by the outstanding Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, including the superb Levi Hammer at the fortepiano. With one exception, this was a very strong cast; regrettably, the exception was the Figaro, Andrew Wilkowske. His baritone is attractive and he sang well, but in comparison to the other soloists, his voice was underpowered, especially in the low register. It wasn’t always easy to hear him, which I would have attributed to the fact that my seat is quite close to the orchestra had there been any difficulty in hearing the others onstage. In contrast, Joseph Lattanzi (Count Almaviva) displayed a robust, equally attractive baritone that easily projected over the forces in the pit. The CO had a stellar Countess and Susanna in Susanna Phillips and Janai Brugger, respectively, with Ms. Phillips delivering exquisite renditions of “Porgi amor” and “Dove sono” – part of the time flat on her back in the latter aria. Both ladies possess beautiful, clear lyric sopranos, and in fact, their voices sound quite similar. While the role of the Countess is often assigned to someone with a plusher timbre to make the two women more distinct from each other, it’s hard to quibble when such lovely voices are involved. Rihab Chaieb very nearly stole the show with her adorably awkward Cherubino that paired a wonderful lyric mezzo with real comic flair and theatrical instincts along with physical agility, the last of which was particularly in demand in the assorted predicaments the amorous page becomes entangled in. Kevin Burdette brought a sonorous, pleasing bass to Dr. Bartolo, while Wendy Hill lent an uncommonly youthful, warm mezzo to Marcellina. All of the other characters were in very capable hands with Thomas Capobianco (Don Basilio), Samuel Smith (Antonio), Victoria Okafor (Barbarina), Martin Bakari (Don Curzio), and Claire Lopatka (Peasant Girl). Without exception, the whole cast, including the fine Cincinnati Opera Chorus members, were dramatically engaged in the proceedings.

    This was a very traditional staging of the opera, with events taking place in the late 18th century. Leslie Travers’ set design consisted of two sets of double walls that could be moved or rotated in various directions to facilitate scene changes, with the space between the walls in each set functioning as hallways, other rooms, and even cupboards in the Countess’ boudoir, and a few doors in the walls used for singers’ entrances and exits. The walls were painted a grayish-white, which contrasted nicely with Mr. Travers’ colorful costumes. In those scenes which occurred in the Almavivas’ chambers, the walls suggested a classical interior design, whereas events taking place in the servants’ quarters or later in the garden sported what looked like a Baroque stucco design of a large tree with an arrangement of cameo-style medallions on its branches that looked very much like a family tree. For the entire first act (actually Acts I and II combined) and part of the second (Acts III and IV), the set was dominated by a large four-poster bed on or in (or under!) which nearly all of the major characters ended up at some point. At other times, props consisted of a desk and chair, a pair of damask-covered sofas, or some big rocks in the garden.

    Many of the situations in the opera’s plot are still in evidence today – the Count’s treatment of Susanna is a textbook case of sexual harassment – but thankfully, director Stephen Lawless and assistant director David Radames Toro didn’t feel the need to beat audience members over the head with references to current events to make things “relevant.” Admittedly, there’s nothing in da Ponte’s libretto that specifically ties the action to the 18th century, and no reason why updated stagings can’t work. While the droit du seigneur serves as a plot element, many scholars today have questioned whether or not such a “right” ever actually existed, and believe that if it did, it never extended beyond the medieval period in Europe. In any case, the concept here is symbolic of the sense of entitlement held by the privileged, something that’s probably been around as long as humanity has, and I think most audiences are perceptive enough to pick up on that. The directors had also clearly worked with the cast to develop credible role portrayals, so that this production, while conventional, was never static or boring.

  2. Likes Ann Lander (sospiro), Nemorino liked this post
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    Opera Lively Media Consultant Top Contributor Member Ann Lander (sospiro)'s Avatar
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    Lovely review, thank you Mary and I'm pleased you enjoyed it.

    Leslie Travers' sets seem to age well.
    "Every theatre is an insane asylum, but an opera theatre is the ward for the incurables."

    FRANZ SCHALK, attributed, Losing the Plot in Opera: Myths and Secrets of the World's Great Operas

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