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Le Nozze di Figaro                  Opera Pacific, 2000

Timothy Mangan - The Orange County Register

Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro,which opened at Opera Pacific for a four-performance run Tuesday night, is the last opera that needs updating or directorial decoration.  It feels contemporary already.  The servants are smarter than their masters; the women are smarter than the men.

What’s more, the love felt by these characters seems of our time as well.  Not for them the all-consuming love of Tristan and Isolde or Tosca with their suicides and murders and love potions.  No, their love is of the kind we can understand, the kind real people feel.  The love in Figaro is realistically impure, besmirched with true-life inequities and impulses, and the characters must make the best of it.  With little variation, we have all behaved as the characters in Figaro do.

That is the beauty of Opera Pacific’s production.  It trusts us to get it.  One could call the production, which originated at the Banff Festival and is directed here by Tim Ocel, straightforward, even plain, but that wouldn't do it justice. Call it elegantly simple andquietly understanding.

There is at once no obscuring of the characters’ motives or making them into a bigger deal than they are.

Nothing is made to stand for something else; the men scheme for sex, the women fight for fidelity, everyone operates in his own interest.  The servants here are not only always one step ahead but also pretty much on equal footing with their superiors.  Thus, thankfully, the moral tone is lighter.   Judgment isn't passed. Lubitsch could have directed this.

Another advantage to this approach is that it never obscures Mozart’s music, which just happens to be pretty good. Indeed— gasp! —it often even illuminates it.  (There is a wonderful moment, for instance, near the end of Act 2, when the trio of baddies strut gleefully at the turn of events, just as Mozart's music does.)

The excellent cast—perhaps taking cue—forge a true ensemble and stay within their roles.  John DeMain and the orchestra follow like shadows in the pit, and (again) sound terrific.  The cast is, exceptionally deep, too.  One can take real delight in the minor characters here, the slimy Don Basilio of Matthew Lord, the sugary Barbarina of Christine Suh, the vibrant Antonio of Andrew Fernando.

The principals are characterized by freshness of voice, confident acting and unselfish singing.  Richard Bernstein, a veteran of the role at the Met and the Lyric Opera of Chicago, sets the tone with his Figaro, singing tidily and rhythmically, with firm diction and a radiant baritone.  He never pushes the part into buffo caricature or, puts himself before the music or the other singers.

Christine Brandes, a memorable presence in Mark Morris’ Orfeo et Euridice a few years back, brings crystalline vocalism and grace to Susanna and a light touch to her superiority.

Marie Plette fought some momentary battles with intonation in the Countess’ two bigarias, but generally produced shining and expressive lyricism.  Rinat Shaham provided a feather light but properly urgent Cherubino, and her bubbly stage presence proved winning.  John Hancock portrayed a towering, gently mellifluous Count. Bruce Baumer and Judith Christin were the engaging Dr. Bartolo and Marcellina.

DeMain attended to a swiftly tempoed and tautly phrased performance in the pit, filled to the brim with discovered details.  He caressed this music, leaned and eased up and floated with it as if it were his dancing partner.  Great stuff.

But he also coaxed teamwork.  When the famous finale to Act 2 (typically regarded as one of the greater moments inWestern music) got going it was on all cylinders, voices and instruments and pacing in perfect balance.

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