The Beaumarchais trilogy is a set of three plays penned by Pierre Beaumarchais between 1775 and 1792. Considered semi-autobiographical in nature, the three plays recount the adventures of Figaro, Count Almaviva and Rosine (later, the Countess Almaviva). The first, The Barber of Seville was later set into an opera by Gioachino Rossini and recounts the tale of of the courtship between the Count and Countess Almaviva. The third, La Mère coupable, has been set by a few different composers, most notably in John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles—although the plot is set as a play-within-a-play.
Sandwiched in between these two is arguably one of Mozart's most popular and oft-performed works, The Marriage of Figaro, based on the middle work of Beaumarchais' trilogy (and sharing a common name). In this entry, the Count and Countess are married, though Almaviva has begun to stray and has his eye on Figaro's bride-to-be, Susanna. In order to avoid his advances Susanna (with the help of both Rosine and Figaro) put in place a plan to embarrass the Count and remind him of his devotion to his Countess.
As part of the ongoing 2012 Festival, the Fort Worth Opera presents Mozart's masterpiece in a production directed by by Eric Einhorn.
The direction of the opera is conventional, though enjoyable. Einhorn focuses deeply on the comedic aspects of the libretto, portraying the characters as bawdy and sarcastic, with a good amount of slapstick. The sets, originally designed for the Sarasota Opera by Michael Wingfield, are elegant yet simple—though much of the color is emphasized by lighting designer Chad Jung. Costume designer Allen Charles Klein adds a strong period style to the production with his excellent costuming, especially with the Count and Countess.
Vocally, Andrea Carroll steals the production with her role as Figaro's betrothed. Susanna, handmaiden to the Countess and lust object of the Count, is scheming, devious and intensely loyal to her future husband. Carroll adds a natural sense of humor in all three in what became a very physical role. Figaro, sung by baritone Donovan Singletary, holds his own against Carroll while supplying his own comic timing and strong vocal presence.
One of the subplots of the production concerns the much-maligned page, Cherubino. Traditionally sung as a trouser role (a women portraying a man), the part is sung by mezzo soprano Wallis Giunta. Highly physical, Giunta has to sing while on her back, under a couch, and almost every other position imaginable. Through all of this, she manages to maintain a beautiful tone and excellent diction.
The roles of the Count and Countess are sung by Jonathan Beyer and Jan Cornelius respectively. Each shine on their own, but do their best work when singing together; they are especially poignant when serenading each other in the final act (although the Count may be under the impression that he is actually singing to Susanna). The principal cast is rounded out by Rod Nelman singing the role of Don Bartolo and Kathryn Cowdrick singing the part of Marcellina. Each figures in as a failed instrument of the Count's scheme to punish Figaro—but the tables are turned when (spoiler alert!) it is revealed that they are really Figaro's long lost parents. Both Nelman and Cowdrick equate themselves well, bringing a strong sense of humor and physicality to their roles.
The orchestra is led by conductor Stewart Robertson, an able accompanist for the most part; there were a few times on Saturday night where the balance between the orchestra and singers was uneven and the ensemble drowned out the singers. This lessened as the production progressed, and the balance for the last half was exceptional. Special mention must be given to repetiteur and harpsichordist Emily Jarrell Urbanek with her accompaniment to the large body of secco recitative.
The production ends up being a comfortable couple of hours at the opera; there is little new or different about this staging, but the quality is high and good for several laughs.
◊ Go here to see our feature and video with the five rising stars in The Marriage of Figaro.
◊ The Marriage of Figaro runs in repertory with three other productions: Verdi's Tosca, Jake Heggie's Three Decembers and Mark Adamo's Lysistrata. The remainder of the Fort Worth Opera Festival 2012 performances are:
Sunday, May 20, 2 p.m. Tosca at Bass Hall OUR REVIEW
Sunday, May 20, 7:30 p.m. Three Decembers at Scott Theatre OUR REVIEW
Friday, May 25, 7:30 p.m. Tosca at Bass Hall
Saturday, May 26, 2 p.m. Three Decembers at Scott Theatre
Saturday, May 26, 7:30 p.m. Lysistrata at Bass Hall
Sunday, May 27, 2 p.m. The Marriage of Figaro at Bass Hall
Thursday, May 31, 7:30 p.m. Three Decembers at Scott Theatre
Friday, June 1, 7:30 p.m. The Marriage of Figaro at Bass Hall
Saturday, June 2, 2 p.m. Three Decembers at Scott Theatre
Saturday, June 2, 7:30 p.m. Tosca at Bass Hall
Sunday, June 3, 2 p.m. Lysistrata at Bass Hall