The privileged class, to say the least, hated it. France’s Louis XVI banned if for three year, stating, “For this play not to be a danger, the Bastille would have to be torn down first!” And Austria’s emperor Joseph II followed suite, but later relented only because he didn’t think anyone would read it. Little did they know that Beaumarchais’s controversial 1784 play about class conflict, “Le nozze di Figaro,” would become the basis for Mozart’s entry into Italian opera and eventually be recognized as one of the greatest ever written. How could it not when it runs the gamut of emotions — love, desire, betrayal, jealousy, gender bending, and mischief?
The magic of LA Opera’s revival is, of course, largely due to the composer’s enduring talent as he takes what are essentially stock characters and imbues them with emotional realism through his musical characterization; but what makes it soar is a robust cast with resonant voices and impeccable comic timing; the realistic eighteenth-century scenery by Santo Loquasto and opulent costumes by fashion icon, Christian Lacroix; and the cinematic direction of Hollywood’s James Gray (“The Yards,” “The Lost City of Z,” “Ad Astra”). For those weary of contemporized theater with its bland, minimalist decor and costumes that look like leftovers from a rock concert, this opera will be a windfall of sensory delights, a welcome return to the lavishness of traditional opera. You may feel like you’ve been transported to the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris where the current version premiered in 2019.
We enter the opera buffa (essentially a comedy) as the servant Figaro (bass-baritone, Craig Colclough) is about to wed his beloved Susanna (soprano, Janai Brugger). Enter her towering, lusty employer, Count Almaviva (baritone, Lucas Meachem) who will do everything including resurrect his droit du seigneur to ensure he sleeps with her before her husband can. Meanwhile his chronically betrayed wife, the Countess (soprano, Ana Maria Martinez) finds solace in flirting with young Cherubino (mezzo-soprano, Rihab Chaieb in a breeches role) whose raging hormones propel him onto anything in a gown. Figaro averts disaster by relying on his expertise at subterfuge and weaving through a series of hilarious situations, not unlike Mozart himself who, by using comedy, softened the provocative message of the need for equal rights, and made the opera more palatable to the upper class audiences. As Figaro vows, “If you want to dance, Signor Count. I’ll play the guitar.”
“For those weary of contemporized theater…this opera will be a windfall of sensory delights, a welcome return to the lavishness of traditional opera.”
Brugger and Colclough are in full command of their supple vocals and comedic skill as the leads, Figaro and Susanna; Martinez is resplendent in expressing her pain and longing as the Countess, while Meachem as her philandering husband, the Count, exudes the arrogance of privilege of a feudal lord albeit with charming devilishness; Kristinn Sigmundsson as Dr. Bartolo and Marie McLaughlin as Marcellina contribute a healthy dose of laughs; but an extra thumbs-up must be awarded to Chaieb for an especially carnal performance as the girl-crazy Cherubino and having the audience in stitches throughout.
— G. Dhalla
L.A. Opera’s “The Marriage of Figaro” run through February 26th at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Tickets HERE.