Review: THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO at Santa Fe Opera

Beaumarchais "Crazy Day" is a Fabulous Festival of Singing

By: Aug. 04, 2021

Review: THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO at Santa Fe Opera On August 3, 2021, Santa Fe Opera presented its long expected presentation of W. A. Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. It was presented in the theater according to New Mexico COVID regulations. Outside in the parking lot, it was simulcast to a smaller audience of those who preferred to watch from their cars. My companion and I were part of the latter group and enjoyed snacks in the car as we watched with family groups on either side of us.

Just before performance time, the sky darkened and rain clouds hid the mountains as lightening streaked the sky. Five minutes later, there was a huge rainbow that bridged the parking lot! That's New Mexico in summer.
The singing in this performance made it one of the best Figaros I've seen in many years. Despite singing recitative, vocal runs, and high notes with silvery tones for three and a half hours, Ying Fang as Susanna never sounded the least bit tired. Her character was a 20th century woman with dreams of equality. At the behest of conductor Harry Bicket, she and all the other leading artists decorated the repeats in their arias.

Although COVID and visa regulations made it impossible for Laurent Pelly to come to Santa Fe, Laurie Feldman directed his concept of the Beaumarchais crazyay as hours and interconnecting wheels that might turn an imaginary clock lay on the sides of the turntable stage. Pelly's and Jean-Jacques Delmotte's form-fitting costumes set the time as mid-twentieth-century with dress lengths often at mid-calf. Men were often outfitted for the out-of-doors.

Chantal Thomas's scenic design was mainly architecture with little attention to interiors. Duane Schuler's lighting often showed characters' shadows as if to emphasize their presence. As she does every summer, Choral Director Susanne Sheston made a harmonious group of the many strong and lyric-voiced soloists accepted as apprentices for 2021.

Nicholas Brownlee's Figaro was a happy-go-lucky servant who thought he was his master's equal in rank, physical strength and intelligence. He even picked up several members of the cast to prove it. Vocally, he started off slowly and had some trouble keeping time with Bicket's lively pace. As he created his character, however, he sang with more clarity.

Vanessa Vasquez was his obviously-pregnant wife. She sang with the luscious, creamy tones we are accustomed to hear from her and the Countess's loving personality radiated throughout the show. It is she who forgives the count at the end of the opera when all of the doings of Beaumarchais' crazy day end in a happy chorus.

Samuel Dale Johnson was a rather frenetic Count with an anger problem. He even carried a gun at one point, but nevertheless sang with bronzed tones. Patrick Carfizzi's Dr. Bartolo, the lawyer, sang with dark sounds and looked like a mafioso who was more interested in money than justice. In the end, however, Bartolo accepted Figaro as his son.

Megan Marino was a boyish Cherubino who took her character's masculinity seriously. She sang with sweet lyric tones and used a good bit of chest voice. Susanne Mentzer, once a fine Cherubino, was a nosy, mischievous Marcellina who never got to sing her aria. Marcellina's aria "Il capro e la capretta" ("The Billygoat and the Nannygoat") observes that male and female beasts get along with each other better than humans do. The aria equalizes the influence of women and men in this opera.

Brenton Ryan was an amusing and nosy Don Basilio, while Apprentice Thomas Ciluffo was an officious Don Curzio. Apprentice Cheyanne Coss was a giggling, boy-chasing Barbarina with charming voice and personality. James Cresswell was appropriately slovenly as the drunken Antonio.

This is a first class performance of an opera seldom this well done. Internationally renowned as an opera and concert conductor of distinction, Harry Bicket is especially noted for his interpretation of baroque and classical repertoire. This performance shows American audiences why. This time Bicket did not play the recitatives, however. They were most efficiently done by Glen Lewis. If you can get to Santa Fe, you can see The Marriage of Figaro in the theater or in your car on certain nights. Enjoy.

Photo of Yin Fang at opening of opera by Curtis Brown.


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