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Washington National Opera Opens with Figaro

Washington National Opera
09/22/2016 -  & September 24, 26, 28, 30, October 2, 2016
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492
Ryan McKinny (Figaro), Lisette Oropesa (Susanna), Valeriano Lanchas (Doctor Bartolo), Elizabeth Bishop (Marcellina), Aleksandra Romano (Cherubino), Joshua Hopkins (Count Almaviva), Keith Jameson (Don Basilio), Amanda Majeski (Countess Almaviva), Timothy J. Bruno (Antonio), Ariana Wehr (Barbarina), Rexford Tester (Don Curzio)
The Washington National Opera Orchestra and Chorus, James Gaffigan (conductor)
Peter Kazaras (direction), Benoît Dugardyn (sets), Myung Hee Cho (costumes), Mark McCullough (lights), Kevin Williamson (choreographer and fight master)

(© Scott Suchman for WNO)

It is rarely easy to get excited about a new production of Mozart’s most famous opera. It normally looks and sounds very much the same, with the ubiquitous setting rarely lending itself to reinterpretation or imagination. Peter Kazaras’s production, which has opened Washington National Opera’s new season, overcomes this limitation with a stylized look that keeps us outside Seville just before the French Revolution but that is unobtrusive enough to allow the characters a freer volume of movement and greater possibilities for development. Adapted from the Glimmerglass Festival (which shares its artistic director Francesca Zambello with Washington), we see the outlines and contours of a palace decorated with what looks to be the absolute minimum amount of furniture necessary to facilitate the action.

Some original directorial tricks are there to be enjoyed. The usually dull first act chorus of peasants, who deliver a paean to Count Almaviva for his generous abolition of the hated droit du seigneur, is one such display. Rather than the standard ranks of contented couples, we have a stream of angry young peasant women whose body language suggests that the lusty young count may have enjoyed his primae noctis rights a little too much and perhaps made a few too many more promises than he could keep. Others innovations fall flat. Joshua Hopkins’s Almaviva comes off as a bit too sleazy to pass as a credible aristocrat. He recovers his poise in the latter acts, the better to be humiliated with when all is revealed in the finale, but the open-shirt damage is already done by the time Figaro reacts to his master’s drafting of Cherubino into the army in "Non più andrai," at the end of Act I.

Youthful voices of exceptional promise can help any Figaro rise above the usual doldrums, and Washington benefited from some excellent rising talent. Above all, Ryan McKinny proved a solid Figaro, darting about the stage with energy and passion to the sound of his well practiced baritone. Lisette Oropesa has risen from small roles to provide a perfect foil to his antics in Susanna’s innocence. Apart from Hopkins’s louche characterization, the Almavivas also rose to the vocal challenge, with Amanda Majeski reprising a role she has performed at the Metropolitan Opera with moving feeling and superb pathos. Among the supporting cast, Elizabeth Bishop’s touchy Marcellina stood out, recalling her nuanced Fricka in Washington’s new Ring Cycle produced late last season. Valeriano Lanchas’s muddy notes in the part of Doctor Bartolo could not really keep pace. Aleksandra Romano’s Cherubino tended to flat more than this character’s glittering music should.

James Gaffigan made a fine company debut and did what he could with Washington National’s orchestra.

Washington National Opera

Paul du Quenoy



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