The Kentucky Opera continues its season with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Opera Buffo Classic The Marriage of Figaro at the W. L. Lyons Brown Theatre, sans the accompaniment of the Louisville Orchestra. The ongoing dispute between the Orchestra and its members’ Union has the Opera’s leaders choosing to forego the use of them this time around, and the result is an evening of fun, frolic and surprising intimacy.
The plot synopsis of Figaro, if we were to draw it out, might resemble an ink blot test. We have disguise, deception, feudal rights, manipulations, letters, secret trysts in the garden, weddings, double weddings, triple weddings, missing children, found parents! The sets, sumptuously designed by Eric Allgeier, are awhirl with the machinations of a cast of characters – clad in stunning Baroque couture designed by Howard Tsvi Kaplan – that spin the story of the happy-go-lucky former Barber of Seville, now valet to the Count Almaviva, Figaro. Carlos Manzon plays the titular role with just the right amount of silliness; and his love for his fiancé and maid to the Countess, Susanna (Anya Matanovic), is a joy to watch as the trials and tribulations unfold throughout the evening. Ms. Matanovic is simply beautiful. Gifted with a soprano voice that is at once like silk and steel, Ms. Matanovic is enchanting. I cannot say enough about her presence and command as well as her comic timing.
These two are enmeshed in a love-web that tangles and untangles throughout the evening, with a crew of wonderfully played Buffo characters who, down to the last chorus member, delight and take full advantage of their time on stage.
Dr. Bartolo (Paul Corona) and Marcellina (Cindy Sadler) are priceless as the conniving pair bent on getting Figaro. The farcical revelation is a highlight. As Count Almaviva, Kelly Markgraf is the perfect foil for Manzon and Matanovic, as his braggart, Lothario-ways are thwarted at every turn. All are strong in voice, showing that Kentucky Opera does not scrimp on getting the best available talent in Opera today.
As the strong supporting cast is made up of Kentucky Opera Studio Artists, you would expect a drop off in talent and presence. If you expect that you will be completely wrong. This group of young singers is probably the best from top to bottom that I’ve seen in my years of watching the opera. Ryan Connelly (Don Basilio) is strong; Noel Bouley (Antonio) has magnificent presence, and it’s fun to watch his inebriated stumblings; and Abigail Paschke (Barbarina) is lovely and silly. Chorus stalwart James Butterfield is bumped to do a wonderful job as the lawyer Don Curzio.
Besides the voice and presence of Matanovic, there are two others who really make this production one that I won’t forget for some time. Ms. Claire Shackleton, also a Studio Artist, assumes the role of Cherubino, a page in love with the Countess Rosina. Ms. Shackleton delivers a spot-on performance with a superb mix of boyish puppy love and comic timing that is text book. I loved her! If she and her fellow studio artist Abigail Plaschke are the future of the Opera world, then it is in good hands.
That brings us to Ms. Yunah Lee, who last year bedazzled us with her sublime Madame Butterfly. This time around, Ms. Lee again triumphs in the role of the heart-broken Rosina, Countess Almaviva. Her offerings of “Porgi, amor, qualche ristoro”and“Dove sono i bei momenti”are strong and palpable. Her voice, along with that Ms. Matanovic, is captivating.
Of course none of this would be worth talking about without the sensational direction of Ms. Lillian Groag, whose deft use of the stage, comic sensibility and razor-sharp eye for picture is evident in every scene. It is the best use of a chorus I’ve ever seen.
This incredible cast, along with the director and designers, were supported by three artists in the pit of whom special note must be given. Joseph Mechavich (Conductor and Harpsichord) along with Repetiteuse Lisa Hasson and Pianist Sheldon Miller accompanied on piano and harpsichord, which made for a night in the theatre to remember.
Due to the monetary necessity of going without a full orchestra, Kentucky Opera has presented us with a scaled-down accompaniment that, despite its economy, manages to fully capture the heart of this piece. It is funny, heart-felt and intimate. I felt as if I was in the drawing room of some European mansion, where this stellar production was being performed just for me.
Tim & Dair Mathistad
Katie & Chris Haulter
Kathy Todd Chaney
Angie Reed Garner