"The Marriage of Figaro" is off the ground and flying, with a cast of excellent singers giving a lively traversal of an 18th century castle in Spain, and one day's eventful (and sometimes farcical) happenings therein. Wednesday night's audience responded warmly to this classic favorite, filled and brimming over with Mozart's inimitable sentiment and human comedy.
The opening night audience did have to do a little deep breathing, crossing of fingers, and sending good vibes, because we were hit before the first curtain by general director Glade Peterson's announcement that two singers had sore throats and coughs. One of them was the Susanna, who must stay on stage for practically the entire opera, whisking about playfully, flirting and laughing.Opera audiences being an empathetic crew, we all mentally tightened our seat belts. But fortune favors the brave, and Maryanne Telese, as Susanna, stayed the course admirably. She was obviously in some distress from a raspy cough, but no indisposition showed in her voice, which remained clear, full and pretty, and she managed a frisky performance as well (though probably not as spirited and spontaneous as she is capable of). Indeed, so good was the effect, both vocally and histrionically, that one can hardly wait to see her in top form - which we hope will be by Saturday night.
Four other fine visiting artists combine their talents in this well-sung "Figaro." Kay Paschal as the Countess offers a fresh spinto soprano, expressive and beautifully disciplined, with a floating pianissimo, in her taxing legato arias; and her stately bearing, beauty and good acting make her a standout.
Cynthia Clarey as Cherubino is a coltish mischief, across whose face play all the emotions of gawky adolescence, and she sings her well-known arias ("Non so piu" and "Voi che sapete") engagingly, in a pointed, rich mezzo.
Jake Gardner has the confident personality and commanding physique for the eager, take-charge Figaro, and he's a natural actor, with all the right instincts for this plum of a part. He's also a talented, extroverted baritone, singing his "Se vuol ballare" and "Non piu andrai" with a flourish. Somehow I felt that he hadn't quite committed his all to this part on opening night, throwing in every facet of his personality generously for the definitive Figaro he's capable of. However, this may right itself when the pressure of bearing up an ailing Susanna disappears.
As Count Almaviva, Stephen Lusmann brings his resonant and well focused baritone once more to Utah Opera, for his largest role yet. It's also perhaps his most virile and stylish singing here, and he looks the arrogant noble to a T.
Dave Arnold gives one of his first-rate performances as the gossipy Basilio, Bill Goeglein is a pompous, doddering Bartolo, Don Becker a rough and ready Antonio, and Susan Deavono a delectable Barbarina. Diane Bees-ley was the other indisposed singer, and only a shadow of her usual self vocally, though one caught the shape of the pungent Marcellina she will hopefully be able to project soon. This is a very huggy-kissy opera, and one wishes the cast luck in dodging each other's germs.
All these self-assured and well-trained singers will be good in any event, and their recitatives proceed quite conversationally, in natural cadence. But they should not have to suffer the nagging handicap experienced on opening night, which one hopes resulted from only temporary lassitude.
Tempos from conductor Stephan Minde too often fell infinitesimally behind, and were occasionally downright laborious, particularly in ensembles. More than once one felt singers tugging at the tempos without response from the pit, and certain traditionally easeful passages became dragged out, taxing both singers and audience. Ten seconds here and 30 seconds there can add up to an extra 15 minutes overall, and there's no excuse for any plodding in this effervescent work, which has every promise of becoming airborn in so sprightly a staging as Frans Boerlage has given.
Indeed, all elements of the physical production are up to Utah Opera's high standard - a standard that Utahns are in danger of taking for granted. Susan Memmott Allred's costumes, built for this show, are both beautiful and true to period. Sets from Tri-Cities Opera attractively create the effect of a gracious country estate, well lit by Kay Barrell. The Opera chorus prepared by Byron Dean Ryan glory in their wedding finery and sing charmingly, though one would welcome a little fandango at the wedding. Just one small complaint, however - a synthetic harpsichord is no substitute for the real thing.
Tickets for "Figaro" are moving rapidly, with some sell-outs. The best seats still available are for Monday night and Sunday matinee.