Review: ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ at San Francisco Opera (***)

by Charles Kruger
Rating: ***
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

Philippe Sly as Figaro and Lisette Oropesa as Susanna. Photo Credit: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
Philippe Sly as Figaro and Lisette Oropesa as Susanna. Photo Credit: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

“The Marriage of Figaro” is one of those operas popularly described as a “war horse.” Since its debut in 1786, it is one of the most-produced operas in the repertoire, and a soaring example of Mozart’s towering genius. On the surface, a light comedy of love, the original play was, at the time of its debut, a revolutionary attack on the morals and corruption of the courtly upper class. A play that made fun of the morals of a Count was by no means a matter of indifference in 18th century Europe.

So, “The Marriage of Figaro” is a work of genius and of significant historical import, but also, like many classics, a work that can suffer from over-familiarity and conventionality in performance. The present production is suitably entertaining, with some exceptional moments, especially in the staging and in the comic acting, but is not outstanding overall, with uneven orchestral work and adequate but undistinguished vocal performances.

The most striking strength of this production is the elegant movement and comic gesturing of the actors. Director Robin Guarino has staged everything with great fluidity, and with such close attention to the music that at times it seems almost like a dance, successfully so. Particularly delightful is the incorporation of percussive sounds, perfectly timed to the music, as the actors stomp feet, drop objects, bang doors and otherwise emote with comic gusto. Guarino makes wonderful use of the set, which incorporates various beds and closets, and the staging is often funny enough to provoke loud laughter. Fight master Dave Maier has staged fisticuffs that are both convincing and wonderfully laughable.

Three performances stand out for comic excellence: As Count Almaviva, Luca Pisaroni has just the right sort of preening physicality that befits restoration comedy and John Del Carlo demonstrates great expertise in  opera buffa in both his acting and singing as Dr. Bartolo. Best of all, though, is Catherine Cook’s hilarious Marcellina (a role in which she is justly celebrated). Her every movement, even a subtle nod of the head, is an occasion for laughter.

Mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook is particularly hilarious as Marcellina. Photo Credit: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera.
Mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook is particularly hilarious as Marcellina. Photo Credit: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera.

Nadine Sierra as Countess Almaviva achieves the musical high point of this production in her rendition of the lovely aria, Porgi amor, singing of her disappointment in the Count’s infidelities. It is unfortunate that the rest of the vocal performances do not match this high standard.

Opera fans will find plenty of pleasure in this “Marriage,” but will realize that it could be very much better.

“The Marriage of Figaro” plays at the War Memorial Opera House through July 5th. For further information, click here.

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“The Marriage of Figaro” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, libretty by Lorenzo Da Ponte, based on the play by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. Director: Robin Guarino. Conductor: Patrick Summers. Lighting Designer: Gary Marder. Chorus Director: Ian Robertson. Fight Director: Dave Maier. Assistant Conductor: Dennis Doubin. Costume Supervisor: Jai Altizer. Wig and Makeup Designer: Jeanna Parham.

Figaro: Philippe Sly. Susanna: Lisette Oropesa. Dr. Bartolo: John Del Carlo. Marcellina: Catherine Cook. Cherubino: Kate Lindsey/Angela Browser (on 6/29, 7/3 and 7/5). Count Almaviva: Luca Pisaroni. Dan Basilio: Greg Fedderly. Countess Almaviva: Nadine Sierra. Antonio: Bojan Knežević. Barbarina: Maria Valdes. Don Curzio: John Easterlin. First bridesmaid: Virginia Pluth. Second bridesmaid: Erin Neff. 

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