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Mrs. Almaviva: Not So Happily Ever After

Le Nozze di Figaro:

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R. Jacobs

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Salzburg Festival

Online Score:
Neue Mozart-Ausgabe | Mozart Werke
Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro is one of the Top Ten operas performed in America, and we may have carped a little about having to see yet another production of it, when Washington National Opera gutted this year's season in response to the financial crisis. To be fair, the last production of the opera at WNO, in 2001, was not all that recent, and in truth it is an opera of which I never tire -- when it is done well. Premiered in Vienna in 1786, Figaro was the beginning of a legendary collaboration between Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte, who created the libretto from a very current "hit" play by Pierre Beaumarchais, La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro, from 1784. Talk about your current events or "CNN opera": the story's themes -- fidelity and infidelity in love, social inequality, jealous competition for prestige -- are as viable today as they were then, whether wigs are part of the costumes or not. (For more background on the opera, see my earlier preview article on the subject.)

Beginning on Saturday night, Washington National Opera will revive a production from Houston Grand Opera: it dates from 1988 but is still in use there, last being revived in 2005 and planned again for 2011. The production was created by Göran Järvefelt, a Swedish director who cut his teeth in the Drottningholms Slottsteater outside Stockholm, just before his sadly early death from cancer. We have written about Drottningholm before, a magical place for any musicologist or theater historian interested in 18th-century opera: it is also the setting of Ingmar Bergman's legendary film of The Magic Flute. The set designer, Carl Friedrich Oberle, drew his inspiration from some of the 18th-century sets found at Drottningholm. Harry Silverstein, who handled the stage direction of the production in Järvefelt's absence at Houston Opera, also directs here in Washington.

When it is staged at Washington National Opera the production will feature Teddy Tahu Rhodes, who was also Count Almaviva in the Houston production in 1998, so he presumably knows the staging well. Rhodes may have his limitations, but he combines a resonant voice with a natural stage presence. Soprano Virginia Tola, a favorite singer of Plácido Domingo's last under review as one of the better parts of WNO's Die Fledermaus in 2003, will be the Countess. She sang the role in 2008 in Valencia and seems attractive and capable. Ildar Abdrazakov will be the Figaro, and past experiences with his voice have been encouraging. I am most interested in hearing soprano Verónica Cangemi live after a few years of greatly admiring her work in recordings, including La fida ninfa and Griselda in Naïve's always impressive Vivaldi Edition. I don't know the voice of mezzo-soprano Michèle Losier, who is Cherubino in the first cast, but have heard good things, like her performance at the 2008 Queen Elisabeth Competition (although she did not win a prize there).

In the supporting cast are some local favorites sure to turn in charming performances, including Valeriano Lanchas as Bartolo and Robert Baker as Don Basilio. (My enthusiasm for this production, at the moment, extends only to the first cast, but we hope to have a report for you of the second cast later in the run.) Another wild card is the conducting of Patrick Fournillier, a journeyman at the podium who is starting to make some waves: more than one listener has admired his work leading performances of Cyrano with Domingo at La Scala. In the wake of his surgery this year, Domingo relinquished part of the run of WNO's production of Hamlet to Fournillier as well, a wise and welcome move, so we will have more opportunities to assess his conducting.

The first cast of Washington National Opera's production of Le Nozze di Figaro will perform in the Kennedy Center Opera House on April 24, 26, and 29 and May 2, 4, and 7.

1 comment:

David Boxwell said...

Losier acquits herself on her solo Duparc disc for the Belgian label Fuga Libera. Great diction, good legato, warm tone (a tad sharp at moments of pressure). Better than Janet Baker in this material, if not an especially distinctive voice. Whether she can fill the cavernous KenCen is another matter . . .