Annapolis Opera's fully staged production of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts was a success on all counts. There were very few empty seats on Sunday, and I'm told a near-capacity and equally enthusiastic audience enjoyed the Friday night performance.
Based on a 1784 Beaumarchais play that debuted in Paris, Mozart's opera premiered in Vienna in 1786 with his brilliant score set to the Italian libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte to unify drama and music with themes of love, vengeance and forgiveness. Presented in Italian with English surtitles, Mozart's opera relates the interplay of living people we can understand, and he defines all of the characters with distinct musical identities.
The comic opera reveals how an aristocrat can be fooled by a scheming servant. Clever Figaro is valet to Count Almaviva. Figaro plans to marry Susanna, who is maid to Countess Rosina (the Count's wife). Seeming uninterested in his wife, Count Almaviva is sexually harassing Susanna, who informs Figaro. Together, Susanna and Figaro devise a scheme involving disguises to trick the count into making sexual advances toward his own wife. When discovered, the count is contrite and the countess forgiving, with Figaro and Susanna able to move forward with their wedding to create a happy ending.
"The Marriage of Figaro" is difficult to produce because of its many complex demands of cast and production staff.
In his 28th year as artistic director and conductor of Annapolis Opera, Ronald J. Getz clearly knew how to put all aspects of this performance together, from selecting the right singers for all roles to helping them achieve their best. Gretz also conducted the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra to a high degree of operatic excellence so that many subtleties and complexities of the timeless score were realized.
To assist Gretz in his task, stage director Braxton Peters masterfully choreographed the performers' movements to achieve a visual masterpiece that expressed and enhanced the music, while pacing the action swiftly to entertain and amuse the audience consistently throughout the evening.
By the end of Mozart's overture, the audience had every reason to expect an elegant retelling of an 18th-century romance: a young couple about to wed, an older couple rekindling their flame and another couple late to discover their love.
The central role of Figaro was well sung by bass Liam Moran in his Annapolis Opera debut. Skillfully portraying Figaro's wit and good-natured scheming, Moran seemed to grow stronger vocally as the evening progressed so that he went from a rather tepid "Non piu andrai" to more robust singing in later arias. He proved to be a skilled ensemble player as well as convincing in his later scenes when he tricks a gloating Susanna.
Zulimar Lopez-Hernandez as Susanna, also in her Annapolis Opera debut, was a fine match for Moran's Figaro. She displayed a lovely soprano and winning acting skills, especially as she bested Figaro at his own game.
Annapolis Opera favorite Colleen Daly sang the major role of Countess Almaviva, which requires an aristocratic bearing, an ability to convey a sad disenchantment with her husband, an elegant grandeur and mature forbearance. To these qualities must be added an expressive voice to convey the magnificence of justly famous arias like the sad nostalgic "Porgi amor" and "Dove Sono" recalling their golden love. While Daly possessed the needed vocal abilities, she did not quite express the heartache beneath her noble forgiveness.
Annapolis Opera newcomer baritone Troy Cook proved a superb actor and singer as he defined the role of Count Almaviva, an 18th-century nobleman enjoying the privileges of his station without becoming brutish and subtly indicating an underlying regret for his lost feelings for his wife, lending color to his arias.
Mezzo soprano Olivia Vote made an impressive Annapolis Opera debut in the role of love-starved adolescent Cherubino, providing comedy as a young page awkwardly impersonating a girl and memorably singing "Voi che sapete."
Madeleine Gray revealed a compelling mezzo voice and great stage presence along with strong comedic skills as Marcellina. Jessica Abel impressed as Barbarina, and Stephanos Tsirakoglou was outstanding as Bartolo. Andrew Adelsberger sang the role of Antonio.
Annapolis Opera is to be commended for delivering perhaps its most professional production to date. Kudos are due to designer Arne Linquist, for the minimal set with simple Doric columns that could be converted as required for different scenes, and to the always reliable costume designer Lorraine vom Saal, whose creations contributed greatly to the overall excellence of this production.
The fully staged opera production served as the highlight of the Annapolis Opera's 2010-2011 season.