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Women make the ‘Marriage’ in Philadelphia

Operatoonity.com review: The Marriage of Figaro presented by Opera Philadelphia, a co-production with Lyric Opera of Kansas City, San Diego Opera, and Palm Beach Opera
Live performance: Sunday, April 20, 2:30 p.m.
The Academy of Music
Music: W.A. Mozart
Libretto: Lorenzo da Ponte
4.5 out of 5.0 stars

4.5strslg

 

 

 Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) and the Countess (soprano Layla Claire)

The stellar performances of Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) and the Countess (soprano Layla Claire) made for a happy ‘Marriage’ at Opera Phila. | All photographs by Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia

Art imitates life, it has been said. If women are the glue that holds many marriages together, surely the women performing in Opera Philadelphia’s spring production made for a happier Marriage of Figaro. Soprano Ying Fang, soprano Layla Claire, and mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall reminded us over and over in their arias (and they have many arias in this l-o-n-g show) why we love Mozart. And how much Mozart must have loved women to give them so many glorious opportunities to be the glittering stars in his operatic firmament.

(mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall)

Mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall was delightful in her trouser role as Cherubino, who is smitten with all women.

Perhaps because the show runs long, conductor Corrado Rovaris chose a presto (molto!) tempo for the most beloved overture in operatic music, a tempo to make Mozart-loving hearts race. The Kentucky Derby should only run as briskly. The music and the performance of it by the orchestra and by the principal singers, eclipsed every other aspect in this production–the silly story, the heavy and cumbersome stage units, the occasional nonsensical set decor (what was living room furniture doing in a garden scene?), the confusing costuming. So allow me to vent some minor annoyances with this production so I can turn my attention what made this show really work.

Lamentation #1: This production premiered on May 1 in 1786. The merry month of May is Mother Nature’s gift to the Western Hemisphere. May is typically a fusillade of pink and white apple and dogwood blossoms, tidy and trim tulips, fragrant lilacs, and lush peonies. It’s when the earth comes alive again and reminds us why life is beautiful. So why the dark, heavy, colorless, lumbering set pieces in this show? Even the garden set looked more like a sepulcher–like the gloomy cemetery scene from Don Giovanni–than a garden full of romance.

Lamentation #2: The costume choices, especially for Figaro, were also an annoyance. In order to get this show past the censor, the creators played up the comedy and played down the political satire. Why confuse the audience any further by dressing Figaro like every other servant or valet? It’s an overly silly story and production companies shouldn’t rely on the arrival of any of the many popular arias in this show to clarify just who is who?

Lamentation #3: Lastly why was this production so dark? I longed for lightness, brightness, and flowers. Finally, the bright green gardener shows up to blow Cherubino’s cover, but it is too little greenery too late.

 Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) pretends to sing her love for the Count, as Figaro listens on.

Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) pretends to sing her love for the Count, as Figaro listens on, a very humorous conceit. But the garden looks more like a mausoleum hit by a tornado than a setting for romantic intrigues.

But, enough about some of this reviewer’s minor disappointments. If the voices are expected to thrill in this production, then thrill they did.

As Susanna, Figaro’s intended, Chinese Soprano Ying Fang was a sheer delight in every scene, in every way. In voice, carriage, appearance, Fang, who New York critics called “a star in the making,” was the ideal soubrette. She has a sweet clear soprano voice like a silver bell eager to make a good impression. The audience hung on every note of the renowned Sull’aria, perfectly sung with Canadian soprano Layla Claire. It was one of those treasured opera moments that would have been perfect to capture and then replay on a gloomy day in hopes of making your soul feel light and bright again.

 Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) overhears Marcellina loudly declaring Figaro will only marry her for money

In this scene, Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) overhears Marcellina loudly declaring Figaro will only marry her for money.

American soprano Cecelia Hall deftly delivered another jewel from Mozart’s ‘Marriage’ hit parade in her song of love “Voi che sapete.” Simply splendid in tone, pitch, and voicing! And expectations loomed high for this and all the beloved pieces from this well-known opera. In her trouser role, Hall turned in a charming overall performance and later in the show, she tossed in a few strains of “Finch’han dal vino,”  replete with boyish charm and hubris as a bit of stage business. Your cleverness was not lost on this Don G. fan, Ms. Hall.

 Cherubino (mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall) serenades Countess Almaviva (soprano Layla Claire) with a song.

Cherubino (mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall) serenades Countess Almaviva (soprano Layla Claire) with a song.

Cast as the lovelorn wife whose husband has a roving eye, Layla Claire sang and acted the role with sensitivity and believability–not always easy to do in an opera with an over-the-top storyline. She was brought to Philadelphia for her “virtuosic singing,” and her Broad Street debut didn’t disappoint. While the Countess doesn’t have the pluck Susanna does, she isn’t without contrivances, having agreed to exchange outfits with Susanna for the gloomy garden scene in order to trick her philandering husband. And of course she forgives him (but, without getting too political), isn’t it entertaining when women don’t let their men off the hook for the indiscretions? Politicians’ wives, take a note.

