BWW Review: On Site Opera's FIGARO a Charming Diversion that's Not Mozart

What's missing from this FIGARO that makes the Mozart version such a gem? Here the litany begins: A Countess without "Dove sono" and "Porgi amor"? The Count's "Vedro mentr'io sospiro"? A Figaro without "Se vuol ballar"? Susanna without "Deh vieni, non tardar"? Cherubino's "Voi che sapete"? Even in the recognition scene, with Figaro uncovered as the love child of Marcellina and Bartolo, I missed the 'sua madre...suo padre" from the amazed Susanna.

But it's not simply that Mozart's masterworks are missing; for the most part Portugal seemed loath to substitute his own takes on the arias or situations. This was a pity, because the cast seemed vocally ready for much more than the composer produced for them to do.

Nevertheless, it was great to be up close to the action and the voices of the attractive singers. The cast's couples were well matched. Even though the lovely soprano Jeni Houser had been a late replacement for Susanna, she did well, notably in a lovely piece at the end of the wedding scene. Baritone Jesse Blumberg, as Figaro, was a thoroughly charismatic presence every time he appeared, though I wished to hear more from him.

Perhaps Portugal's biggest contribution was changing the Count to a tenor--in Mozart, the role frequently sounds too close to Figaro--and the production was lucky to have the appealing tenor David Blaylock to fill the bill (he was last year's Figaro in the Paisiello), with his one aria in Act IV. The Countess, well acted and sung in the ensembles, was the velvety-voiced Rosina of Camille Zamora, who unfortunately was left without a solo of her own in this version. The scene-stealer, as in Mozart (only this time a soprano), was the pants role of the hormonal page Cherubino, sung by the lively Melissa Wimbish, with another of the opera's better arias.

As Marcellina and Bartolo--who go from the piece's villains to the loving parents of Figaro--mezzo Margaret Lattimore and bass-baritone David Langan sounded good and added much to the merriment. Rounding out the cast were the sonorous bass-baritone Antoine Hodge as Antonio, the suave bass-baritone Ryan Kuster as Basilio and soprano Ginny Weant as Cecchina.

Bravo to Music Director Geoffrey McDonald and the lively instrumental ensemble, which brought it all together. (I particularly liked the cello solo from Ali Jones in the wedding scene.)

Next year, the troupe takes on the final part of the Beaumarchais trilogy, LA MERE COUPABLE (THE GUILTY MOTHER), a more contemporary work, from 1966, by Darius Milhaud (libretto by Madeleine Milhaud). It'll be interesting to be able to go in with totally fresh ears--with no music by Rossini or Mozart to compete with. In the meantime, for something completely different, On Site is doing a double bill of monodramas at the Harmonie Club on September 29-30: Dominick Argento's MISS HAVISHAM'S WEDDING NIGHT and Berlioz' LA MORT DE CLEOPATRE.

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Richard Sasanow Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein.