The Marriage of Figaro

Austin Lyric Opera offered something to delight everyone with its funny and excellent 'Marriage of Figaro'

Arts Review

The Marriage of Figaro

Bass Concert Hall, April 30

Is there a perfect opera? Well, perhaps not, although many think Mozart's comic opera, The Marriage of Figaro – replete with love, lust, and dollops of looniness – comes as close as you can to perfection; without a doubt audiences love it. Perhaps the more pertinent question is: Can you have too much of a good thing? So far as Austin Lyric Opera's production of Figaro is concerned: No, and this particular effort is bound to leave audiences craving more.

The opera Figaro bubbles with Mozart's enthusiasm for life. The music offers pleasures spritely and gorgeous: delightful riches with enough weight to keep the proceedings grounded in something akin to reality. The proceedings form a convoluted, multifaceted love story, where "triangle" is too simplistic a way to describe the various conjoinings of the love-struck, jealous characters. For ALO's excellent production, director Thor Steingraber managed to maintain focus throughout the ever busier, ever more convoluted shenanigans. By the fourth act, when the farce hits its heights, it was perfectly natural that thin-stalked potted plants should shuffle about the stage as several characters "disguised" themselves, the better to eavesdrop on the amorous couples downstage. It was absurdly ineffective cover, and it was delightful to watch. The final unveilings give rise to a call to love, to being happy, to life, all that comedy resolving itself joyfully through Mozart's glorious score.

In the title role on Saturday night – ALO alternates the lead roles nightly during the runs of its operas – baritone Morgan Smith was dashing and calculating, and his voice smooth, the anticipated "Non piu andrai" (you know this aria, even if you've never been to the opera) at the close of the first act a deft mix of the singer's strength and comic presence. The role of Figaro's master, Count Almaviva, was sung by the excellent Brian Leerhuber. It's the count's insatiable (and perpetually unrequited) desire for Figaro's fiancée, Susanna (uh – and others in his household) that kicks this comic snowball down the mountain for that avalanche of silliness at opera's end. Baritone Leerhuber, never foppish, projected instead a bright combination of cunning and clod, perfect for the unsuccessful royal hunter. Almaviva sums things up nicely at the opening of the third act, musing on his confusion at the goings-on in his household: No kidding! When he thinks he's finally going to succeed with Susanna, he's a pussycat: "Crudel! Perche finora," he coos in his duet with his wife's chambermaid; when he realizes she's set him up, out comes his dark and dangerous aria of vengeance, "Vedro mentr'io sospiro." His countess, formerly his only love interest, now apparently cast aside, seeks to regain her man's love, and soprano Jane Thorngren was equal to the role's vagrancies: achingly in love with the count in her beautiful aria, "Dove sono," on the one hand, neatly conspiratorial with Susanna in the Letter Duet, "Che soave zeffiretto," on the other. Throw in her near inability to resist the advances of her goofy page, Cherubino, and there appeared to be no corner into which the countess might not stray: Thorngren balanced the countess' desires and whimsy with aplomb.

If the title implies it's Figaro running the show, in reality, it's his fiancée, Susanna, who appears to have her eyes more fixed on the prize(s). In that role, Alicia Berneche was perfection. Bright and full of vigor, Berneche is as good an actor as she is a singer, her performance nuanced and heartfelt, yet full of panache and zing during all those farcical interludes. When finally she had the chance to sing of her love for Figaro – to her hidden husband, no less – out came her glorious "Deh vieni, non tardar." Bring this soprano back soon, please, Maestro Buckley.

The supporting cast offered more gifted singers capable of extending Mozart's music to encompass smartly defined characters, all aiding that wild ride of deception and desire. And the music? That was never in doubt; under the baton of Peter Bay, the orchestra was sure and sonorous. Clever sets by Michael Olich – oversized screens to enhance the now-you-see-them-now-they're-eavesdropping – made the impact of the event that much more enjoyable. ALO offered something to delight everyone with this Figaro. The overall sense of freshness, in all senses of the word, filled the audience, the spring in the step and the chatter of the departing guests mirroring the buoyant, joyful sounds of Mozart's masterpiece.

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The Marriage of Figaro, Mozart, Austin Lyric Opera, Thor Steingraber, Morgan Smith, Brian Leerhuber, Jane Thorngren, Alicia Berneche, Peter Bay, Michael Olich

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