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Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” at SF Opera

“The Marriage of Figaro” at SF Opera

Carol Benet

One of the longest (three hours, 45 minutes) and most complicated plots of any opera, the purely enjoyable and amusing “The Marriage of Figaro” plays at the San Francisco Opera through November 1.  This production is a delight.

Starting with the famous overture, the excellent SF Opera Orchestra, so well-conducted by Henrik Nánási, the fun begins when the clever curtain raises.  The curtain design is in itself a wonder as it replicates the architectural designs of an 18th century manor house as is is being designed.  All lines are moveable.  Erhard Ram’s mansion was inspired by plans from early American estates in the post-revolutionary era where this version takes place.  

The opera opens when Figaro (Michael Samuel) is measuring for the decoration of the inside of the mansion.  He is counting out the meters singing “Uno, due …” while his fiancée 

Susanna (Jeanine De Bique) tries to get his attention.  She wants to warn him that Count Almaviva (Levente Molnár), is after her because he demands his “Droit de Seigneur”, the right to de-flower the bride under his command before her husband does.  And this is all the plot you really need to know.  The rest is window dressing with mix-ups of characters hiding in bushes and attempts to foil the Count in his pursuit.  In four acts there is mayhem until the happy and predictable ending.  

Susanna tells Figaro not to make their room so accessible to the Count. And Figaro, being much in charge here, makes little of her warnings.  A subplot emerges when Rosina, the Countess (Nicole Heaston), tells , her maid Suzanne that she is heartbroken because the Count no longer loves her.  

And with these simple dilemmas, Mozart creates some of the most beautiful music of longing, unhappiness as well as pleasure and amusement.  Mozart has combinations of duets, trios, quartets, quintets, sextets that are so gorgeously constructed no matter what the emotion desired, that fun from comedy to pathos.  The comic element of the opera rests with the secondary characters.  Cherubino sung by the wonderful Serena Malfi expresses her youthful love for the Countess. The comical Bartolo (James Cresswell) has a vendetta against Figaro, the portly Marcellina (Catherine Cook) and the music teacher Basilio (Greg Fedderly) chase Figaro for different reasons making this a very lively merry-go-round thanks to Lawrence Pech’s choreography and Mozart’s music. In the fourth act the servant Barbarina (Natalie Image) sings a convincing area as she cannot find the pin the Count gives her to deliver to Susanna  A chorus of workers and servants conducted by Ian Robertson also adds to the confusion.

Jane Cox’s lighting keeps the stage bright.  Constance Hoffman’s  costumes from the period in which the original play was written in 1778 by Beaumarchais and they are elegant and perfect for approximately  the same time period in the American Post Revolutionary War era.  The SF Opera will stage three operas in the trilogy by Mozart and his librettist Da Ponte,  “Figaro” is the first and the others, “Cosi fan tutte” and “Don Giovanni” follow in the next two seasons.

The SF Opera has done a fine job with this very popular and gorgeous opera with music that ranges from the most heartrending to the completely comic.  Tickets SFOpera.com or 415 864 3330 .

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