The men’s cavatinas and arias were sturdily sung by Pennsylvania’s own bass-baritone Brandon Cedel as Figaro and German baritone John Chest as Count Almaviva. Cedel’s comic timing was at its best during the scene when he learns that Marcellina is his mother and Bartolo his father.

The propensity for infidelity is hardly the most attractive quality in any man, but truth be told Chest made himself hard to resist in this scene because of his leading man qualities in voice and stature. (But resist she does because she loves Figaro.)

 The Count (baritone John Chest) thinks he has seduced Susanna (soprano Ying Fang); all the while, Susanna plans to reveal his infidelity.

The Count (baritone John Chest) thinks he has seduced Susanna (soprano Ying Fang); all the while, Susanna plans to reveal his infidelity.

All the buffo or stock characters–mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer as Marcellina, bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi as Bartolo, and tenor Jason Ferrante as Don Curzio–delivered scene-stealing comic turns.

Figaro (bass-baritone Brandon Cedel) comes to grips with the news that Marcellina (mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer) is, in fact, his mother and Bartolo is his father.

Figaro (bass-baritone Brandon Cedel) comes to grips with the news that Marcellina (mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer) is, in fact, his mother and Bartolo is his father.

However, all the men were stellar when singing in company with the women in every Mozartian ensemble piece (and there are so many powerful ones in this show): the glorious 20-minute finale of (the traditional) Act II, the sextet in Act III , and the music and singing featured in the opera’s explosive conclusion, perfectly timed for a standing ovation.

Bartolo (bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi), Marcellina (mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer), Figaro (bass-baritone Brandon Cedel) and Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) rejoice over their newfound happiness.

Bartolo (bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi), Marcellina (mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer), Figaro (bass-baritone Brandon Cedel) and Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) rejoice over their newfound happiness.

The applause for the ladies of the ensemble was the most generous at curtain call, and deservedly so. However all the performances were strong in this show, with many virtuosic moments. I just wish that the design elements worked in tandem with the essential springtime spirit of the show to lift the soul as much as Mozart’s well performed music.

***

Opera Philadelphia opens their 2017-18 season with a blockbuster festival, Festival O. More details available here.

 

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Filed under Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Favorite arias, Mozart, music and humor, North American Opera, Opera and humor, opera and romance, opera overtures, Reviews

Yo, next week Mozart has a new zip code — 90210!

 

Figaro 90210

Morningside Opera’s upcoming production: June 11-16

Morningside Opera is presenting a fresh, new multi-cultural take on Mozart’s The Marriage Of Figaro, set in present-day Los Angeles.

The debate over immigration reform takes center stage in ¡Figaro! (90210) as the title character from Mozart’s beloved opera is recast as an undocumented worker on a Beverly Hills estate. These concert performances showcase the original music note-for-note but with an entirely new English (and Spanglish) libretto that makes “the world’s most perfect opera” as fresh, as funny, as relevant – and as revolutionary – as ever.

‘Illegal’ immigrants Figaro and Susana can’t wait to get married, but on their way to the altar they’ll have to navigate a world of lecherous bosses, Botoxed starlets, bumbling human traffickers, ambitious hip-hoppers and pothead gardeners in an unpredictable adventure that turns The Marriage of Figaro into a thought-provoking comedy about citizenship in 21st-Century America.

Mixing classically trained voices with performers from more popular styles respects the integrity of the original, while allowing newcomers to appreciate the show like never before, as does the abbreviated running time, which cuts the nearly four-hour opera down to a brisk two-and-a-half, including one 15-minute intermission.

After sold-out performances in November 2012 at Dixon Place, ¡Figaro! (90210) is returning for a limited run of concert performances from June 11-16, 2013. The accomplished cast of opera and theater performers will be directed by emerging Latina director Melissa Crespo, and accompanied live onstage by a five-string ensemble under the direction of pianist and music director Raphael Fusco, whom The New York Times has described as “accomplished and winning.”

If you’ve never seen the opera before, ¡Figaro! (90210) offers the perfect introduction to this timeless work; if you know the music by heart, you’ll be surprised how fresh and relevant the show feels with words and settings that directly address the way we live today.

¡Figaro! (90210) will be performed from June 11- 16, 2013 at The NSD Theater, 151 Bank Street, New York.

Click here for in interview with librettist Vid Guerrerio.

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Through tonight (Sunday, June 9) at 10pm, you can get discounted tickets by going to:

 
The discount code is: COMPANY90210
You can also visit them on Facebook.

