Mozart loses in FGO’s charmless, slipshod “Figaro”
For a choice example of why Florida Grand Opera’s fortunes have proven so variable over the past decade, one could hardly do better than point to the current production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.
The artistic issues that have plagued the company continue, and were glaringly apparent Saturday night at the opening performance at the Ziff Ballet Opera House. Ill-advised casting, unpolished singing, lack of adequate rehearsal time, crude stage direction, and Stewart Robertson’s slack, oblivious conducting—all combined for a charmless, sloppy performance that more than once threatened to fall apart completely.
Mozart’s glorious score and Lorenzo da Ponte’s witty, insightful libretto remain as fresh today as when The Marriage of Figaro was premiered in 1786, with three hours generously spread among a large ensemble cast of some of most engaging and remarkable music ever put to paper.
The current production revives the staging last seen in 2003, with Benoit Dugardyn’s elegant quasi-Minimalist sets, efficient segues between acts, and a bed center stage as the focal point for the romantic escapades. Best is the clever, non-arboreal design for Act IV, which dispenses with the usual garden greenery for irregularly slanted columns that reflect the characters’ tangled amorous motivations.
Kelly Kaduce has done some impressive work in Miami, not least her last appearance two seasons ago in the title role of David Carlson’s Anna Karenina. But in her first attempt at the Countess, Kaduce was less successful. While a fine actress, Kaduce is less at home in Mozart comedy, and her Countess lack regal bearing and elegance. Vocally, Kaduce’s soprano appears to have lost some luster, with a hard-toned, wobbly Porgi amor. Dove sono went better, though Kaduce’s ample grace notes distorted the simple purity of the vocal line. I’ll take Mozart’s version.
As Susanna, the object of the Count’s affections, Lauren Skuce delivered a lovely Deh vieni, non tardar, but her shallow, edgy soprano and unidiomatic Mozart singing was too often harsh and hectoring, as in a painful Che soave zeffiretto with Kaduce. While she was certainly energetic, Skuce appeared to be trying too hard, with her over-caffeinated Susanna more irritating than charming.
Amanda Crider as Cherubino demonstrated the dangers of putting journeyman singers in prominent roles. The FGO Young Artist had the proper androgynous look for the hormonal teen page and moved well, but Crider’s colorless mezzo and lack of vocal gleam and Mozart style made little of her two arias.
The two male leads fared somewhat better. Andrew Oakden’s baritone is far too high for the role of Figaro, but, despite a couple jarring notes, he at least sang with more idiomatic style and assurance. As the Count, Phillip Addis was authoritative if without the dark incisive cut for this role, though the Canadian baritone gave an admirable account of his Act 3 aria.
The comic comprimario roles were equally uneven. While Katrina Thurman made a worthy peasant-like Barbarina, James Maddalena was inaudible in the fast patter of Bartolo’s vengeance aria. Dorothy Byrne was miles over the top, even for Marcellina, and Douglas Perry, a vocally thin, yet surprisingly restrained Basilio. The production took the usual cuts, which was a blessing considering the lack of vocal refinement and the deadly tempos in Act 4.
Stewart Robertson conducts Mozart with the grave, patient deliberation of a man trying to figure out why his checkbook isn’t balancing. The evening had some engaged moments, but for long stretches, Robertson’s slow-to-moderate tempos took the fizz and vitality out of Mozart’s delightful music. Worse was the alarming lack of coordination with the stage action, with the Act 4 ensemble almost coming to a full stop, and singers and orchestra often in different time zones. Even the usually reliable FGO Chorus had a bad night with rough and erratic ensemble.
Stephen Lawless’s stage direction, assisted by Nicola Bowie, was in the house Mozart tradition of crass knockabout obviousness. There was little sense of the characters’ class, with the Count slapping Figaro and the Countess frolicking in bed with Cherubino (thereby rendering the central issue of the Count’s adultery completely meaningless). Pat Collins’ lighting was more evocative than practical, artfully painting the day’s changing light, but much of the time leaving the singers’ faces in shadow, disastrous in an opera where much of the comedy comes from characters’ reactions.
Le nozze di Figaro runs through March 28 at the Ziff Ballet Opera House and April 2 and 4 at the Broward Center , 1-800-741-1010; www.fgo.org.
[Phillip Addis as the Count, Kelly Kaduce as the Countess: Photo by Deborah Gray MItchell.]
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Sun Mar 22, 2009
at 1:31 pm