A show curtain for the current LA Opera production of Mozart’s comic masterpiece, LE NOZZE DI FIGARO (The Marriage of Figaro) prominently features Commedia del Arte characters. Was this an indication that this most human of operas was to be played by stock characters in exaggerated slapstick situations?
I needn’t have worried. Director James Gray, known mostly for his film direction (The Immigrant, The Lost City of Z, Armageddon Time) leans into the humor but doesn’t sacrifice the multi-layered characters. He allows the performers to weave a richly detailed and genuinely funny tapestry out of the convoluted couplings in da Ponte’s brilliant libretto. Sex is correctly front and center, but Gray’s firm grasp keeps the staging from deteriorating into vulgarity.
From the opening notes of the opera, Craig Colclough’s Figaro and Janai Brugger’s Susanna convince as a lovingly credible couple. They understand that their best defense against the lecherous desires of their master the Count depends on each of them stepping up to counter the plot’s rapidly shifting power dynamics. Colclough is a rough-hewn Figaro with street smarts and a short fuse. His dark timbre and his generously rolled r’s make for a uniquely spirited interpretation. Matching him in spirit, Brugger sparkles vocally and impresses with her quick wit and determination.
Lucas Meachem is a physically imposing Count who, contrary to most period productions, spends the first half of the opera in mufti. Meachem is a commanding and stylish singer who never tries to soften the Count’s bad behavior, making his turnaround at the end more effective. He also manages to get more laughs than any Count I’ve seen. Ana Maria Martinez has been seen in Los Angeles in a variety of Verdi and Puccini roles. So, it is no surprise that her voice is a bit heavier and more dramatic than the typical Countess. Martinez’s interpretation gives the character more of a spine and offers her husband a worthy sparring partner.
In her LA Opera debut, Rihab Chaieb’s Cherubino nearly steals the show. Her rich mezzo plus her ebullient and convincingly boyish acting makes us hope that she’ll be back soon. Kristinn Sigmundsson’s Bartolo and Marie McLaughlin’s Marcellina throw themselves into their minor villain roles with glee though McLaughlin seemed to have some vocal issues at the performance I attended. Longtime scene-stealer Rodell Aure Rosel makes comic hay of Basilo’s mock-servile oiliness, while Deepa Johnny, Anthony Leon, and Alan Williams all impress during their limited stage time.
LA Opera’s invaluable Music Director James Conlon conducts an exuberant, detailed, and heartfelt reading of the score which does much to make this NOZZE fly by.
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion February 4 – 26, 2023 www.laopera.com