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Love Mozart? Go see Branagh’s ‘Magic Flute’ Sunday, America!

poster

Branagh’s ‘The Magic Flute’ will be shown in 1,500 theaters in the US this Sunday.

The stateside premiere of  legendary actor and director Kenneth Branagh’s version of The Magic Flute hits 1,500 theaters across the U.S. this Sunday, June 9, with selected encore presentations Tuesday, June 11. (Click here for the theater nearest you.)

The music is resplendent (of course), the voices soar, and the cinematography is worth writing home about if you have a Technicolor-loving sweetheart or know anyone else who likes bright, shiny movies.

While The Magic Flute has always been a showcase for some of Mozart’s most beloved music, this filmed rendition of the opera actually makes sense for a change–most of the time. You know how The Magic Flute always seems to be outside the realm of logic and possibility, even for someone with an imagination? Well, it is still that but to a much lesser degree in this version. So much so that I relaxed into the opera for the first time–ever, immersing myself in Mozart’s glorious music, the complete performances, and Branagh’s inventive retelling.

Silly, sexy, stirring–stunning. It’s a winner!

It’s also not a production for children–and that’s a blessed change as far as I’m concerned. Not everyone needs their opera Disney-ized and Disney-sized with giant, lumbering animal puppets.

Kenneth Branagh headshot

Kenneth Branagh, director ‘The Magic Flute’ | photo by Blake Gardner

While watching a review copy from the film’s LA distributor earlier this week, I couldn’t help think that Kenneth Branagh must have been intimately familiar with Mozart’s most sprightly opera, perhaps listening to it on end as a child after numerous readings of the poem  “In Flanders Fields”.

The film unfolds as though seeing the singspiel that Branagh may have conceived of in a dream state because of the colors, the surrealistic elements, the fantastical bits.  Striking azure blue uniforms give way to a battalion of violin players to a trio of buxom and besmitten ladies. Not to mention a powerful scene where Pamina’s mumsy-dearest ties her to a flaming windmill. Really.

Unlike another 2013 Academy-Award nominated big-screen musical in which only three or four cast members had the chops to actually sing the thing,  a flick which will remain nameless, the voices in this version are extraordinary.

Yes, Branagh knows how to cast a movie version of an opera! Joseph Kaiser as Tamino, Lyubov Petrova as the Queen of the Night, and René Pape as Sarastro were my particular favorites, followed by a spectacular showing by the three ladies: Teuta Koco, Louise Callinan, and Kim-Marie Woodhouse. You can see all the cast members here. Each one was first-rate vocally and very well directed–with love and care.

scene from Magic Flute

Papagena’s competition

I confess that I’m not the Magic Flute lover that many are, yet I adored this version. Fresh, fun, classy, artistically significant. Setting the musical during World War I worked. Blending realistic and fantasy elements in the same scene worked, too.

More information about the production is available at the Emerging Pictures website.

Here is the official movie trailer, which might whet your appetite for catching the movie in the theater this weekend. As a  special treat at selected theaters, a live Q&A with Kenneth Branagh via webcast will follow the showing. Yours to enjoy, America!

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Don G. in D.C.? Well, in a manner of speaking …

DG_Poster_finalNew York Opera Exchange is presenting my favorite Mozart opera–his classic tale of power, seduction, and desire (DON GIOVANNI) seen through the lens of Washington D.C. in the summer of 1963.

Sounds like an entertaining creative premise, doesn’t it?

In their new production, the infamous libertine runs free, abusing his status and wealth to seduce and indulge in an array of sexy vices until past demons return to seek justice.

The production has been directed by Jennifer Shorstein and features the New York Opera Exchange Orchestra conducted by David Leibowitz.

Remaining performances are:
Friday, May 3rd at 7:30pm
Saturday, May 4th at 7:30pm
Sunday, May 5th at 3:00pm

The production will be presented at the Church of the Covenant, 310 E. 42nd St. New York, NY.

Tickets are $30 each ($10 student rush) and are available at the door or in advance at www.nyoperaexchange.com.

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Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’ premiered today – May 1!

Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, an opera bouffe in four acts (my favorite opera overture) and a very fitting May premiere, was first produced at the National Theatre in Vienna on May 1, 1786, with Mozart conducting.

To celebrate the occasion, I’ll just listen to the opera today and pretend I’m there, watching and listening, on the very day it premiered.

According to Bachtrack.com, the world’s best way to find live classical music, there are a dozen performances of Le Nozze di Figaro worldwide this month from Bavarian State Opera and Opera Australia.

Did I mention Le Nozze di Figaro is my favorite opera overture?

“Mozart is sweet sunshine.”

~ Antonin Dvorak

Oh, Mozart, you’re so fine, you blow my mind. I get chills just listening to this piece:

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