Sunday, August 16, 2015

Le Nozze di Figaro at dell'Arte Opera Ensemble

On Friday night I was delighted to be in attendance at the opening of Le Nozze di Figaro, part of dell'Arte Opera Ensemble's Beaumarchais Trilogy. (Pierre Beaumarchais [1732-1799] wrote the plays on which Le Nozze di Figaro and Il Barbiere di Siviglia are based.) I was quite impressed with the company's all-Shakespeare season last year, and thought their work on the two shows I saw was quite amazing. I was excited to see what they would do with Beaumarchais, and I was not disappointed. (Click this link to see a profile I recently published of dell'Arte Opera and its training program for singers.)

Rodolfo Nieto as Figaro with Olivia Betzen as Susanna
Photo:  Brian Long
The cast was a fine group of young singer-actors, without a dud in the bunch. In any Nozze production, Figaro himself is what I want to hear about, and I'm happy to report that Rodolfo Nieto was a fine young Figaro. Strapping, athletic, and handsome, Mr. Nieto sings with beautiful tone and commitment to the text, and acts Figaro's many contrasting and at times contradictory feelings with confidence. His Susanna was Olivia Betzen, whose feisty characterization and musically sensitive singing were an equal to Mr. Nieto's Figaro.

The other primary couple, the Count and Countess, were beautifully sung by John Callison and Jennifer Townshend. Ms. Townshend opened Act II with a tentative but lovely "Porgi amor" and warmed up to fully confident singing and acting throughout. The Countess, the same character as Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, is just as spunky as Rosina (and Susanna), but two or three years older. She and Susanna really are friends as well as mistress and servant.

We appreciated John Callison's singing (and his abs) in last year's The Fairy Queen, and we continue to be pleased with his singing and acting. (For some strange reason his abs were not on view in this role.) The Count is the most complex character in Nozze--part privileged young man with a feeling of entitlement to whatever he wants, including Susanna, and part stick-in-the-mud comic straight man who isn't clever enough to keep up with Figaro, Susanna, and the Countess. We were able to see all of this in Mr. Callison's multi-dimensional characterization.

Heather Jones as Cherubino
Olivia Betzen as Susanna
Photo:  Brian Long
Cherubino is a teenage boy--all lust and dreams and play, but mostly lust. Heather Jones, who appears from her bio to be among the youngest of the cast members, gave us all of these qualities, along with an easy sound and skillful delivery.

As part of dell'Arte's thorough preparation, the singers work very hard on the libretto--the language of the time; the stage, style, and social customs of the time; and of course a word-for-word understanding of the entire libretto, not just their own lines. Although the singers wore current-day clothing (costume design by Carly Bradt), there was no period-specific feel. In fact, it appeared the intention was for the action to be based on 18th century reality, but also easily transferred to the current day. I credit Stage Director Eve Summer with this easy timelessness, as well as with the commitment each singer showed to every line of music.

Dell'Arte has a new orchestra this year, the highly-acclaimed Metamorphosis Chamber Orchestra. Dell'Arte veteran John Spencer is Music Director and Conductor for Nozze. On Friday night, I am sorry to report, the orchestra had the ragged sound of needing more rehearsal--inexact notes on fast passages, completely wrong entrances in one or two cases, occasional intonation issues--and there were times when conductor and singers were not in agreement on tempi. As the night wore on, orchestral playing improved and a cohesiveness was achieved, but still there were occasional errors from pit or podium.

Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble's Beaumarchais Trilogy Project continues through August 30, with more performances of Le Nozze di Figaro, as well as Paisiello's Il Barbiere di Siviglia and the 1978 opera Rosina, with libretto based on the Beaumarchais characters, although not directly from Beaumarchais.

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