Review: THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO Offers a Bouquet of Musical Delights at Washington National Opera

Legend has it there were five encores at the triumphant Viennese premiere of Mozart and da Ponte's Le Nozze di Figaro on May 1, 1786. By the same token, Washington National Opera's new production of the effervescent comic opera deserved just as many ovations. Now playing through Sunday, October 2 in the Kennedy Center Opera House, THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO with Mozart's bubbly score and de Ponte's delicious libretto sparkles as bright as ever. The cast of first class singing-actors and the prime conducting skills of James Gaffigan are reason enough to take a seat for this masterpiece.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Need I say more? The wunderkind of the classical music world a ripe old 30 when he collaborated with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte on adapting the controversial French comedy by Beaumarchais. Avoiding the headier aspects of the Beaumarchais plot, da Ponte found the universal appeal of two love stories and the complex machinations a drawing room sex comedy. This story provided Mozart ample inspiration for his work on the score. And what a collaboration! The music in FIGARO contains substance, fire and sheer beauty. All of these elements, as well as the sharp and funny comic moments, are captured in the WNO's winning production.

The score itself could not be in better hands - the Washington National Opera Orchestra brought out each trill, run, and nuance of the Mozart's handiwork. Under the keen direction of conductor James Gaffigan, the score was given its full value and supported the singers with ease.

Along with Gaffigan's debut as a conductor for the WNO, several of the principal singers were also sharing the WNO stage for the first time, including two of the leading ladies. Soprano Amanda Majeski was the picture of elegance with a voice that soared through the opera house in the role of Countess Almaviva. Her introductory aria, "Porgi amor," is only topped by her second showpiece, "Dove sono i bei momenti."

Also making an auspicious debut was the Susanna of this FIGARO, sung with pointed grace and lyricism by Lisette Oropesa. As Countess Almaviva's strong-willed servant who must battle the advances of the Count while preparing to marry Figaro, Oropesa brings out the nuances of character with clarity, whether she is flirting with her intended or standing her ground against the Count. Her voice also rings true with clear tone and supple beauty, especially in her playful rendition of "Deh vieni, non tardar."

Serving as her main man and the competitor for her affections in the complex plot, bass-baritone Ryan McKinny brings charm and virility to the role of Figaro. Seen last season in the dual roles of Donner and Gunther in the epic RING CYCLE at WNO, McKinny here shows off his comic chops and his shining voice as the Count's wily valet. McKinny's "Se vuol ballare" and "Non piu andrai" were just about perfect. His aria in the latter part of the opera, when Figaro is convinced his Susanna has cuckolded him with the Count, "Aprite un po'quegli occhi," was magnificent.

All roads lead to Count Almaviva, it seems, in FIGARO and I can think of none more dashing, sexy, and complex as Joshua Hopkins now making the role his own at WNO. His swagger and confidence as he relishes flirting with Susanna; his moments of contemplating his treatment of the Countess; and his eventual lesson learned when the machinations and entanglements cease are all part and parcel of Hopkins' brilliant portrayal of the Count. His ringing baritone are also up to the task, handling his arias with ease.

No FIGARO would be complete without one of the most famous "trouser" roles in Western opera and here Aleksandra Romano was born to play the male role of the love-sick Cherubino. Tall and languid, Romano makes for a believably lustful youth. Of course, Mozart provided Cherubino with some cherished musical moments for the female voice, and Romano is just as convincing, with a warm, flexible mezzo-soprano voice that wraps around Mozart's melodies like a glove. Her "Non so piu cosa son, cosa faccio" and "Voi, che sapete" are not to be missed.

The principal singers are equally matched by the even more comedic and challenging roles of Marcellina, Dr. Bartolo, Don Basilio, Barberina, Don Curzio, and Antonio. These characters are brought to life with skill and panache, respectively, by Elizabeth Bishop, Valeriano Lanchas, Keith Jameson, Ariana Wehr, Rexford Tester, and Timothy J. Bruno.

When you attend a Mozart opera, you do not just enjoy rapturous arias, as mentioned throughout this review. Mozart's genius - and I do not throw that word around lightly - may have been in the ensembles that serve to move the plot and offer a feast for the ears. The finale to Act II (beginning with "Esci ormai, garzon malnato") is a 20 minute tour-de-force. According to some reports, Mozart's own favorite portion of the opera was the Act III sextet (finale beginning "Ecco la marcia, andiamo!"). The musical riches overflow in measure.

The onstage shenanigans of would-be affairs, vindictive creditors, jealous spinsters, and eventually reunited families was orchestrated by the sure hand of stage director Peter Kazaras, whose inventive staging kept the three hour opera moving with finesse. His scenic designer Benoit Dugardyn provided a spacious and richly appointed estate for Count Almaviva and company. The sets were ably lit by Mark McCullough's subtle design work.

What would Spanish nobility (singing in Italian, naturally) be without the finest attire? From Figaro's electric blue livery, Cherubino's young gentleman's togs, and the Countess' gorgeous gowns, the costume designs by debut designer Myung Hee Cho provided superb accompaniment to the singer's fine performances. Cho's work was topped off by the witty and period hair and wig designs of Anne Ford-Coates.

On top of a first class production of Mozart's finest work, several thousand lucky patrons were able to attend the annual Opera in the Outfield event on Saturday,September 24 at Nationals Park. All in all, an auspicious start to the 2016-17 Washington National Opera season.

One more note: Use #FigaroDC is you want to engage about the production on social media.

September 22, 24, 26, 28, 30, and October 2m, 2016

Washington National Opera's THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO at the Kennedy Center Opera House, 2700 F Street, NW Washington, DC 20566. Tickets & Information: (202) 467-4600
Toll-Free: (800) 444-1324 TTY: (202) 416-8524
Box Office Hours: Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. and Holidays, noon-9 p.m

For ticket information online click HERE

PHOTOS: (top) Ariana Wehr as Barbarina, Ryan McKinny as Figaro, and Elizabeth Bishop as Marcellina. (center right) Amanda Majeski as Countess Almaviva.

Photo Credit: Scott Suchman for WNO


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From This Author - Jeffrey Walker

Jeffrey Walker contributed reviews and features for the Washington, DC region and the Virginia region for Broadway World since 2012. He currently writes for DC Theatre Scene. Jeffrey is an experienced... (read more about this author)


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