Preview: THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO (Le Nozze di Figaro)
This story will appear in the 12/24 print edition of the Eugene Weekly.
In rehearsal, Marcellina (Margaret Gawrysiak), Figaro (Lee Gregory), Susanna (Joelle Harvey) and Doctor Bartolo (Nicholas Isherwood). Photo by Jeff Ozvold
First Comes Marriage
Eugene Opera opens starry season with one of Mozart's best
The windows are papered over, the day gray and cold. But inside the old Tiffanyâ€™s drugstore in downtown Eugene, the room heats up as the principals of Eugene Operaâ€™s The Marriage of Figaro step into character for rehearsal.
Conductor (and opera music advisor) Andrew Bisantz raises his baton, rehearsal pianist Sandy Holder readies her hands, stage director Nicola Bowie lifts her pen to take notes â€” and six of the main characters burst into a gorgeous sextet. The pros restrain their voices to keep from blasting those of us sitting directly in front of them, but Mozartâ€™s music for Riconosci in questo amplesso una madre (â€œRecognize a mother in this hugâ€) soars around the concrete and glass space.
Preparing for the New Yearâ€™s Eve opening of Figaro means hours of rehearsal with Mozartâ€™s complex music and all of the Italian lyrics, but Mark Beudert, Eugene Operaâ€™s general director, says this yearâ€™s cast couldnâ€™t be better. Theyâ€™re professional, he says, and â€œtheyâ€™re just sharp.â€
Read the rest after the jump!
Figaroâ€™s book and music make a complex but enjoyable piece to watch (and, of course, hear). Beudert says that the principals and chorus must remain alert and engaged at all times. â€œYou always have to think when you do Mozart, and you always have to be alive because heâ€™s always alive,â€ Beudert says, adding that this is a joy rather than a struggle.
Count Almaviva (Christopher Burchett, in rehearsal) isn't happy. Photo by Jeff Ozvold
Figaro, a satire about aristocratic behavior and a nigh-on Shakespearean comedy of mistaken identities, runs the gamut from slapstick to poignant meditations on aging and the loss of love. Figaro serves as the head of staff to the perfidious Count Almaviva, and various characters set into motion the sexual machinations of a debauched 18th-century household. Secret notes, daring last-minute escapes and more make the plot nervewrackingly ridiculous, something like a modern movie farce but with incredible music. â€œPeople should come in wanting to be entertained,â€ Beudert says.
Much of that entertainment flows from the skills of the principals, who move nimbly among scenes, know their blocking cold and seem perfectly comfortable acting, singing and dancing as I watch rehearsal.
Those principals include soprano Kelly Kaduce as the most sympathetic character of all, Countess Almaviva. Kaduce, a rising star in the tight-knit opera world, performed in Portland Operaâ€™s La Boheme in September, and Oregonian classical music critic David Stabler wrote, â€œIt was Kelly Kaduce, who sang Mimi with gorgeous, open lyricism, who made the magic happen.â€ Lee Gregory plays Figaro, and those who attended last Marchâ€™s Don Giovanni will remember Gregory as an excellent Leporello (heâ€™s also married to Kaduce, which didnâ€™t hurt in the recruiting process). Baritone Christopher Burchett (Masetto in Marchâ€™s Don Giovanni) plays a fit, tightly wound Count, whose jealousy, desire and regret consume him. Rounding out the list: Eugene Opera faves Joelle Harvey as Susanna and Amanda Crider as Cherubino, popular and funny character singer Jason Ferrante, UO prof and early music expert Nicholas Isherwood, Glimmerglass and Seattle Opera Young Artist Margaret Gawrysiak and local faves Sandy Naishtat and Brooke Cagno.
Kelly Kaduce, who sings Countess Almaviva, relaxes and studies the score with her pup when she's not in a scene. Photo by Jeff Ozvold
For those with kids, the Eugene Opera has a special Jan. 2 performance called â€œFigaro for the Family,â€ in which young ones can learn the plot and hear a little bit of the music as well as details about the set, costumes, blocking and more before intermission. After intermission, the full cast comes out to give the kids a rousing finish with Act IV, when all of the couples find some way to reunite in the Countâ€™s garden. Tickets to the family performance wonâ€™t break the bank at $18 for adults and $9 for children.
Though the full opera can be rather long â€” the UOâ€™s performance at LCC a few years ago tested audience patience with three lengthy intermissions â€” Beudert says director Bowie and conductor Bisantz know how to tighten everything up. After a run-through on Dec. 20, Beudert says, â€œthe report was 2 hours and 59 minutes with a 25-minute intermission.â€
Considering the number and range of arias (like Non piÃ¹ andrai, familiar from many cartoons but still splendid) and recitatives, not to mention the complexity of the story, that run time signals an exceptionally tight show. The music begins with a welcome familiarity: Most of the audience will know Figaroâ€™s overture from countless movies and TV shows, not to mention high school symphony programs.
Familiar local faces line the chorus, and Beudert makes a point to say that the Eugene Opera feels â€œvery conscious of our place in the community.â€ At rehearsal, as stage manager Christopher Staub fixes a fan for one performer, staples up paper and answers questions from everyone, the rains begin outside, but the performers stay warm and focused on their task. â€œThe process is just the way I like it, no hysteria,â€ Beudert says, â€œand the product is great.â€
The Eugene Opera performs The Marriage of Figaro in Italian with English supertitles at 7:30 pm Thursday, Dec. 31, and 2:30 pm Sunday, Jan. 3; Figaro for the Family begins at 2:30 pm Saturday, Jan. 2. All performances at the Hult Center, www.hultcenter.org or 682-5000. $26-$69 for the opera; $18 and $9 for Figaro for the Family.
And for your delectation, online only, some of the famous arias from Figaro:
Bryn Terfel as Figaro singing Non piÃ¹ andrai
And a duet Shawshank Redemption fans will recognize, Sull'aria - Che soave zefiretto: