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A Happy Marriage

Kennedy Center Opera House
04/24/2010 -  & April 26*, 27, 29, May 1, 2m, 4, 5, 7, 2010
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro
Ildar Abdrazakov (Figaro), Veronica Cangemi (Susanna), Valeriano Lanchas (Dr. Bartolo), Victoria Livengood (Marcellina), Teddy Tahu Rhodes (Count Almaviva), Robert Baker (Don Basilio), Virginia Tola (Countess Almaviva), Oleksandr Pushniak (Antonio), Michèle Losier (Cherubino), José Ortega (Don Curzio), Emily Albrink (Barbarina)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Washington National Opera, Steven Gathman (Chorus Master), Patrick Fournillier (Conductor)
Harry Silverstein (Director), Carl Friedrich Oberle (Set and Costume Design), Christine Binder (Lighting Design), Choreographer (Mimi Legat), Göran Jarvefelt (Production), Elsen Associates (Wigs and Makeup), Francis Rizzo (Supertitles)

V. Cangemi, V. Tola (© Karin Cooper)

Although Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro is one of the most popular works in the standard repertory, and a great favorite of audiences, it can be, when poorly done, a very long evening in the theater. The current production of the Washington National Opera is so perfectly entertaining, on all levels, that the evening happily slips away as if it were a rather short opera. Presenting the four act work with only one intermission also helps enormously.

This is a very traditional presentation…no modern concept…no unusual staging, and it cannot be better. The production by Göran Jarvefelt is from the Houston Grand Opera. It boasts opulent sets and costumes by Carl Friedrich Oberle, which are a joy to the eye. Director Harry Silverstein in his debut with the WNO, keeps the action well delineated and clear, bringing out all of the drama and comedy inherent in the opera. Maestro Patrick Fournellier, also making his WNO debut, gives a wonderful and stylish interpretation of Mozart’s great score with an exceptionally fine performance of the famous overture. His tempos are brisk but well paced, and the orchestra responds with cohesion and tightness. He accompanies the singers very well, giving great shape to the arias as well as a refined architecture to the ensembles and finales, which are indeed rousing. It is a happy marriage between the stage and the pit.

The cast is superb and is composed of many ascending stars in the opera firmament. Bass Ildar Abdrazakov, who recently starred as Verdi’s Attila in the new MET production, is an ideal Figaro. His voice is supple and beautiful and he sings with a refined elegance. Abdrazakov’s delivery of the first act aria “Se vuol ballare” (If you wish to dance) is as captivating as the versions of Cesare Siepi and Ezio Pinza, and he can sing the top F in a lovely mixed piano voice or in a whopping forte. He is also a very fine actor and he brings a lot of character detail to this role.

Argentine soprano Veronica Cangemi is an artist to keep your eye on. She is a specialist in Mozart and Baroque music, and has already made débuts at La Scala Milano, Dresden Stats Oper, Vienna Staatspper, and Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. She is charming and lovely as Susanna. Her last act aria “Deh vieni, non tardar” (Oh, come, do not tarry) is sung with meltingly lyric lines in a sustained piano voice. It is very effective and most memorable. She is particularly delightful in her comic scenes with the Countess and Cherubino.

Valeriano Lanchas and Victoria Livengood are outrageously funny as Dr. Bartolo and Marcellina. Ms. Livengood’s rather “chesty” mezzo perfectly captures the character of Marcellina, and she delights the audience to no end. The other great character singer of the evening is the inimitable tenor Robert Baker. Mr. Baker is one of the finest resident artists of the WNO and his comic portrayal of Susanna’s music teacher Don Basilio can hardly be bettered. This is a truly winning trio.

New Zealand baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes is quite a surprise. His appearance in the WNO’s A Streetcar Named Desire made little impression on me, but his portrayal of Count Almaviva has star quality written all over it. His stage presence is commanding and his singing is quite potent. His voice is marked by size, quality, and great technique. His delivery of the Count’s great aria was dazzling to say the least, and for which he received the biggest ovation of the evening.

I was especially moved by the singing of yet another Argentine, soprano Virginia Tola. She was quite arresting as the Countess Almaviva. Her two great arias, “Porgi Amor” (Love grant me) and “Dove Sono” (Where are they) are among the most beautiful and moving ever composed by Mozart. They never fail to move the heart. Ms. Tola sings them with great poise, style, and beauty of tone. She is striking in her stage appearance and regal in her bearing. The duet with Susanna, “Sull’aria” (On the air) is one of the highlights of the evening.

Canadian Michèle Lozier is also making her début at WNO. She is animated and enjoyable in the “trouser” role of the boy Cherubino. Her voice is lovely and her singing is excellent. Personally I would prefer a heavier, darker voiced mezzo who can give a more masculine sound to the role. Ms. Lozier’s voice is so similar in timbre to those of Susanna and the Countess, that I had difficulty in recognizing who was who in their many scenes together.

Another fine credit to this production is the exceptionally fine soprano Emily Albrink in the brief role of Barbarina. Her voice is easily on a par with Ms. Cangemi and Ms. Tola. Your ears become alert whenever she sings.

This is as fine a production of The Marriage of Figaro as one could hear in any of the great opera houses of the world, and strongly demonstrates the Washington National Opera’s commitment to quality and excellence. The final production of this season is a revival of Ambroise Thomas’ seldom performed Hamlet. I look forward to it with anticipation and great expectation.

Micaele Sparacino



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