Friday, June 4, 2010

The Marriage of Figaro

Figaro. …Figaro. ….Figaro, Figaro, Figaro …

oops. Same Figaro, wrong opera.

Last year Opera Theatre of St. Louis performed The Ghosts of Versailles which utilized a play-within-a play concept. The opera that was performed within the opera was a production of an operatic version of the Beaumarchais play The Guilty Mother, which itself is the third play in Beaumarchais’ Figaro trilogy. The first two plays in the trilogy were made into operas that almost all opera-goers are intimately familiar with – Rossini’s The Barber of Seville (in which the famous Figaro, Figaro, Figaro aria is heard) and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.

Last night I saw this year’s Opera Theatre of St. Louis production of The Marriage of Figaro. It has always been one of my favorite operas. It is an almost perfect opera – a score filled with hit after hit after hit, multiple roles for women, much comedy, a lesson to be learned. It’s hard to mess up The Marriage of Figaro too – although I thought Opera Theatre missed the mark with their last production in 1999 when they had a truly murderous count. But this time they decided that the Count was just having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. It worked much better.

Here’s the plot. Figaro works for the Count and is in love with Susanna who works for the countess. The Count is tired of the Countess for no good reason (after all he spent all of The Barber of Seville wooing her) and has his eye on Susanna and wants to throw a monkey-wrench into the marriage plans. But the Count doesn’t want the Countess to have her eye on anyone. She is carrying on a flirtation with a boy called Cherubino who is enamored of her. Much comedy ensues, the women plot together to teach the men a lesson, there are mistaken identities and long lost mothers, and Cherubino (who is always played by a woman dressed like a man) disguised as a girl. It is a comedy. It has a happy ending. It has glorious music by Mozart. If you’ve never seen an opera you wouldn’t go wrong choosing The Marriage of Figaro as your first opera. If only the garden scene at the end didn’t drag on a bit it would be the perfect opera.

Figaro was sung by Christopher Feigum who also sang the Figaro role in last years Ghosts of Versailles. I enjoyed his performance, he was an appropriately jovial and yet sly Figaro. He sang well although I would have sometimes wished for his lower range to have been stronger. Truthfully, all the principal male singers seemed to be having trouble with their lower ranges so maybe it was just the St.Louis “crud” affecting them. It has been a horrible allergy season this year.

One really pleasant surprise was Amanda Majeska as the Countess. From the moment she opened her mouth I loved her. And she brought to the Countess a real feel of an attractive woman who, for no good reason, has a husband who has lost interest in her. I was more touched than usual in the final scene when the Count asks her for forgiveness. I can’t put my finger on what it was about her performance; it was maybe even a combination of the way she carried herself and the slightly risque costume that they had her in. At intermission I was surprised to read that she sang Musetta in that production of La Boheme last year that I disliked and I remember really not liking her performance. Looking up what I wrote about her last year, I said she “got all the notes right and that's about all I can say for her.” Well, she more than made up for it this year.

Another pleasant surprise was that the woman who sang Cherubino actually made us forget she was a woman. I always have trouble suspending disbelief for the “trouser” roles but Jamie van Eyck pulled it off. Her voice wasn’t perfect, it didn’t seem as if she was hitting every note with the precision that Mozart requires. But her diction was the best of all the women and I really did believe she was a boy.

On the other hand, I was very disappointed with Maria Kanyova’s performance as Susanna. She was Marie Antoinette last year in Ghosts and I was really looking forward to hearing her again. She didn’t bring nearly enough playfulness to Susanna and I had a very hard time understanding her even (maybe especially) during the recitatives. There is no point in having an opera sung in English if the diction is going to be so bad that they might as well be singing in Italian. Oddly, I remember her diction last year being perfect, so I don’t know what happened. And the other thing was … she wasn’t funny enough. Susanna is a comic role, she needs a commedienne to play her. I got tired of watching Kanyova fan herself whenever Susanna got into a tight spot. I always assumed Susanna never sweated the small stuff or the big stuff.

Finally, although I did enjoy the production I thought that, musically, it was a little bit sloppy. It sometimes seemed as if the orchestra and the singers weren’t quite together, which is something that almost never happens at Opera Theatre (and the orchestra was FAR too loud which is something that happens a lot at Opera Theatre). I started paying attention to the conductor and noticed that he seldom looked up from the music – which seemed a bit odd. I finally realized that he wasn’t the conductor listed in the program, but was Steven Lord who I ordinarily think is wonderful. Turns out that the scheduled conductor had to back out at the last minute and Lord took over for the season. Maybe that was part of the problem. I admit that at first I thought maybe I was seeing one of the first performances of this production and they just weren’t quite “ready” but at intermission I looked it up and we are already far enough into the run that these problems should be ironed out.

Anyway, while it was not the best production of Marriage of Figaro that I’ve ever seen it was certainly not the worst and I enjoyed most of it. Here is a link to a preview.

UPDATE:

Here's a promotional video I found on youtube I found for OTSL - most of the scenes are from last year's season (the wonderful Ghosts of Versailles, Il re Pastore, and Salome and the not so good in my opinion La Boheme). It shows the lawn where we picnic and the tent for intermission and after opera partying and clips from productions. I encourage anyone in or near St. Louis to give it a try: