The Marriage of Figaro

Even Albert Einstein was awed by Mozart’s compositions. “Beethoven created his music,” he once wrote, “but the music of Mozart is of such purity and beauty that one feels he merely found it – that it has always existed as part of the inner beauty of the universe waiting to be revealed.” Here we find one genius praising another, but in the case of Mozart’s operas, yet another genius enters the picture in his librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. The latter had an uncanny gift for constructing text to fit Mozart’s pure, mellifluous style of writing vocal music. The former then composed along lines that carried the text on the loveliest waves of lyric beauty. Translations of Da Ponte’s librettos inevitably take something away from the perfect “marriages” he and Mozart created in their works, and“The Marriage of Figaro” (Le nozze di Figaro) is no exception.

The interpretation of a Mozart opera requires a thorough mastery of legato and the bel canto style – (a smooth, flowing manner, without breaks between notes – literally, “beautiful singing”) – and, when sung correctly, may appear quite effortless, when in fact the singers face daunting tasks. Brave, indeed, are the young artists willing to take on the challenges of sustaining such demanding vocal skills while frequently engaged in vigorous physical action; but there were a number of occasions in last night’s performance when their bravery met with success.

“The Marriage of Figaro” may be described as an eighteenth century version of screwball comedy – a “single day of madness” in the palace of Count Almaviva, with Da Ponte’s libretto based on a comic play by Pierre Beaumarchais, La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro. Its enduring popularity is amply attested by the fact that it received its first performance in 1786, and has been in virtually constant production ever since. A sizeable crowd gathered last night to hear the Mozart masterpiece, but the ambitious Opera Theater of Pittsburgh deserves capacity audiences at every performance.

Walter Morales conducted Jonathan Lyness’ necessarily reduced orchestration with admirable skill and a firm grasp of the score. The famous overture was heartily applauded, despite one or two slips in intonation by the otherwise admirable instrumentalists. Throughout, he skillfully guided the orchestra into providing a potent (but never overpowering) wave of sound that supported the vocalists on the stage to great advantage, never loosening his reins unless it was called for by the composer.Christine Lee Won is to be commended on the scenic effects she achieved within limited space, but the otherwise impressive lighting effects of Bob Steineck went awry in the fourth and final act, when the singers’ shadows reflected onto an enormous full moon.

Michael Scarcelle (pictured below), as Figaro, sang with a strong voice of beautiful quality and admirable enunciation of the English text. He is a handsome man with an athletic physique. These traits added greatly to his substantial acting abilities, and, as a whole, he gave a delightful interpretation of the role. Katarzyna Wilk (pictured below) was a lovely Susanna, both in voice and appearance, and she, too, made the text distinguishable. She is a gifted actress as well. The pair offered some of the finest singing that was heard through the course of the performance, with a true flair for the comedic aspects of their characters.

figaro3_0Much of the same may be said of Chad Armstrong (pictured below) and his interpretation of the womanizing Count Almaviva. He looked and acted the part well, and he sang the music with a sonorous voice and careful attention to the text. Adriana Velinova (pictured below), as the Countess, Rosina, faced the daunting task of “hitting the ground running,” as one of the character’s greatest arias comes with the rise of the curtain on the second act, her first appearance, with no opportunity for warming up to the part before being required to give of her best. It is therefore understandable that her singing was at first marred by a tremolo effect and some unnecessary forcing, but in her subsequent major opportunity, and in the famous “Letter Duet,” she sang smoothly and with great beauty of tone. She presented a charming and dignified appearance, and acted the part as well as she sang.

figaro2_0Chelsea Melamed, as Cherubino, the would-be, pint-sized Casanova of the Almaviva estate, made the most of one of the opera’s more endearing characters (a “pants” role), and Samantha Lax, in the smaller part of Barbarina, displayed a lovely voice and true comedic acting ability. Her enunciation of the English text was possibly the best of the evening. Jessica Hiltabidle, as Marcellina, Jeremy Galyon, as Bartolo, Rafael Helbig-Kostka, as Basilio, Isaiah Feken, as Antonio, Dustin Damonte, as Don Curzio, andLauren Carter and Sheva Tehoval, as the bridesmaids, all made the best of their vocal and acting opportunities, and rounded out a well-balanced and talented cast.

SONY DSC
SONY DSC

The only significant criticism of the production is the handling of the madcap final act. With the entire cast on stage, all suddenly taken to forcing their voices, the huge ensemble slightly overdid the composer’s intent, with the result being a bit of cacophony to the ears of the connoisseurs. It was here, too, that the innovation of projecting subtitles over the stage was abandoned (due to technical difficulties), just when it was needed by some the most. However, it is safe to assume that the majority of the audience were familiar enough with the opera not to be bothered with this detail, for the act was resoundingly applauded. And, since the intent of the production is to please and entertain the listeners, last night’s mission was more than accomplished.

The opera will be repeated on Sunday, July 19, at 2 p.m., and on Saturday, August 1, at 7:30 p.m., and patronage is highly recommended and encouraged. Visithttp://otsummerfest.org/ for ticket information, production details, cast information and much more.

Special thanks to the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh for two complimentary press tickets.

The production team for “The Marriage of Figaro”

Conductor, Walter Morales; Director, Jonathan Eaton; Associate Director, Sarah Young; Scenic Designer, Christine Lee Won; Costume Designer, Cynthia Albert; Lighting Designer, Bob Steinbeck; Hair and Makeup Designer, Karen J. Gilmer; Chorus Master, Michaella Calzaretta; Supervising Stage Manager, Claire Landuyt; Assistant Stage Managers, Kyle Birdsall and Bryan Russell; English Translation, JeremySams. Photos by: Patti Brahim.

Performance Date: Friday, July 10, 2015