Sunday, February 16, 2003

A nearly flawless 'Marriage'

Opera review

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Amid the intrigue, mistaken identities, cross dressing and misplaced punches in Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro performed at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music Thursday night, there was also the element of disbelief - that this was a student production.

The sold-out audience in Patricia Corbett Theater often laughed out loud. But behind the hilarious comedy, what shone through was the wise assessment of human nature by Mozart and his librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte.

Only occasionally in the youthful cast were we reminded that these were novice singers - a moment of stiff acting or a small vocal wobble. But their overall accomplishment (I heard one of two different casts) and skillful musical and stage direction added up to masterful performance of this timeless opera.

It was no fluke that the largest applause of the evening went to conductor Xian Zhang, whose stunning musical direction from the pit propelled the action and infused it with life, even as she seamlessly supported the singers.

The Overture was lithe, pointed and scurrying, with just the right amount of breathless quality. (It was played while Susanna had a little pantomime with her wedding dress.) Throughout the evening, Zhang's tempos had momentum, her musicians performed well and the coordination between stage and pit was near perfect.

The operatic version of Beaumarchais' play is the tale of the philandering Count Almaviva (Nathan Petersen-Kindem) who wishes to take advantage of the "droit du signeur," the right to sleep with a servant before she marries another servant - in this case Susanna (Deborah Selig) and Figaro (Michael Todd Simpson).

Simpson's Figaro was charismatic; he ignited the stage with a magnificent baritone that was smooth, even when rolling around on his bed with Susanna. He sang with imagination, power and wit in his Act I "Se vuol ballare," and the humorous "Non piu andrai." His Act IV aria, "Aprite un po' quegl' occhi," warning men about women, had great feeling, as he clutched his heart and sank to the ground.

Selig made a striking Susanna, emanating sweet purity while projecting a luscious lyric voice. Her Act IV aria, "Deh vieni, non tardar," was a breathtaking moment.

Equally effective was Petersen-Kindem's Count; his Act III duet was a high point as he tried to seduce Susanna over a chessboard. As the Countess, Katelyn Mattson's finest moment was "Dove sono," tinged with bittersweet resignation.

In her Cincinnati debut, guest director Paula Williams handled comedic touches deftly and staged with imagination. Cherubino, wonderfully portrayed by Laura Lendman, was a horny adolescent who caressed a pillow in his first act aria about his crushes ("Non so piu cosa son") and necked with Barbarina (Susan Jean Hellman) under Figaro's nuptial bed.

The strong cast included Adam Schulz (Bartolo), who sang an impressive "La vendetta," Brocha Evans, a properly annoying Marcellina, and Eric Schmidt, a sleazy Don Basilio.

The Marriage of Figaro repeats at 2:30 p.m. today. Tickets: 556-4183.


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