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Le Nozze di Figaro                  Opera Pacific, 2000

David Gregson - Opera News

With the insertion of two or three intermissions, Mozart’s Le Nozze de Figaro is long enough to make jaded opera goers jam the exits before the Act IV garden scene.  But with one twenty-five-minute intermission, a few standard cuts, some cleverly designed mobile sets, and very brisk tempos, the entire playing timeclocks in at a mere three hours.  So Opera Pacific proved…in Segerstrom Hall at the OrangeCounty Performing Arts Center.  Under conductor John DeMain’s nimble direction and with a capable assemblage of skilled ensemble players, this Figaro was so lithe and airy, so swift and funny, so wonderfully sung that only an incurable curmudgeon could complain about its length.

Not at all new to the operas title role, bass-baritone Richard Bernstein proved an engaging, agile presence.  His voice seems to have gained in resonance of late, making his singing more pleasurable than ever.  From “Se vuol ballare” through to the final “Aprite un po' quegli occhi,” he showed a masterful command of vocal line and diction.  Perhaps it was thanks to the influence of stage director Tim Ocel (replacing an ailing Colin Graham) that Bernstein's comic persona never stooped to easy slapstick.  Humanity counted more than shtick.

As Figaro’s intended, soprano Christine Brandes too avoided superfluous comedy, winding up the evening with a meltingly beautiful “Deh! vieni.”  As Cherubino, Israeli mezzo Rinat Shaham threw herself into her trouser role with conviction.  Her “Non so piu” and “Voi che sapete” were radiant.  Meanwhile, physically towering over everybody else in the cast was the strangely lovable Count of baritone John Hancock, whose “Perdono”s were genuinely believable.  Though the voice displayed a woolly quality, his singing was consistently attractive, and he put splendid bite into his Act III “Vedro mentr’iosospiro.”

Marie Plette replaced the originally scheduled Ainhoa Arteta as the Countess. Though experienced in the part, Pierre was the least compelling member of the cast.  In her two big arias— “Porgi amor” and “Dove sono” —she demonstrated considerable technical skill but lacked emotional involvement.  Judith Christinmade a hilarious Marcellina (denied her final aria), Bruce Baumer an amusing though slightly underpowered Bartolo, Matthew Lord a lyrical Basilio (also denied his final aria), Andrew Fernando an agreeably comical gardener and Christine Suhan enchanting Barbarina.  With period costumes and minimalist period sets by Canadian Susan Benson, the scenes blended into one another like lightning, and although the show was not overtly played for laughs, the opening night audience was in stitches through-out.

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