By Gaetano Santa Lucia, Journal Tribune Reviewer
The Marriage of Figaro" had its premiere on May 1, 1786 in Vienna. The first of three masterpieces composed by Mozart with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte (the other two being "Don Giovanni" and "Cosi fan Tutti"), the opera is based on the second play of the Beaumarchais trilogy "Le manage de Figaro, ou La folle joumee." The play had been banned in Vienna because of explicit sexual and political elements; I suspect it was precisely those element that attracted Mozart and da Ponte to create the opera.
"Figaro" was a great success on opening night, and the work has remained popular ever since, and for many reasons. You want great melodies? You want memorable characters? You want a plot full of twists and turns? You want humor and joy? This opera has all of these in abundance. Perhaps most importantly, do you want to leave the theater on a high note? Well, you'll be floating five or six feet higher after seeing the Portland Opera Repertory Theatre's production this Thursday, Saturday or Monday in Portland's Merrill Auditorium.
Figaro (Stefano de Peppo), the former barber of Seville (see Rossini's 'The Barber of Seville," being performed by PORT'S Young Artists Aug. 2 in Saco and Aug. 4 at Merrill Auditorium, for this experience), is about to be married to Susanna (Ying Huang), both of whom are in the service of Count Almaviva (Michael Chioldi). Figaro fears that the Count wants to exercise the "droit de seigneur," i.e. the right to have sex with the new bride on the honeymoon night. The rest of the opera, in essence, consists of the plans of Figaro, Susanna and the Countess (Alexandra Deshorties) to deny the Count this opportunity. The plot gets more complicated because the page Cherbino (a trouser role played by Marguerite Krull) has designs on anyone of the opposite sex. The opera ends with one of the greatest scenes of love and forgiveness ever staged, one that becomes almost religious in nature.
Where does the Portland Opera find these fabulous young singers? Every major role is well-acted and well-sung, without exception. When Figaro and Susanna start their Act I duets, I felt is if I'd died and gone to heaven. And it just gets better and better. Deshorties is perhaps the weakest of the major singers, which makes her "merely" very good, especially after she warms to the role. And she looks every bit the Countess. Ying Huang is the Susanna of one's dreams, with a full, easy and lovely voice and acting filled with verve and energy. Without question she is one of the best Susannas I've seen - and I've seen about 20 versions of "Figaro."
Figaro and Count Almaviva are very well-sung by de Peppo and Chioldi, respectively. Both voices, especially Chioldi's, are deeper and richer than one normally finds in these roles. I loved it; the voices have a virility and depth that goes with the characters - and again, the acting is excellent.
In some ways the biggest surprise of the evening is Krull, as the page Cherubino. She has a lovely voice, just slightly covered at the top, and fine technical skills. Krull sings her second aria, "Voi che sapete," one of the most famous of the opera, with imaginative and glorious embellishments that I really have never heard before. I suspect Conductor Bruce Hangen has something to do with this, since de Peppo and others are also noted embellishing some of their lines.
Maestro Hangen's work cannot be praised enough. He keeps the opera moving and together, and is always aware of the human voices in front of him. And his joy in the music is obviously communicated to the rest of the cast.
Musical Director and Harpsichordist William Tracy makes an ideal continue accompanist for the opera's frequent dialogue. And the setting, consisting primarily of a large, terrace-like background framed by pillars and doors, works very well.
This production of "The Marriage of Figaro" is an absolute must for lovers of the opera. It certainly is among the best I have seen.