Revenge and reconciliation: 'The Marriage of Figaro' is near perfect

By Michael H. Margolin

New wine in old bottles seems an apt thought as Mozart's 200-year-old opera is given over to a smart cadre of youthful talent in Michigan Opera Theatre's finale to its fall season.

Yes, MOT has produced "The Marriage of Figaro" many times and we have seen the smartly designed set by Allen Charles Klein in 2007, I think, with its side walls that remind us the Revolution is coming, an apt metaphor for this comedy about bringing the nobles to their knees. Well at least the noble who stands in for the French aristocracy, Count Almaviva, who wants to return droit de signeur for one night so he can bed Susanna, Figaro's betrothed.

The plot is still the same, but the production seems very fresh: The characters are delineated carefully by costume and makeup, and Mario Corradi has invented some quite clever staging, though Cherubino's leap from the balcony (in the libretto and a part of the scenic design) falls flat as he jumps into the orchestra pit instead; and there is that miscellaneous fiddling the Duke and the Countess do with the harpsichord for each of their big arias - if it means something to them, it was lost on me.)

But, as Noel Coward wrote, "Why quibble, Sybil" when the singing and acting are first rate? To begin with, the four leads.

As Figaro, bass Jason Hardy is tall, lithe and uses his voice with power and discretion, conveying tons through a simple narrowing of tone or body English; his opposite, Count Almaviva, is Corey McKern with a blue blood baritone and the acting chops to go from seducer to vengeful husband to plotter and, in his vengeance aria, pulling his wig apart in frustration, a comic villain.

The women are as wonderful. As Susanna, diminutive Grazia Doronzio is compelling and antic while convincing us that her character has real common sense and intelligence. Not to mention the beautiful, glowing soprano. As the Countess - a near tragic figure in the opera - Rachel Willis-Sorensen was deeply moving. Her aria, "Dove sono," melted my heart.

Lauren McNeese pranced and grimaced as she ought in this trouser role of Cherubino; Jason Budd was quite charming as Dr. Bartolo; Brian Leduc was a solid, entertaining Don Basilio.

Outstanding in a role often lost in cliche, Melissa Parks was a riveting Marcellina, mugging discretely and singing superbly. She received a bit of help from great makeup and wigs by Elizabeth Geck (who also gave Don Basilio a unique look.)

In the remainder of the cast, Timothy Bruno (Antonio), Angela Theis (Barbarina) and Jason Wickson (Don Curzio) acquitted themselves well.

I thought the overture seemed a bit rushed and less transparent than it should be, but conductor Kazem Abdullah, new to MOT, got all under control and made heavenly music with the singers.

In the final moments, a portrait of Mozart descended upstage and the cast turned and bowed: Yup, Wolfgang would have been pleased. And so would Lorenzo Da Ponte, whose libretto seemed apropos and witty and funny this time out.

REVIEW:

'The Marriage of Figaro'

Michigan Opera Theatre at Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway St., Detroit. Nov. 16, 18, 19 & 20. $29-$121. 800-745-3000. http://www.MichiganOpera.org

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