`Marriage of Figaro' engaging at Kennedy

Review: Stylish vocal and orchestral work outshine minor hitches in production by Washington Opera.

March 22, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

For a mix of humor, sentiment and truth, Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" remains impossible to beat.

The sight gags are as reliable for a laugh as those in "I Love Lucy" reruns. And when the Countess tells us about the ache in her heart over a faithless husband she still hopelessly loves, or when that louse of a spouse finally begs forgiveness, Mozart transcends the artifice of theater to uncover the very nature of human relations.

And then there is the music - effortless, indelible melodies that communicate jokes and emotions with equal suppleness; orchestration that exudes as much color and subtlety as a Fragonard painting.

These attributes shine in the Washington Opera's production of "Figaro" at the Kennedy Center.

Such a large venue, however, works against an intimate social comedy like this. So does Ezio Frigerio's grand scenic design, which includes a salon in the Count's house that could easily contain a six-lane bowling alley. And the voices of the young, engaging cast would no doubt bloom more effectively in a smaller space.

But such reservations pale in light of all the stylish vocalism and strong sense of ensemble work generated on stage; the sunny playing of the orchestra; and the unerringly sensitive conducting of Heinz Fricke. If director Jose Luis Castro indulges in a few pace-thwarting devices - the second act is delayed by some rather pointless miming, for example - but otherwise has the opera flowing at an even clip.

Tuesday evening, the stand-out in the cast was Kristine Jepson as Cherubino. As she demonstrated last fall as Sister Helen in San Francisco Opera's premiere of "Dead Man Walking," Jepson knows how to inhabit a role, how to tap its full potential.

Her sizable mezzo, with its wide range of tonal nuances and admirable evenness, fleshed out Cherubino's music and hormonallycharged character superbly. She was downright magical giving the closing measures of "Non so piu" a very dreamy stretch (Fricke's supportive partnering was crucial here); her account of "Voi che sapete" proved likewise rich in detail and remarkably affecting.

Simone Alberghini was an amiable, animated Figaro. His voice could have used a little more coloristic variety, but had a pleasantly round, firm tone. Aside from a couple of patches of slippery intonation, Anna Netrebko's Susanna was sung with considerable finesse and nuance. Her shaping of "Deh vieni non tardar" in the last scene was especially captivating.

As the Countess, Jennifer Casey Cabot revealed a sweet, well-focused soprano; she infused her arias, notably "Dove sono," with inner warmth. She also tapped the maturity and streak of girlish naivete that make this aristocrat such a fascinating component of the "Figaro" family portrait. Jorge Lagunes sang somewhat monochromatically, but his portrayal of the Count had musicality and theatrical vibrancy.

There was accomplished supporting work among the rest of the cast. Carla Rae Cook offered strong mezzo tones and comic timing as Marcelina; William Parcher's vivid singing made Doctor Bartolo a particularly welcome presence. The chorus produced a smoothly blended sound.

Frigerio's sets, which included a cleverly arranged attic room for Figaro, was complemented by Franca Squarciapino's graceful costumes. Joan Sullivan-Genthe's atmospheric lighting capped the elegant stage pictures perfectly. Her evocation of a moonlit garden for the last scene, with its multiple deceptions and unmasking of true hearts, gently underscored the opera's disarming sensuality.

Opera

What: Washington Opera production of "The Marriage of Figaro"

When: 8 p.m. Friday, March 30 and April 4; 7 p.m. Monday, April 2 and 7

Where: Kennedy Center Opera House, 2600 Virginia Ave. N.W.

Tickets: $79 to $259

Call: 202-295-2400; 800-876-7372

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