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Figaro’s Tentative Marriage

Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Place des Arts
09/23/2023 -  & September 26, 28, October 1, 2023
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492
Leon Kosavic (Figaro), Andrea Nunez (Susanna), Hugo Laporte (Il conte d’Almaviva), Kirsten Mackinnon (La contessa d’Almaviva), Katie Fernandez (Cherubino), Rachèle Tremblay (Marcellina), Scott Brooks (Bartolo), Angelo Moretti (Basilio/Curzio), Giuseppe Esposito (Antonio), Emma Fekete (Barbarina)
Chœur de l’Opéra de Montréal, Andrea Secchi (Chorus Master), Orchestre Metropolitain, Nicolas Ellis (Conductor)
Stephen Lawless (Staging), Leslie Travers (Sets & costumes),Thomas C. Hase (Lighting)

The entire plot of Mozart’s fabled opera Le nozze di Figaro (1786), which he based on Beaumarchais’s play La Folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro (1784), takes place in one day. The frenzied action in Lorenzo Da Ponte’s exceptionally well‑written libretto makes it one of the most dramatically compact and successful operas. A brilliant staging of the work makes one feel this quick pace of action. In this respect, this production was only partially successful. This was mostly due to the uneven strengths of the performers.

Le nozze di Figaro has five major characters: Figaro; his soon to be wife Susanna; the Count and Countess Almaviva; and the adolescent page, Cherubino. It also features six secondary roles: the intriguers Bartolo, Basilio, Marcellina and Barberina; the gardener Antonio; and the notary Don Curzio. In this production, some of the protagonists were at ease (vocally and/or dramatically) in their roles, others less so. Young conductor Nicolas Ellis opened with a promisingly spirited Overture, but later on, some tempi were slow, as if to suit the limitations of some of the singers.

By far the most outstanding voice was that of the Croatian baritone Leon Kosavic. Endowed with a beautifully virile timbre, outstanding Italian diction and formidable acting skills, he dominated the proceedings. His interpretation of Act I’s “Non più andrai,” mixing the admonishing of the young Cherubino on his way to military service with a defiance of his own master, Count Almaviva, was memorable. And his Act IV aria, “Tutto è disposto... Aprite un po’ quegl’occhi” was a standout in a performance of many brilliant moments.

Canadian soprano Kirsten MacKinnon was perhaps too young and attractive to be the long-suffering neglected Countess. She nonetheless managed to convey the ennui and sadness the role requires. She also has a naturally aristocratic posture and deportment, essential for the role. Her lyric soprano is rather non‑Italianate, reminiscent of great German, Swiss and Austrian singers who’ve left their mark on the role. Indeed, one can imagine this young singer one day becoming a great interpreter of Strauss and Mozart lyric roles. Her interpretation of the Act II aria “Porgi, amor, qualche ristoro” was appropriately melancholy, but somewhat hesitant. MacKinnon sang a touch too sharp, which is forgivable as this challenging aria is the Countess’ first utterance. The Act III aria “Dove sono i bei momenti” was beautifully interpreted and devoid of the intonation challenges encountered in the previous aria.

Canadian baritone Hugo Laporte was more than adequate as Count Almaviva but lacked the necessary gravitas the role calls for. Case in point, his Act III aria, “Hai già vinto la causa” was not the brilliant showcase one had hoped for. The strophe “Vedrò mentr’io sospiro” was indeed anything but menacing. Nevertheless, Laporte is an excellent ensemble actor, never overshadowing his colleagues. One would have liked a darker baritone to contrast with Figaro’s voice and to convey authority. He fared well in his duet “Crudel! perché finora,” and his amorous lamentations were convincing.

Soprano Andrea Nunez was the opera’s weakest link, despite her exceptional charisma and commendable acting. Her soubrette voice was too shrill for the role. She would be an ideal Despina in Così fan tutte. She has a natural comic verve, but her voice lacks warmth and brilliance. Nonetheless, it blended well with MacKinnon’s, in the Act III duet “Canzonetta sull’aria”. In the short, light‑hearted Act II aria, “Venite inginocchiatevi,” where she dresses Cherubino in the Countess’ clothes, she was appropriately joyous. However, her Act IV aria “Giunse alfin il momento... Deh vieni non tardar” lacked charm and sensuality.

