BWW Reviews: Winter Opera St. Louis Opens a Brilliant 'Le Nozze di Figaro'

By: Nov. 12, 2014

It's been lovely to watch Winter Opera grow over the years in the hand of founder and General Director Gina Galati. And with this production they have, I think, just about reached perfection. Mozart's beloved "The Marriage of Figaro" has forever been among the ten most frequently-produced operas in the world. Now Winter Opera gives it a splendid production.

This opera is sub-titled, "A Day of Madness", and such it is as we watch this flurry of misdirected infatuations, trysts, deceptions and disguises. Figaro and Susanna are servants in the Palace of Count Almaviva. They are preparing for their wedding. But the Count has a passion for Susanna and hopes to reinstate the old droit du seigneur. Moreover Marcellina threatens to sue Figaro for breach of promise if he doesn't marry her. Like an obbligato in the background are the romantic raptures of young Cherubino, an innocent lad whose amorous heart flits like a butterfly to any pretty face. After much merry confusion we have a sort of deus ex machine discovery of Figaro's true parents, which leads to a happy ending with three marriages, plus reconciliation and forgiveness between the Countess and her straying husband.

The overture springs to bright confidant life under the baton of the gifted Scott Schoonover. It's sweet and ebullient with floods of graceful musical curlicues.

The cast, as we meet them, turn out to be the most consistently splendid group of actor-singers I've ever seen at Winter Opera. Todd William Donovan gives us a very fine Figaro; at one charming moment he descends into the audience to lecture us delightfully on the dangers of women, and his aria bidding farewell to Cherubino is wonderful. Katy Lindhart is a spirited, saucy Susanna with a sweet, true soprano. Her duet with the Countess is sublime. Count Almaviva is beautifully sung by Chad Armstrong; he gives the Count just that little pomposity that is doomed for come-uppance. Jane Jennings is quite remarkable as the Countess--beautiful, dignified, and looking so at home in those glorious gowns. She is blessed with two gorgeous romantic arias, and she triumphs in them. Even the lighting seems to be in love with her, as all of us soon are. Cherubino (a "breeches role") is sung by Cherry Duke and she is pure gold. Vocally light and powerful, physically agile, and with great comic sense Ms. Duke is worth the price of admission.

The difference between a good production and a great one is, perhaps, that a great one has fine performers in even the smallest roles. So it is here, with Stephen Bryant as Don Bartolo, Erin Haupt as Marcellina, Anthony Heinemann as Don Curzio, and Zachary Devin as Dom Basilio. (Mr. Devin, tall and fluidly graceful in this comic role, has the face of an English school-boy--seemingly ever just about to blush.) John Stephens is very strong as Antonio, the gardener, and Katherine Van Zandt is physically and vocally stunning as Barbarina.

Stage director John Stephens deserves high praise for so deftly putting this all together.

Sets by Scott Loebl are spacious, rich and elegant without being cluttered. They quickly transport us from room to room in the Count's palace, and finally to a stunningly beautiful moonlit formal garden; the enormous cyclorama shows beautiful paths and poplars and a huge, brilliant silver moon--all seen through a romantic haze. The indoor scenes are warm with rose and soft reds.

Costumes by J. C. Crajicek are quite beautiful and in a palette perfectly balanced with that of the set. These lovely clothes are so well-fitted that they seem truly lived--in, not just worn. Wigs, in this very wiggy time, are all quite beautiful. Sean Savoie's lighting is subtle, beautiful and happy or romantic as fits the moment.

The lovely, comfortable, well-appointed Viragh Center on the Chaminade campus has excellent acoustics. It's an ideal home for this fine opera company.

All in all Winter Opera's "Le Nozze di Figaro" is a real triumph. I've rarely enjoyed opera more. It's a pity-no, it's tragic that this wonderful production received only two performances.