Delightful “Le nozze di Figaro” in Los Angeles


This is the second time around for the Los Angeles Opera’s production of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro directed by Ian Judge, with sets by Tim Goodchild, costumes by Dierdre Clancy, and choreography by Sergio Trujillo. The first time was in May and June of the 2003-2004 season. Stefan Anton Reck conducted, and bass baritone Erwin Schrott and soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian made big impressions as Figaro and Susanna. This time the cynosure is conductor Kent Nagano in his “farewell” performances with an opera company he has helped lead to national importance, and his spirited and stylish reading of the score is buoyed by a marvelous, uniformly excellent cast.

In the title role is Russian basso, Ildar Abdrazakov, a tremendously gifted young artist with a rich resonant voice and engaging stage presence. He is matched with one of the better Susanna’s around these days, soprano Barbara Bonney, a true Mozart specialist, blessed with the charming good looks the part demands and commanding vocal tone of pliable and sumptuous beauty. The two singers play superbly together in both the comical and the playfully romantic sequences. And in physical stature, the muscular and burly looking Abdrazakov is a director’s dream when it comes to setting up a class contrast with the other famous bass role in the opera, that of Count Almaviva, played here with patrician authority by David Pittsinger. Slender, stately and tall, Pittsinger perfectly embodies the role of an aristocrat, while Abdrazakov, manages to look every inch the outraged but good standard bearer for the proletariat.

Mezzo soprano Lucy Schaufer seems born for the role of Cherubino, a character Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo da Ponte apparently conceived as a randy, rosy-cheeked, post-pubescent creature tossed in to a world of delightfully tingling and surprisingly new physical sensations. Schaufer gets every bit of this – and Mozart shows he himself recalls what the discovery of sexuality is all about in the matchless aria, “Non sò piu cosa son.” Indeed, all of the arias in Figaro are so supremely revealing of authentic psychological states (Brahms allegedly called the aria “small miracles”) that it is quite clear that the Mozart of the movie Amadeus is a lie. He had to have been a complete human being with a deep understanding of the world about him – and his operas show him to be as gifted dramatist as well as an inspired musician.

A woman to whom a regal posture come naturally, Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka is very well cast as Countess Almaviva, but (who knows the reason?), her two great arias, “Porgi amor” and “Dove sono,” had something perfunctory about them during the Sunday matinee performance I attended. I have heard them sung with greater depth of feeling. Yet she was really terrific in the final “Perdono” sequence, and in the beautiful letter duet, “Che soave zeffiretto.”

With outstanding work coming from Michael Gallup as the vengeful Dr, Bartolo and his “consort” Marcellina, sung by Anna Steiger – and with the amusing Don Basilio of Greg Fedderly and engaging Barbarina of Jessica Swink, this is a brisk and truly fleet performance of a score that sometimes can go on and on. With one interval, this show clocks in a 3 ¼ hours – not too bad, although each “act” makes for a very long sit. And there are doubtlessly several cuts – but the opera is so overwritten in the last act, one rarely feels cheated if something goes. In this one, you get some actual fireworks for having been such good little boys and girls.

The extremely well lighted (Nigel Levings) production is best described as an example of postmodern eclecticism (if that is not a tautology): it profoundly suggests an earlier period, perhaps even the 18th century, but characters talk on telephones, carry electric “torches” — and certain costumes (such as Figaro’s lavender wedding suit) are distinctly contemporary. Despite some huge (and rather ugly) old-fashioned looking golden chandeliers that multiply as the evening progresses, the opera’s interiors are hard to place as to period. The right and left walls of the stage, up until the garden scene, look somewhat like black lacquered flats, while the back wall changes from red (Figaro’s bedroom), to gold (the Countess’s bedroom), to green (the Count’s study), until ultimately opening up a “forced perspective” raked floor lined with cypresses (the Garden Scene). At the back, the Almaviva chateau is silhouetted by a huge full moon.

CAST:
Ildar Abdrazakov — FIGARO

Barbara Bonney — SUSANNA

David Pittsinger — COUNT ALMAVIVA

Adrianne Pieczonka — COUNTESS ALMAVIVA

Lucy Schaufer — CHERUBINO

Michael Gallup — DR. BARTOLO

Anna Steiger — MARCELLINA

Greg Fedderly — DON BASILIO

Jessica Swink — BARBARINA

Gregorio González — ANTONIO

Peter Nathan Foltz — DON CURZIO

Christina Borgioli — BRIDESMAID

Donna Marie Covert — BRIDESMAID

CONDUCTOR – Kent Nagano

DIRECTOR – Ian Judge

SET DESIGNER – Tim Goodchild

COSTUME DESIGNER – Deirdre Clancy

LIGHTING DESIGNER – Nigel Levings

CHOREOGRAPHER – Sergio Trujillo

PRODUCTION DATES:

Saturday March 25, 2006 7:30 p.m.

Thursday March 30, 2006 7:30 p.m.

Sunday April 2, 2006 2:00 p.m.

Friday April 7, 2006 7:30 p.m.

Sunday April 9, 2006 2:00 p.m.

Wednesday April 12, 2006 7:30 p.m.

Saturday April 15, 2006 7:30 p.m.

RUNNING TIME:

3 hours 15 minutes

PRE-PERFORMANCE LECTURE:

One hour prior to each performance.

Alan Chapman will lead the pre-performance lecture.

Pre-performance lectures are generously sponsored by the Flora L. Thornton Foundation and the Opera League of Los Angeles.

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