'Take only your ears' to opera Talent: In the end, the glorious voices in the Annapolis Opera's 'Marriage of Figaro' by Mozart overcome problems with the orchestra, set and staging.

October 15, 1998|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Quibble with this or that, but when all is said and done, opera is about glorious singing. When the voices are there, you can live with all the other stuff that might go wrong.

By this standard, the Annapolis Opera's recent production of Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" was a rousing success. Wherever you turned, you heard talented young singers doing wonderful things with Mozart's exquisite melodies and characters.

In Thomas Zielinski, the production had a top-notch Figaro whose tonal depth gave opera's most celebrated valet the guts to tell off his aristocratic employer with stylish conviction in "Se vuol ballare," but whose agility made the tough coloratura passages in Act IV's "Tutto e disposto" dance with expertly controlled energy.

Laura Lewis also was a sparkler as Susanna, the palace maid servant and Figaro's bride-to-be. She was so feisty and funny through the first three acts that I confess I was stunned by the sweet warmth of her "Deh vieni non tardar," sung as she awaited her lover's final entrance near the end of the opera.

Meagan Miller was a sad, regal countess whose "Dove sono" (with a lovely solo oboe attached) brought tears to my eyes.

Her count, baritone Jeffrey Buchman, won the Luciano Pavarotti Voice Competition in 1995, and it's not hard to see why.

The voice is terrific, and his characterization of the treacherous, lecherous nobleman was rich and varied, thanks to some of the most expressive recitatives I've heard sung in a long time. (His solo narratives were so good that one could almost block out the miserable sounds coming from that synthesizer trying to pass itself off as a harpsichord. Whose idea was that monstrosity?)

In the humor department, there was mezzo Grace Gori, making the most of goofy, hyper-hormonal Cherubino the Page Boy (a gorgeous "Voi che sapete"), and baritone Stephen Goodman, who sailed through the stormy patter of Dr. Bartolo's "Vendetta" aria with commendable flair.

The depth of this cast extended to Karen Strow, who sang so prettily as the ever-annoying Marcellina that I liked her character, and to Julie Kurzava, who floored me by opening the final act so gracefully in her one aria, "L'ho perduta." I guess I expected a drop-off in talent. There wasn't one.

Did the rest of the production live up to all this nifty singing? Alas, no.

Conductor Ronald Gretz, usually the soul of reliability, had a tough afternoon at the office . His tempos were ragged, there were intonation problems galore, and his players overpowered the voices through the first two acts.

Perhaps word was passed during intermission, for the orchestra eventually was shushed, but for much of the afternoon those young, supple voices had to push like mad to be heard.

Balance problems made the decision to present the opera in English a moot point. Most of the first half was unintelligible in any language. The Act II Finale could have been in English, Italian or Sanskrit, for that matter.

Staging varied from excellent (when the leads grabbed the spotlight), to slapdash, as when recitatives were sung in the dark, chorus members slinked on and off the stage looking lost, and stagehands failed to remain invisible.

Arne Linquist's set was attractive, but those white Corinthian columns looked more like a spot to render burnt offerings to Zeus than a palace in southern Spain.

But, as another critic once wrote, "Leave your reason at home and take only your ears with you when you go to an opera house."

Good advice, that.

Pub Date: 10/15/98

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