Bouquets to Peabody's 'Figaro'

November 22, 1997|By Judith Green | Judith Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Peabody Institute's production of "The Marriage of Figaro" makes a virtue of small means.

Limited by a Spartan budget, the production, through tomorrow at Friedberg Concert Hall, is minimal. The set, devised by Barbara Thompson, is nothing more than a few hanging panels and some rococo architectural etchings; and the costumes (by John Lehmeyer) are made on one pattern of one fabric.

This could have been a recipe for tedium but, instead, leaves us free to marvel at the musical and dramatic riches of the opera, which is one of Mozart's perfect achievements.

Some of the student voices, to be sure, aren't quite ready to sing this masterpiece, but every performance is honorable, thoughtful and secure.

Thorough preparation by conductor Edward Polochick and a coaching staff led by JoAnn Kulesza brought the singers to the point that they could play with the comedy of "Figaro," which is the story of a philandering nobleman who gets his comeuppance at the hands of his servants.

The cast I saw was highlighted by baritone J. Austin Bitner's virile and arrogant Count, a human two-timing husband. Mezzo Fenlon Lamb was the other standout as the clumsy, desperately eager Cherubino, the 14-year-old page who chases everything in skirts.

Baritone Adam Schulz hasn't quite the vocal breadth yet for Figaro; and Anne Jennifer Nash, who sang Susanna, is a chirpy soprano without much vocal magnetism. But both gave enjoyable performances as the conspiring lovers who, by the fourth act, have constructed so complicated a plot they don't trust even each other.

Though Jennifer Blades' creamy soprano suited the pathos of the Countess, who sings two beautiful arias about loneliness and betrayal, I was also glad to have heard the alternate Countess, Korean singer Eun Kyung Choi, at a preview event. She has a dark, plangent soprano of great emotive power.

From the first notes of the overture, this was Mozart of a very high order, though I'd have preferred more contemplative tempos for the Countess' arias, "Porgi, amor" and "Dove sono," and for Cherubino's ballad, "Voi che sapete." On the other hand, the opera is plenty long enough at three hours and 15 minutes.

For those familiar with "Figaro," the harpsichord continuo, played by Polochick, was full of delights, including little musical teasers that added spice and intricacy to the plot.

Stage director Roger Brunyate started the fun during the overture with a commedia dell'arte pantomime that summarized the complications to come. His quick-witted staging faltered only once.

The almost tangible attraction that Brunyate set up between the Countess and Cherubino foreshadows Peabody's spring opera, the rarely performed "Cherubin" by Jules Massenet, which will be produced in March.

'The Marriage of Figaro'

What: Mozart's opera, to a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, based on the drama by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais; sung in Italian with English surtitles

When: 7: 30 tonight and 3 p.m. tomorrow

Where: Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall, Peabody Institute, 1 E. Mount Vernon Place

Tickets: $8-$22

Call: 410-659-8124

Pub Date: 11/22/97

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