Mozart’s “Figaro” proves mostly heavenly in Palm Beach

By Sharon McDaniel

In the film The Shawshank Redemption, a beautiful soprano duet rings across a grim prison yard—a surreal moment. Friday night, the same duet, ensconced in its original context, created an effect as stirring and nearly as mystical.

  This delicious slice of heaven is tucked near the end of a whirlwind, otherwise known as Acts II and III of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). For Palm Beach Opera, it was a stunner—the light, bright playfulness of comedy captured in voices that made time fly by unnoticed at the Kravis Center.

  On opening night, Lyubov Petrova as Susanna and Pamela Armstrong as the Countess were the two sopranos who alternated lines in Che soave zeffiretto, a duet that, at its best, is a seamless, lively game of badminton. Their two-and-one-half-minute repartee became synonymous with all that clicked in the three-and-one-half-hour production.

  The exceptionally polished opening-night cast injected some remarkable personality quirks into their roles. And that went for the whole boatload of soloists – there are no fewer than four leading couples in Nozze’s” grand scheme. Yet to a person, the caliber of singer/actor was unmistakable and tremendous.

  In  the opera’s convoluted story of love, jealousy and mistaken identity, Figaro (baritone Daniel Mobbs) is just about to marry Susanna (Petrova) when their boss, the Count (baritone Gezim Myshketa), shows an all-too-keen interest in the bride-to-be. The lovebirds plot to stop the Count’s skirt-chasing and to send him back chastened to the patiently waiting Countess.

  But complications include the horny, meddlesome young page Cherubino, played by mezzo-soprano Patricia Risley with boyish gruffness, puppy dog charm and vocal richness. If Figaro’s long-lost parents Marcellina and Dr. Bartolo (mezzo-soprano Jennifer Lane and bass-baritone Peter Strummer) start out as schemers extraordinaire, tenor Rolando Sanz is the masterful, mischief-loving singing teacher Basilio who beats them hands down.

  The international cast was a well-oiled machine, led by Mobbs, a stalwart yet agile Figaro. Still Petrova’s take-no-guff Susanna easily outshone him at times. Armstrong’s outstanding Dove sono as the dejected Countess marked as one of the evening’s triumphs. And the Janus-like Myshketa borders on psycho-scary as the Count who is barely in control of his anger much less his lust.

  The conducting by artistic director Bruno Aprea kept the heartbeat fast, but could have toned down the volume in Act I. Dynamic, out-of-the-box stage directing by Mario Corradi—that included an escape literally up the Kravis Center aisle for Cherubino and an extended face-to-face encounter with audience members in the hall for Figaro. His staging evolved organically from impulse to follow through.

  The result felt and sounded so fresh, it was like watching the Mozart for the first time. Each outrageous episode caught you as if by surprise. Expressive and detailed acting and action, combined with top-notch singing in solos, duets, trios and sextets, kept this wedding on its toes. And anyone who has endured a plodding Act IV, with its long series of disguises and discoveries, would appreciate Aprea’s refreshing, no-fuss briskness.

  As superb as it was, this Figaro wasn’t brilliant. Too few of the singers projected well in Act I; the chorus lagged behind the beat. Aprea’s overture, though admirably fast at the start and finish, sagged in the middle. Bruce Stasyna’s harpsichord sounded vaguely electronic or at best, modified. A few of the sight gags either over-gilded the lily, seemed questionable or merely contrived and awkward.  Yet this performance could stand against those by much larger companies. The Spanish-Moorish set, from the Opera Company of Philadelphia, placed the action in Old Seville, as did the wedding choreography of Ballet Florida’s Fernando Moraga.

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Sat Feb 28, 2009
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