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Mozart is, beyond a doubt, one of the most popular composers in history.
Based upon the frequency with which The Santa Fe Opera stages The Marriage of Figaro, it would seem that audiences in Santa Fe agree.
This year marks the seventeenth time this particular opera has been staged, which is more than any other Mozart opera. This poses a particular challenge for everyone involved: Preserve the opera’s integrity while making it memorable. The opening night’s performance, judging by the audience’s reaction, lived up to that challenge.
To start, the stage is set up as a field of flowers, and its simplicity is beautiful. As the opera progresses to the second and third acts, the staging feels slightly cramped and a little static. This is only temporary, as the backdrop and staging in the fourth act are just right and set off the ending music perfectly.
The orchestra is the star of the night. From the first notes of the overture to the very end of the opera, there is not a misstep in the pit, or at least nothing apparent to the audience. The conductor, John Nelson, has a very distinctive style, and it brings out lovely contrasting dynamics and full tones.
This cast does an admirable job with Mozart’s material. The acting skills are first-rate, and the singing is enjoyable. There were several instances where the singers didn’t sound as though they were at the same place as the orchestra and conductor; however, they caught up and the second half was much smoother than the first half. It also seems that the stage is a bit of an obstacle course for the singers. There was some tripping, and an instance where Susanna hit her head on part of the stage. She did a great job incorporating it into her acting, but it looked painful.
Lisette Oropesa and Zachary Nelson, this production’s Susanna and Figaro, do a charming job together, as do Marcellina and Doctor Bartolo (Susanne Mentzer and Dale Travis). The couples are good foils for each other, and their voices work well separately and as a group. The Countess, Susanna Phillips, is appealing, and does nice work with what is an extremely difficult role. Count Almaviva, who is sung by Daniel Okulitch, is wonderful. He absorbs his character, and gives him depth. His voice is dark and full, while being resonant and audible from top to bottom. Emily Fons, as Cherubino, is perfection. Her Cherubino is believable, without ever going overboard, and her awkward goofiness is engaging. Fons’ voice is flexible and brilliant.
Overall, this is a lovely production with just a few minor hiccups. The Marriage of Figaro is an opera every opera-lover should see at least once, and Santa Fe’s production is definitely worth attending. This opera is a bit long, at around three and a half hours, but the music is so gorgeous, it’s easy to forget everything else and just sit back and enjoy.