Review: Opera San Jose ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ well done and enjoyable, plus a future star discovery!

Opera San Jose: The Marriage of Figaro
Opera San Jose: The Marriage of Figaro
In Review

The Marriage of Figaro

Opera San Jose (California Theatre)
www.operasj.org
Review by

Opera San Jose: The Marriage of Figaro
Opera San Jose: The Marriage of Figaro

First, some quotes about jealousy:

“Jealousy in romance is like salt in food.  A little can enhance the savor, but too much can spoil the pleasure and, under certain circumstances, can be life-threatening.”
–Maya Angelou

“O jealousy! thou magnifier of trifles.”
— Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller

“O! beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.”

— William Shakespeare, Othello

“The ear of jealousy heareth all things.”
— The Bible

Last night I attended the opening night for Opera San Jose’s production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.  Having attended one previous performance by Opera San Jose (La Cenerentola – review posted here) on a Sunday matinee, I was expecting a fairly casual crowd.  Instead I was impressed by the festive mood, the tremendous buzz in the California Theatre lobby (complete with a live organ performance), and especially by how well-dressed the opera-goers were – with more than a few men in black tie and women in regal dress.

Nice to see the South Bay puttin’ on the Ritz.

Figaro is an opera buffa (“comic opera”) and this production certainly delivered in terms of laughs (ranging from chuckles to full-blown roars from the audience), but the central theme of jealousy pervades the plot throughout.  There is, of course, a happy ending, but not after 4 acts of check-your-logic-meter-at-the-door plot twists that create an endless series of comic situations predicated on the unavoidable behavior patterns of the main characters motivated by jealousy, or the opportunity to tease and test those characters’ jealousy.

About the company

From www.operasj.org: “Opera San José is a professional, regional opera company that is unique in the United States. Maintaining a resident company of principal artists, this company specializes in showcasing the finest young professional singers in the nation. Featuring fresh, new talents in the first years of their careers, Opera San José’s performances are always dramatically stimulating and vocally accomplished.”  This reviewer feels compelled to point this out as it helps set audience expectations vis à vis national- and international-level opera companies (such as SF Opera one hour to the north) – this is an organization dedicated to developing the next generation of opera stars – giving them ample performance opportunity (a standing company of resident artists with generous distribution of lead roles, plus two different solo casts per production) – which is so critical in the development of opera performers.  It’s not unusual for a performance to showcase a wide range of talent and experience, and thus one is likely to be both delighted and perhaps a little disappointed by some of the performers, and last night was no exception.

Act I

Figaro, sung by Brian Leerhuber, opened the opera well with good stage presence and a rich and clear baritone voice.  Susanna, sung by Khori Dastoor, who also has a nice presence, disappointed immediately with an underwhelming light soprano voice.  Leerhuber and Dastoor interacted with a healthy dose of humorous chemistry and interplay which held up throughout all four acts, but this reviewer was consistently unimpressed with Dastoor’s singing, almost to the point of wondering if she was under the weather.  The cavatina “Se vuol ballare, Signor Contino” (“If you want to dance, my little Count”) was well-delivered, with good acting by Figaro and Susanna, some cute staging and creative use of a blanket as a prop, with Figaro cleverly turning the blanket into an effigy of Count Almaviva.

Silas Elash, singing the role of Dr. Bartolo, projected a full rich bass/baritone voice, and his aria “La Vendetta” (“Vengeance”) was quite well performed.  But the stage was suddenly taken over by the entrance of Rebecca Davis, singing the role of Countess Almaviva.  Davis’ enormous voice, with tremendous dynamic control (from full-throttle fortes to soft but in-control sotto voce) literally blew the rest of the cast (especially Susanna) off the stage.

Cherubino, the page boy, is a part written for mezzo-soprano, meaning it’s sung by a woman playing a libidinous adolescent boy, and was sung last night by Betany Coffland.  This reviewer found her voice big but somewhat pinched in her mid-to-upper registers, with a tendency to occasionally sing sharp.  Because of Susanna’s underpowered voice, their duet recitative was out of balance, with Cherubino’s lower part overpowering Susanna’s melody line.

Count Almaviva, sung by Krassen Karagiozov, was performed with the full and dark presence the role demands, and Karagiozov sang with a full, round, and impressive baritone voice.  I was struck by the strength of the baritone soloists in last night’s production, as it has been my experience that the baritone voice part is usually the hardest to hear above sopranos and tenors in almost any production.  Perhaps they were benefiting from the lack of any tenor solo parts in Mozart’s score, and also by the relative weakness of Susanna’s voice.

Act II

Act Two opens with a cavatina duet between the Countess and Susanna, in which the Countess sings a memorable and quotable line: “That is the way of modern husbands: on principle unfaithful, by nature fickle,  and by pride all jealous. But if Figaro loves you … Only he could.”  This produced quite a chuckle from the audience, and fairly summarizes many of the themes of the opera.  This is also when Rebecca Davis’ control most impressed this reviewer – there were many sections where she was able to transition from forte to sotto voce with impressive technical control and dramatic effect.

