Kerriann Otaño (Countess), Talya Lieberman (Susanna), Reginald Smith, Jr. (Count), Alex Rosen (Antonio), and Thomas Richards (Figaro), in Le Nozze di Figaro, Wolf Trap Opera, 2015 (photo by Teddy Wolff)
Wolf Trap Opera last performed Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro in 2006, in the vast outdoor setting of the Filene Center. For a performance in the smaller, indoor theater of the Barns, we have to go back to 1986, which is a very long time indeed for this evergreen comic opera. The truth is, no matter how many times I see Figaro, it is such a perfectly crafted opera that it satisfies more than disappoints. What this production had going for it was a charming production and acting direction by David Paul (part of a larger directorial concept including the production of John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles next month), strong musical direction by conductor Kathleen Kelly, and conversation-aping recitative with mercurial accompaniment on fortepiano by Joseph Li, placed outside the pit and without a cello or other instrument to slow him down.
What it did not have so much was a perfect cast. There were large voices, both the powerhouse Count of Reginald Smith, Jr., and the dramatic, swath-cutting Countess of Kerriann Otaño, creating a sort of aristocracy of volume as they towered above most of the rest of the cast, but not always in the best way musically. Otaño's voice packed a punch but was not easy to lighten, although her strong acting helped her use the vocal power to create a devastating sense of sadness in the Countess. The Figaro of Thomas Richards was strained at the top of the range (as in the off-key high note he tried to add to Non più andrai), unpleasantly nasal, and stiff of presence, while the charms of Talya Lieberman were mostly in excellent comic timing, because the fluttery vibrato and fragility on the top notes (that rise to high C in the Susanna or via sortite terzetto just vanished) did not really suit the role's musical demands. Abigail Levis made a boyish Cherubino, thanks to believable costumes (designed by Stephanie Cluggish) and hair style (Anne Nesmith) but also because of a sweet, pure tone and natural-sounding embellishments added in both her major arias.
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Wilson Chin's sets gave the sense of a run-down palazzo, especially in the scenes in the servants' quarters, and made the most of the venue's small stage, subdividing it in the first act and giving new views of the manor as the action unfolded, finally opening to make the fourth act's garden scene the largest. (The same sets will return in The Ghosts of Versailles, altered to show the passage of time.) At the podium, Kathleen Kelly was authoritative, insisting on her tempi when the singers strayed, perhaps stretching out the fourth act in a way that stalled the drama but admirably firm, consolidating a generally fine sound from the musicians, some sour notes from the horns aside.
This performance repeats on June 17 and 20, in the Barns at Wolf Trap.