The Marriage of Figaro

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Italian libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte
Pacific Opera Victoria
Royal Theatre

Cécile Muhire as Cherubino with Donovan Singletary as Figaro Credit: David Cooper Photography
Cécile Muhire as Cherubino, Tyler Duncan as Count Almaviva and Donovan Singletary as Figaro Credit: David Cooper Photography
Sydney Baedke as Countess Almaviva Credit: David Cooper Photography
Suzanne Rigden as Susanna, Cécile Muhire as Cherubino and Sydney Baedke as Countess Almaviva Credit: David Cooper Photography
Sydney Baedke as Countess Almaviva, Cécile Muhire as Cherubino and Suzanne Rigden as Susanna Credit: David Cooper Photography
Suzanne Rigden as Susanna, Tyler Duncan as Count Almaviva and Sydney Baedke as Countess Almaviva Credit: David Cooper Photography
The cast of The Marriage of Figaro Credit: David Cooper Photography
Megan Latham as Marcellina, Peter McGillivray as Dr. Bartolo, Suzanne Rigden as Susanna and Donovan Singletary as Figaro Credit: David Cooper Photography
Sydney Baedke as Countess Almaviva Credit: David Cooper Photography

What a gem of a production! Usually, I end my reviews of productions I really liked with an admonition to go and see the production; here I start with it. This Marriage of Figaro is a lovely bit of work, perfectly scaled to the theatre in which it is set: go, go, go to see this classic work in what I believe to be a new production modelled after Joan Miró.

Director Morris Panych takes Mozart (and perhaps even more, its librettist, Da Ponte) perfectly seriously. More than just moving bodies around, Mr. Panych balances the slapstick, for instance, of the chair scene, sharing, without the count knowing it, a large chair, switching around, Cherubino scrambling around the chair and then later hiding under a drape. I could wish, as I always do, for more attention paid to implied stage directions: “let go of me!” means the two actors had better be touching if not struggling with each other.

Mozart starts out this opera with a very small scale sound, and the conductor, Timothy Vernon, starts things off at very low volume—but keeps increasing the tension as the opera continues its very fast, three-hour running time. It’s not just a matter of speed or volume, but as the plot darkens so does the texture of the sound from the Victoria Symphony. When I first misread the programme, I thought I saw that there were only four violins (surely not!), but it sounded that way: so intimate, so light. I even noted Mr. Vernon gesturing to hold back the lower strings in the first few minutes of the overture.

As the opera proceeds, there are real stakes present, largely due to the excellent acting of Tyler Duncan and Sydney Baedke as the unhappily married Count and Countess Almaviva (he’s a bit of a jerk but potentially dangerous and she’s long-suffering, basically the setup of Così fan tutte once you add in Figaro and Susanna, but with real moral weight). When Almaviva asks his wife why her bedroom door was locked, he does so in the quiet that proceeds the storm—very little volume and no vocal strain, but I froze in my seat. (Vocally, Ms. Baedke seemed a bit stressed at times and not quite able to get her breath under her, possibly the result of ill health, but she rose to the occasion throughout.)

The cast was generally all on very peak performance, with the other major couple, Figaro and Susanna (Donovan Singletary and Suzanne Rigden), so comfortable in their skins that I loved watching them move about the set. Both singers seem born to the roles.

The rest of the cast is excellent as well, handling both the comic elements demanded by the plot, but also, again, being a bit larger than life in this very thoughtful production. And the costumes are decadent and lovely, set in a movie-like mid-20th-century 1950s with haute couture gowns, especially for the countess, a French maid outfit for Susanna and massive hair and hats for all of the women. I was especially amused by Megan Latham’s Marcellina, whose beehive hairdo seemed to want to conquer the world. Nancy Bryant’s designs are beautiful, including Figaro’s flowing wedding cape / tux combo, hinting back to the opera's original setting.

Cécile Muhire’s Cherubino is lovely and comic, and I loved the mix of spunk and fear Cherubino demonstrates as he faces the rage of his soon to be ex-boss. Ms. Muhire does a good job in making Cherubino human, showing both why Cherubino is an idiot but also why he’s loved. He’s a goof, but he’s totally unaware of just how plain silly he is, and that makes him sweet. And he is totally dedicated to his very imaginary loves. He doesn’t love all women, he loves being in love. When Figaro sings to him about the glories of war, you can watch Ms. Muhire’s Cherubino becoming caught up with the idea—though he would desert his post in a second if he’d ever gotten to the battlefield.

And a shout out to the chorus: what gorgeous tone! I was pleased with the new translation of their opening chorus which thanked the count for not observing droit du seigneur, his right to sleep with every bride on his estate (sadly, he has revoked the overturn on his decision so that he can at last sleep with Susanna). Finally, a special shout out to the two chorus members who sang that lovely little duet in honor of Susanna on her wedding day. They received a seperate bow in the curtain calls, but might also have been in the cast list.

Well done, Pacific Opera Victoria. Very well done. I’ve seen two productions of Mozart operas at Pacific Opera. I look foward to next season’s La Clemenza di Tito.

Reviewer: Keith Dorwick

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