Mezzo Katie Fernandez was a first‑rate Cherubino. Her light mezzo is exactly what is needed in this trousers role. Fernandez easily banished her femininity to convince as an adolescent male. Despite her mezzo voice, an uninitiated listener could be forgiven for believing she was in fact a young man whose voice had not yet broken! Both her Act I “Non so più cosa son, cosa sento” and her Act II “Voi che sapete che cosa è l’amor” were excellently interpreted, replete with passion and the requisite adolescent petulance.

Despite an impressively imposing stage presence, bass Scott Brooks was vocally miscast as Bartolo. So much so, in fact, that on his first appearance (which precedes that of the Count), listeners unfamiliar with the plot could have mistaken him for the Count. His delicious Act I aria “La vendetta, oh la vendetta” was disappointing, as he lacked the necessary low notes. Though his Italian diction was more than adequate elsewhere, he wasn’t fast enough enunciating the passage “Se tutto il codice dovessi volgere, se tutto l’indice dovesse leggere...”, essential to convey the character’s cruel spitefulness.

In contrast, his “partner in crime,” the old maid Marcellina, was vocally well‑cast, but Rachèle Tremblay looked too young and pretty to be an old maid and Figaro’s actual mother. A little make‑up would have gone a long way. The other minor roles, Basilio, Barberina and Antonio, fared better, with Angelo Moretti a memorably slimy Basilio.

As both Basilio and Curzio are smaller roles in the same register, the same tenor often sings both roles. This was the case in this production. However, it doesn’t justify having Basilio dress up in disguise as the notary Don Curzio. Had it not been revealed that Figaro was Bartolo and Marcellina’s long lost child, an actual marriage would have taken place. Once Figaro’s birth is revealed, Basilio removes the ailing notary’s disguise and stands up from his wheelchair. There seems to be some confusion here! A notary in disguise, in Così fan tutte, where a mock marriage is orchestrated? This wasn’t well thought‑out.

Leslie Travers’ sets and costumes were appealing. The opera opened on a huge grey mural representing Count Almaviva’s family tree, to confirm the importance of birth and rank in society. Stage director Stephen Lawless concentrated on the confrontation between master and servant. Indeed, Mozart’s opera (and even more so Beaumarchais’s play) were controversial at the time of their creation as they augured the soon‑to‑come French Revolution. Portraying the servants as smarter than their masters was certainly audacious at the time.

Travers resorts to small gestures to astutely convey the hierarchy using metaphors. For example, the Count has Figaro help him in putting on his shoe, as a reminder of his authority and the latter’s inferior status. Other gestures are used to convey Figaro’s defiance. He removes his wig and the vest of his lackey’s uniform at moments when the action steps up. More shockingly, at the end of Act III, when Count Almaviva summons his servants, only two appear. They carry effigies of the Count’s ancestors similar to those in the family tree, and they proceed to smash them. A revolution is indeed brewing.

Travers’ sets allowed for a successful Act IV, the pitfall of most Figaro productions. Instead of having amorous encounters take place in the palace gardens, they occur offstage, in places usually associated with the clandestine: barns or secondary buildings on the estate.

The opera’s most glorious passage is the finale of Act II, and Lawless directs the performers adroitly in this scene. The superb sets allowed for both the credible hiding of Cherubino and for Susanna’s resurgence.

However, a certain mauvais gout recurs in this production in attempts for cheap laughs. The gardener Antonio climbs on a ladder into the Countess’s bedroom to protest Cherubino’s jumping on his flowerbeds as he escapes before the Count’s return. The ladder, which likely evoked for the audience Cherubino’s return, elicited a lot of laughter. This was likely its purpose, despite the scene’s utter implausibility. At the opening of the opera, Figaro is measuring the room the Count has bequeathed him, to be his bedroom once he marries Susanna. Figaro lies on the bed and holds the measuring tape in a vertical position above his crotch as he blurts out measurements “Cinque, dieci, venti, trenta, trentasei, quarantatré.” Likewise, young Cherubino is often blushing while holding his tricorn hat in front of his crotch as if hiding a certain tumescence. Puerile humor and gratuitous sexual innuendo are unnecessary when the work features an outstanding, time‑tested libretto by the masterful Lorenzo Da Ponte. The public deserves more credit; this sublime work of art doesn’t require a contemporary laugh‑track.

Ossama el Naggar



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