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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Unusually Fine Figaro

Florentine Opera’s Near-Perfect Finale

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The Florentine Opera’s season finale, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, was an unqualified delight. Not only was it a tribute to this gentlest of the great composers, but a reminder that the tendency to “reinvent” operatic masterpieces can often diminish them. The Florentines offered a lovely production with beautiful costumes and eye-catching 18th-century settings, allowing an unusually fine cast to breathe fresh life into this delicately hued work. Superbly coordinated, perfectly balanced ensemble performances allowed the audience to savor what otherwise might have been just another historically revered “period piece.”

There were minor caveats, barely distracting. As Figaro, Daniel Belcher took a while to warm up vocally, and sweet-voiced Diana McVey, as the Countess, seemed somewhat restrained initially, but came though with a touching, carefully nuanced performance. Jamie-Rose Guarrine, as Susanna, and hunky Craig Verm, as Count Almaviva, with his huge bass-baritone, were perfect in every respect. Adriana Zabala, as Cherubino, was delightful, handling the sex change costuming with easy aplomb. In secondary roles, Matthew Lau as Bartolo, Frank Kelley as Basilio and especially Jenni Bank’s full-bodied, booming soprano as Marcellina more than challenged the principals.

The uniformity of excellence as well as the light-hearted rapport with which this cast consistently played together made Mozart’s third act mistaken identity tomfoolery seem more charming and less nonsensical. It set the tone for the moving finale—Mozart’s touch of forgiveness. Supertitles (which sometimes failed) accompanied by harpsichord continuo during scene changes were used creatively to explain and further the story line. Much credit is due to stage manager Lesley Stone and the outstanding performance of the Milwaukee Symphony under Joseph Rescigno. Mozart's “day of madness” so charmingly performed by the Florentines serves as a model of wistfulness for gentler bygone times.