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Cincinnati Conservatory’s Figaro a Grabber

Patricia Corbett Theater, Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music
02/10/2011 -  & February 11, 12, 13, 2011
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro
Jose Rubio (Figaro), Ji Hyun Jang (Susanna), Jacqueline Echols (Countess Almaviva), Mark Diamond (Count Almaviva), Katherine Wakefield (Cherubino), Jill Phillips (Marcellina), Thomas Richards (Bartolo), Ian Jose Ramirez (Basilio), Sakinah A. Davis (Barbarina), Dashiell Waterbury (Don Curzio), Timothy J. Bruno (Antonio), Danielle Adams, Ryan Connelly, Ryan Devens, Elliana Kirsh, Andrew Lovato, Chelsea Major, Simone McGaw, Emily McHugh, Tara Morrow, Daniel Ross, Ryan Slone (chorus)
CCM Concert Orchestra, Annuziata Tomaro (conductor), Megan Clewell (fortepiano)
Robin Guarino (director), Thomas C. Umbria (scenic designer), Amanda Rae Janke (costume designer), Corey Felgenhour (lighting designer), Cory Boulieris (stage manager), Marie-France LeFebvre (musical preparation), Hailei Moriah Call (wig and make-up designer), Joe Moeller (choreographer), K. Jenny Jones (fight choreographer)

Act 4 set (© Courtesy of Cincinnati College Conservatory)

You’ve heard of stand and sing opera. The University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) February 10 in Patricia Corbett Theater wasn’t it.

Perhaps it was the proximity to Valentine’s Day, perhaps it was the youthful cast, but rarely has this reviewer seen so much clinching, pinching, snuggling and just plain romancing on the opera stage. The energy level was glandular, to say the least.

The singing was just as vibrant, leaving little to be desired in the simple, but imaginative period production directed by CCM opera head Robin Guarino and conducted by faculty member Annunziata Tomaro. Tomaro led a 40-piece orchestra in the pit, with Megan Clewell on fortepiano.

Mozart’s opera buffa, a madcap day in the life of a bored Count, his neglected wife and a pair of servants about to be married, played out on a wooden platform with a wall and doors at the back and two flanking, well-used entrances and exits. Set changes, engineered by the cast, were instantaneous, with chairs, ladders and a lantern-bedecked tree flown in plain view. Costumes and wigs, designed and built by the student production team, were refreshingly down-to-earth, with a minimum of powdered wigs. (A historical consideration, said Guarino, was to advance the time to just before the French Revolution, when aristocracy was becoming frayed.)

The Overture, crisply led by Tomaro, played out to some provocative, peek-a-boo toe-wiggling behind what looked like bed sheets hung across the stage in act one. Cherubino and Barbarina (mezzo-soprano Katherine Wakefield and soprano Sakinah Davis) broke it up at the Count’s indignant prodding and the scene became the Count’s ante-room, where Figaro and Susanna (Jose Rubio and Ji Hyun Jang) debated the pros and cons of placing their soon-to-be nuptial bed next to the master’s quarters. Rubio’s smooth, resonant baritone and Jang’s sweetly vivacious soprano raised some sparks ab initio, as did their bouncing and fondling on the bed. Figaro’s "Se vuol ballare" ("If you wish to dance") as the Count’s amorous designs on Susanna became clear, rang with indignation.

The Count, handsomely portrayed and sung by baritone Mark Diamond, was a tall, curly blond menace, his big voice complemented by that of soprano Jacqueline Echols as the Countess. Her creamy tone and sympathetic delivery made "Porgi amor" ("God of love") and "Dove sono . . . i biei momenti" ("Where are they, the beautiful moments") artistic highlights of the evening. Katherine Wakefield as the chronically besotted Cherubino set the tone for wayward romance, groping at every arm, leg, nape and skirt within reach, while making his "Voi che sapete" ("You who know") a tender love song. Having come under the jealous Count’s suspicion, he was packed off to the military with zest by Figaro in his "Non più andrai" ("No more will you go").

The supporting cast members were a lively bunch, both in comedic and romantic terms. Bass Thomas Richards and soprano Jill Phillips (Bartolo and Marcellina) plotted gleefully against Figaro, then embraced him warmly (again and again) when his identity as their long lost son was revealed, and delivered some of the funniest comic licks of the evening as they agreed to a double wedding (Bartolo somewhat reluctantly). Bass Timothy Bruno as the tipsy gardener Antonio was scruffy, bearded and hilarious as he tried to fill in the blanks, while tenor Ian José Ramirez as the music teacher Basilio waved a prissy baton at the peasant chorus, come to thank the Count for having abolished the droit du Seigneur.

Things came together splendidly in act four when everyone did it in the dark. Figaro’s bitter diatribe against women was sung with the house lights up so he could exhort the audience directly. Susanna (the Countess in disguise) broke his heart ever so sweetly in her encounter with the Count. Cherubino lusted after “Susanna” also, threatening to spoil the plot to undo the Count’s lecherous behavior, and there was much clutching in the dark.

The opera’s threat to become pure farce is redeemed, of course, when the undisguised Countess walks on with the ring the Count has given her while romancing her as Susanna. Diamond was on his knees at once with a throaty "Contessa, perdono" ("Countess, forgive me") that restored goodness and sanity in one fell stroke. It was a different kind of reconciliation for Figaro and Susanna, a kind of jump for joy, as it were, when after taking a battering from Susanna with a shoe for having romancing her as the Countess (or pretending to), Rubio slid on his tummy like a penguin to grab Jang’s legs and reveal that he knew she was Susanna all along. Lights went up onstage for general rejoicing by the talented ensemble cast.

Tomaro led a fine accompaniment and ensemble between stage and pit was precise and well balanced. The fortepiano, a further touch of historical authenticity and a pleasure to hear as performed by Clewell, was raised almost to stage level to assist even further. Leading roles -- Figaro, Susanna, the Count, Countess and Cherubino – were double cast for performance on alternate days during the opera’s four-day run.

University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music

Mary Ellyn Hutton



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