"Wifing, wenching and love redeemed," is the catchy characterization that Utah Opera has hung on "The Marriage of Figaro." And with a little toning down here and fine-tuning there, that's the plot in a nutshell for the Beaumarchais-Da Ponte-Mozart collaboration, a comic hit in opera houses the world over for 200 years.
Working its way through an audience wish-list compiled a couple of years ago, the company will present "Figaro" in five performances at the Capitol Theater - at 8 p.m. on Jan. 19, 21, 23 and 26, with a matinee at 2 p.m. on Jan. 26. Supertitles will clarify the Italian text. Tickets at $10-$30 are available in the opera box office at the Theater, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays, or for credit card sales, call (801) 533-6494.In an ambient 18th century Spanish setting, on one eventful day and evening the clever servants, Figaro and Susannah, celebrate their wedding. At the same time they thwart the philandering Count Almaviva's desire to exercise his droit de Seigneur, tricking him into returning to his long-suffering Countess, as all ends happily. The coltish page Cherubino, titillated by glimpses of adult mysteries, and a menage of servants on the count's estate are all so beguiling that one heaves a sigh of regret when the curtain falls.
In its 10-plus years of existence, Utah Opera has developed a winning formula of offering the country's exciting stars on the rise, mixed with talented Utah performers - a formula they follow in this production.
Coincidentally, four of "Figaro's" five major roles will be sung by two married couples. With soprano Kay Paschal singing the Countess, Maryanne Telese plays Susannah, and her husband, Stephen Lusmann performs the Count; while Figaro (Jake Gardiner) will instruct the page Cherubino in the military arts, as performed by his wife Cyn-thia Clarey.
Utah singers Diane Beesley, Dave Arnold, Richard Keisker, William Goeglein, Don Becker and Susan Willey complete the cast. German-born conductor Stefan Minde, whose credits include conducting at San Francisco Opera and general director of the Portland Opera, will lead the Utah Symphony, and Franz Boerlage, director of the USC Opera in Los Angeles and formerly with the Netherlands, Barcelona and Seattle operas, will stage direct.
While U.O.'s visiting artists give thanks for the many opportunities on the thriving operatic scene in this country, theirs is nonetheless a Flying Dutchman existence - in a dozen different locales in a year, never putting down roots, or having time to enjoy the roots they have put down; gaining polish slap-dash in the roles they sing, then moving along to the next engagement, the next hotel, the next strange opera house.
Soprano Kay Paschal is perhaps newest to the curcuit. Having won the George London Award and San Antonio Opera Guild competition, she's sung with many Mid-American companies - Knoxville, Kansas City, Central City, Houston, Tulsa, Dallas, St. Louis, Arkansas, and Texas Opera Theater. Orchestral successes have come with the symphonies of Denver, Delaware, Austin, Jackson, Chautauqua, Rochester, Houston and New Orleans.
Maryanne Telese, born in New Jersey, has made a scintillating impression in a relatively few seasons before the public. After debuting at New York City Opera in 1984 as Mimi, she's sung there in "Kismet," "Pagliacci" and "Carmen." Other credits include Dayton, Augusta, Central City, Fort Worth, Houston, Washington, St. Louis, Boston, Miami, Cincinnati, Michigan, New Orleans, Wolf Trap, Omaha, Chautauqua and Syracuse operas, and Milwaukee and Houston symphonies.
Her husband Stephen Lusmann returns to Utah Opera for the fourth time, having sung here in "Turandot," "Pagliacci" and "Boheme." He's also sung with Dayton, Birmingham, Artpark, Glimmerglass, Charleston, Pittsburgh and Kansas City operas. The Buffalo, N.Y., native began his career with the Cincinnati Opera Ensemble Company (ECCO).
When documenting the careers of Cynthia Clarey and Jake Gardner, the mind boggles. More easily one might enumerate where these two have not been, between them, during the past 10 or so years.
"Let's see - we've sung with San Francisco, New York City, Chicago Lyric, Washington, Boston, Spoleto, Miami, Virginia, Houston, St. Louis, Philadelphia, San Diego, Tulsa and Seattle operas," said the attractive Clarey.
"And with Tri-Cities, where I began my career, the Opera Orchestra of New York, Pittsburgh, Augusta, New Orleans, Winnipeg, Lake George, Rochester, Michigan, Arizona, Omaha, Columbus, Santa Fe and San Antonio," said the tall, dynamic baritone.
While mastering periods and styles ranging from baroque to contemporary, their lives have encompassed some outstanding adventures in singing. Clarey filled in on three weeks' notice to sing Thea Musgrave's "The Voice of Ariadne" for New York City Opera, in both the work's and her company debut.
Clarey began her career as a soprano, then descended to mezzo. Other career highlights have included Berlin Opera, Paris Opera Comique, many Italian companies, and three seasons at Glyndebourne Festival in England, highlighted by "L'Incoronazione di Poppea" by Monteverdi and Serena in "Porgy and Bess," with many spin-offs.
Add a concert performance of Tippett's "A Child of our Time," telecast throughout Europe, and "Anna Bolena" with Joan Sutherland, Live from Lincoln Center. A biography that's all highlights includes solos with the symphonies of Houston, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Detroit, and many others.
Gardner's vita also deals in staccatos and apogees. He created the leading role of James in the world premiere of Musgrave's "Mary Queen of Scots" at the Edinburgh Festival, a role he has repeated frequently. A veteran of many European house, he's sung in Lincoln Center's Great Performers Series with Sutherland/Horne/-Pavarotti.
Joint appearances have taken the pair to Wexford (Ireland) and Budapest Festivals, and all over Europe, often singing "Le Tragedie du Carmen" in the acclaimed Peter Brook production.
The family maintains a home in Binghamtown, N.Y., where both sing regularly with the Tri-Cities Opera. Their 7-year-old son, Quintin Ross, travels frequently with one or the other; "his security is with us, not in a place, and so far he seems to thrive on our schedule," said Gardner.
So what more can such world-class artists aspire to? A little stability, said Gardner, who has taken a two-year contract with the Cologne Opera of West Germany.
"No America companies besides the Metropolitan Opera have long enough seasons that you can settle down and make a living in one place," said Gardner. "I will begin at Cologne in August, the same time as conductor James Conlin officially becomes artistic director. I look forward to the routine of singing a set repertoire all year."
Clarey will accompany her husband to Germany, traveling out to her engagements. She too hopes to get work in Cologne, though she's not sung for Conlin yet. Both remarked that the fat has gone out of European operatic operations, where in the past subsidies were large and American singers could easily find positions. Companies are not hiring nearly so many Americans, and pay is often small.
"We will miss being in American regional houses, we have made great friendships, but we notice that many of those who have come up with us regionally are no longer around," said Clarey. "They get tired of the race, disillusioned with going just so far and no farther. There are always good younger singers panting at your heels, and directors are looking for some great unknown to discover."
The pressures of marriage, and especially a mixed marriage, seem to sit lightly on the Gardner-Clarey union. Marriages between singers are often plagued by jealousy, but these two seem to experience little of this, perhaps because their careers are thriving at about the same rate. What if one pulls far ahead?
"That's a possibility we'll have to face when we come to it," Clarey acknowledged. "We believe in lots of communication, open and above board, talking our problems out."
"We've always been as interested in each other's success as in our own," Gardner added. "We have a partnership in succeeding, and we think there's a good chance of us both succeeding about equally."
"Actually, balancing careers, marriage and a child has been easier than we had feared," said Clarey.