Marriage of Figaro, LA Opera

Written by:
Karen Weinstein
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Renata Pokupic (left) and Daniel Okulitch in LAOpera’s “Marriage of Figaro”

The Marriage of Figaro

By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte
Conducted by Plácido Domingo
Directed by Ian Judge
LAOpera, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Through Oct. 17, 2010
(See video clip below.)

“The Marriage of Figaro” has been called a warhorse. As with many other warhorses, there are reasons it is so frequently performed. The music is glorious, the story (though convoluted) is entertaining, and most importantly “Figaro” is accessible to broad audiences. No one need have an MFA to experience the pleasures. The danger with such a familiar opera is that companies may take it for granted and put forth less than creative productions. LAOpera has steered clear of that pitfall with a fresh and charming production that is loaded with talent.

Mozart was 30 when he composed “Figaro.” The lust and exuberance of youth are clearly on view at the Chandler. Best of all is Renata Pokupic as Cherubino. Not only is mezzo Pokupic the best Cherubino I have seen, she raises the bar for trouser roles in general. In addition to her delightful voice and phrasing, she flawlessly portrays a male adolescent bewitched and bedeviled by his burgeoning sexuality. She walks the thin line between farce and slapstick with perfect balance. Martina Serafin as Countess Almaviva adds a level of gravitas to what is otherwise opera buffa. Her rich soprano and imposing presence imbue the Countess with a sense that she is a woman who truly loves and has been scorned.  

This week there are three cast changes, the most prominent of which is Rebekah Camm taking over as Susanna, the young servant who is cleverly trying to avoid Count Almaviva’s scheme to exercise the droit de seigneur–which, by the way, he had previously abolished. Camm is replacing Marlis Petersen as  Susanna; Petersen is one of those singers who has it all and is a hard act to follow. Camm does not immediately strike one as the likely casting for the part of an alluring young woman. The contrast with the handsome, strutting Daniel Okulitch (Figaro) and Bo Skovhus (Count Almaviva) does not help. However, after taking a few minutes to find her voice, she became a credible Susanna. Director Ian Judge’s interpretation of  “The Marriage of Figaro” is much more athletic or active than many others. Camm cavorts with the lightness and exuberance of a much more sylph-like Susanna.   

Judge has eschewed the 18th-century setting for a more recent time that is not quite defined.  Telephones whose design is circa 1960’s sit bedside and on Count Almaviva’s desk, which in turn is adorned with a framed photograph. Figaro paints the bridal chamber a vivid red using a twentieth century paint roller, and women wear skirts and dresses that were described as ballerina length in the 1950’s. To top off the evening, the final scene in the garden is partially illuminated by cast members carrying flashlights. In spite of the many modern touches, you cannot really say that this is an updating to what has been termed “mid-century.” Serfs are costumed in trousers with leggings, and celebrating men from the village are in jodhpurs, all of which seems more in tune with the 18th-century palace setting. To further confuse matters Skovhus struts in wearing an open, modern bathrobe revealing his very credible physique, and later wears what I understand to be a fascist officer’s dress uniform. The question becomes: does it matter that the production’s style is anachronism piled on anachronism? Given that the story is absurd, and the sets are simple but lush and enjoyable to view, the anachronisms probably do not matter. However, is meaning added by this mishmash of styles and eras? That is a harder question. Strict constructionist or not, no one could argue with the display of real fireworks in the garden at the end of Act IV. It is a showstopper, or shall we say, “show ender.”

“Figaro” is often performed with several arias deleted. If there is a bone to pick with this production it is that the combined Act III and IV after the intermission seems very long. Following the first half, with its magnificent finale, the second begins to drag. Never mind, the fireworks will get your attention, and the finale will not disappoint. The bottom line is that LAOpera’s current production of “The Marriage of Figaro” is a delight. If you are not too jaded to see yet another “Figaro,” go and enjoy. You will, I promise.

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