Marriage of Figaro
Virginia Opera
Harrison Opera House
April 6, 2013
Review by M.D. Ridge

What a week for Mozart!—beginning with The Marriage of Figaro at the Harrison Opera House April 6, followed by the powerful Requiem April 13.

The Marriage of Figaro is, of course, built on the bones of a satire by noble-wannabe Pierre Beaumarchais, in which the clever servant, Figaro, and his equally clever wife-to be, Susanna, thwart the lustful Count, who has eyes for Susanna—and almost every other female. At a time when marriages among the nobility were primarily ironclad sales contracts, the Countess has the tragic misfortune to be in love with her philandering husband. (Poor thing.)

For an opera with one great melody after another, you need one terrific singer after another—and this production has them.

Anne-Carolyn Bird is a joy as the resourceful Susanna, the Countess’s maid, who sympathizes with her mistress’s plight. Bird’s airy, charming soprano brings out the character’s attractive competence. (It doesn’t hurt that she’s really pretty, with a voice to match!)

Figaro, the Count’s valet, is well sung by Bird’s real-life husband Matthew Burns, the young poet in last season's Orphée. His clear, robust bass-baritone instills confidence as his character deftly avoids his master’s treachery and keeps minor dustups from becoming major tragedies, all with good humor and intelligent acting.

In the trousers role of the young page Cherubino (who proclaims that every woman makes his heart race) is mezzo Karin Mushegain, who was such a knockout as Hansel in VO’s production of Hansel and Gretel. She has Cherubino’s aria, “Voi che sapete,” thoroughly in hand vocally, as well as convincing physical verve.

As the randy, bored Count Almaviva, baritone Aaron St. Clair Nicholson is intimidating, treacherous, and jealous of everyone who seems to be having more fun than he. He wears his power to destroy them like invisible ermine: it’s all about him. But realizing his mistakes and pleading for his wife’s forgiveness, Nicholson makes the Count’s change of heart believable—not an easy task.

Soprano Katherine Whyte’s voice is almost too big for the role of the Countess. Her gorgeous arias, “Porgi amor” and the exquisite “Dove sono,” almost blast the audience into submission; but Whyte redeems herself utterly in the last act, with her meltingly lovely forgiveness of her straying husband.

Jeffrey Tucker (who was last year’s Mikado) is Dr. Bartolo, with a commanding bass. His good acting chops and great glee are shared by Margaret Gawrysiak as Marcellina, who schemes to marry Figaro herself but turns out to be his mother. (Don’t ask.) Drew Duncan returns to the VO stage as Don Basilio, the castle’s music master; lanky Aaron Ingersoll is the drunken gardener Antonio; and Ashley Logan is a pert, cheerful Barbarina.

Conductor Steven Smith gets the most out of the Richmond Symphony musicians; returning for the third act, one could see their bows waving enthusiastically—an uncommon and happy tribute.

What can one say about Lillian Groag, the stage director, who keeps all the balls in the air so deftly that nothing has a chance to lag, inserting Commedia dell’Arte characters, a small dog for the Countess, and even a raffish Madame Defarge knitting fiend, perhaps in homage to Beaumarchais’ jail stint. The stage business is equally magical—as when a character steps through a mirror, or Don Basilio fishes noisily through his moneybag to produce. . . a single coin. It’s all as fast and fizzy as Mozart’s glorious music.

Peter Dean Beck’s moveable proscenium arch serves again to delineate Upstairs from Downstairs: it rises from the low ceiling of the servants’ room, to the higher ceiling of the Countess’s chamber and, finally, to the open skies of the castle garden. Lighting and costumes are elegantly supportive.

This review was originally broadcast on WHRO 90.3 FM’s “From the other side of the Footlights.”

Back to Virginia Opera 9