Monday, May 1, 2017

The Servant Problem in Seville

We are exceedingly happy to report that it is still possible to present traditionally staged opera and make it fresh and exciting. Taminophile braved the New Jersey Turnpike (and lived to tell about it) in order to see Opera Philadelphia's delightful new production of Le Nozze di Figaro on Sunday. Well worth the trip!

Brandon Cedel as Figaro and
Ying Fang as Susanna
(c) Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia
One needs a first-rate cast when presenting any Mozart opera, and in this regard Opera Philly delivered, for everyone on stage was a good singer and actor. It is difficult to single out any of them, but Ying Fang gave us an especially enchanting Susanna. Crafty and high-spirited, but also wise and sympathetic, this was a Susanna who knew her power and how to use it. Ms. Fang also gave us beautifully spun vocal lines and a warm, easy tone. Her many recent accomplishments are no surprise, and we are pleased to learn she shared with Nadine Sierra the role of Ilia in the Metropolitan Opera's recent revival of Idomeneo.

To be fair, everyone in the cast has equally impressive accomplishments, and their performances were all very fine indeed. Figaro was given masculine voice and presence by Brandon Cedel. Layla Claire and John Chest gave beautiful singing and believable acting to the Count and Countess Almaviva. Cecilia Hall was delightfully gangly as the teenage boy Cherubino. We also liked Patrick Carfizzi as Don Bartolo, Lucy Schaufer as Marcellina, and Jason Ferrante as Don Basilio/Don Curzio (actually Don Basilio in disguise, a clever touch).

Layla Claire as the Countess and Cecilia Hall as Cherubino
(c) Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia
No post-apocalyptic freeway underpasses or luxury penthouse apartments here--we knew we were in a wealthy nobleman's mansion outside of Seville. The scenery and opulent costumes by Leslie Travers and the lighting design by Thomas Hase were quite creative. We loved the lighting effect of casting a shadow of the bed frame on the walls to frame the action in certain moments. We loved the reversible wall backdrops that suggested interior and exterior scenes, featuring cameo portraits of the primary characters. We quite liked director Stephen Lawless's use of four supernumeraries as wigged footmen to help move the action along, and to move the scenery as well. The suggestions of revolution in Act III (including Eric Sean Fogel's choreography) were unexpected but not totally out of place, although the anti-nobility sentiment seemed to fade as the wedding festivities continued and was nowhere to be seen in Act IV. (Speaking of Act IV, we were a bit puzzled by the garden set--the same backdrops, which were very good, but it seemed like the garden furniture was discarded house furniture. Not what one would expect in the garden of such a fine mansion!)

As usual, we were pleased with the leadership of Opera Philadelphia Music Director Corrado Rovaris. We like his spritely tempi, especially in arias that are often performed too slowly, and we like the phrasing he achieved with the fine orchestra and ensemble of singers. All in all, we found it a delightful production, and we highly recommend seeing one of the remaining performances.
John Chest as the Count, Lucy Schaufer as Marcellina,
Patrick Carfizzi as Bartolo, Jason Ferrante as Basilio
(c) Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia

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