As the plot develops, Cherubino reluctantly submits to being dressed as a woman by Susanna.  I found the staging and acting in this scene a little too cute and slapstick, although much of the audience found it entertaining.  On the other hand, I found the special lighting effects used during some of the ensemble numbers (trios, quartets, etc.) to be quite effective – main stage lights brought down with highlight spots on the soloists.  Act II ends with a septet and is an excellent example of the brilliance of Mozart’s writing, in which all 7 characters are singing in musical ensemble, but their characters are expressing completely different sentiments in line with the plot and their characters’ motivations.   Susanna, the Countess, and Figaro sing “I’m confounded, I’m shocked, desperate, stunned” while the Count and his 3 allies sing “What good fortune, what happy chance!”

Act III

Act III features a recitative/aria by Count Almaviva with the closing line “only the hope of my vengeance consoles this spirit and makes me rejoice” and Karagiozov delivered it powerfully and memorably.  Don Curzio (the judge, sung by Michael Mendelsohn) provided some entertaining comic acting.  Following the somewhat ridiculous plot twist in which it is discovered that Figaro is actually the child of his two major nemeses, the sextet “My soul can barely stand” was also memorably performed, and is another excellent example of Mozart’s ensemble contrasts – one trio sings “my soul can barely stand to resist the sweet content of this moment” while the other sings “my soul can barely stand to resist the fiery torments of this moment”.

By far the highlight of the entire evening was Rebecca Davis’ (the Countess’) performance of the aria ”

Dove sono i bei momenti” (“Where are the beautiful moments”.  Davis deservedly received the loudest and longest ovation during the entire opera, and also during the curtain calls.  Opera fans – take note – Davis will be going places!

Act IV

Act IV opened with the most visually impressive set of the evening – the garden outside the Count’s villa.  As is usual in comedic opera, the plot lines accelerate to their happy-ending conclusions, but there are some very amusing and entertaining (albeit predictable) moments along the way.  Leerhuber (Figaro) performed the aria “Aprite un po’ quegl’occhi” (“Open your eyes a little”) impressively – the strongest scene for Leerhuber of the evening.   The opera ends with a full ensemble singing “Ah, all will now be happy…  And to the sound of gay music let us all run to celebrate!”

All in all a truly enjoyable evening, with several memorable high points (especially the opportunity to see and hear Rebecca Davis and Krassen Karagiozov).  I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys opera, or wants to discover this marvelous art form.

Reviewer’s note: The opera is in 4 acts, with 3 intermissions (only a short scene change break between Acts III and IV).  Opening curtain to final curtain call is a little over 3 1/2 hours long, so plan your time and bathroom breaks accordingly!

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  • Mike

    A friendly tip for your next review… If you don’t care for somebody’s voice, or performance, or whatever, it’s only necessary to mention it once. Coming back to it time and again just makes you look mean.

  • Mike

    A friendly tip for your next review… If you don’t care for somebody’s voice, or performance, or whatever, it’s only necessary to mention it once. Coming back to it time and again just makes you look mean.

  • Andrew

    While Mr. Lee is more than welcome to his own opinion, repeated jabs at only one cast member are not only mean but amateurish. Perhaps Mr. Lee is wearing a few too many self-appointed hats. Meaningful criticism requires more than a weak synopsis.

  • Andrew

    While Mr. Lee is more than welcome to his own opinion, repeated jabs at only one cast member are not only mean but amateurish. Perhaps Mr. Lee is wearing a few too many self-appointed hats. Meaningful criticism requires more than a weak synopsis.

  • Chuck

    Eugene is right about Dastoor being a bit weak, especially to start. But give him a break… he gave her the out of being under the weather.

    I was at this same performance and the same thoughts ran through my head… the performance was not yet balanced. But this performance did have some of the best staging and acting that I’ve ever seen in a Figaro. I loved that and would recommend it to anyone new to opera. Figaro is a great opera to start one’s love of opera, and I would recommend it to anyone in San Jose. Not perfect, but no performance ever is.

  • Chuck

    Eugene is right about Dastoor being a bit weak, especially to start. But give him a break… he gave her the out of being under the weather.

    I was at this same performance and the same thoughts ran through my head… the performance was not yet balanced. But this performance did have some of the best staging and acting that I’ve ever seen in a Figaro. I loved that and would recommend it to anyone new to opera. Figaro is a great opera to start one’s love of opera, and I would recommend it to anyone in San Jose. Not perfect, but no performance ever is.

  • Hbfuture1

    l must say that your voice is an exciting commentary with great intellect and pleases one soul when reading the variety of descriptive words about each play, each act and each performer. You have that very special ability with pinpoint accuracy in allowing us, the reader to feel the tenor, the mood, the thrill and wonders that these actors are able to give us on the stage.
    Thank you much for delivering such clarity and visual feeling of their work. It is this kind of critique that enlightens us to desire to go and see such great performances. I and others can rely on your wonderful input to motivate our return each time to see history’s making at the S.J. Opera.

    Sincerely,
    Henry Boisvert

  • Lauralqu

    Mr Lee,

    Nice to know another Patriot from the great MA area is also spread out to the western region of the US. I come from another small town of Agawam and somehow the origins of our statehood still permeate to rest of America that give a small but constant support of our freedoms in speech starting with the Boston Tea Party.
    Thanks once again for your insightful commentary.

    HB