LE MARRIAGE DE FIGARO at Opera San José transports the action to India’s colorful north
Opera San José’s vibrant new production of Mozart’s perennial audience favorite Figaro’s wedding delivers a host of delights, including a pair of bright central performances and a stage awash with color. The latter is courtesy of resetting the opera to northern India, rather than Spain, though a reference to a character’s banishment to Seville seems to fake that point. The change of location is enhanced by the cast of many singers of Asian descent and is temperamentally in tune with the opera, as Mozart’s effervescent music and DaPonte’s amorous libretto seem to lead organically to the Bollywood-style dance number. which concludes the production. Beyond the inclusion of some traditional Indian dances and embedded cultural references (e.g. cricket bats appear during an Act I tune for Figaro), this is actually a narrative fairly simple opera, sung in the original Italian. The plot remains unchanged, centering on Figaro and his beloved Susanna, who are in the employ of Count Almaviva, who also has an eye on Susanna. If anything, I wish director Brad Dalton had gone a bit further with his rather light-hearted approach, as certain issues such as British colonialism are implicitly hinted at without being fully developed into meaningful themes.
Despite its enduring popularity, Figaro can be a difficult opera to perform. With so many individual characters having significant stage time and an intrigue-laden libretto involving all sorts of mismatched lovers, disguised characters and family secrets finally revealed, the music can end up being overwhelmed with shenanigans. With its many ensemble runs, it’s a tall order to keep all the plates rotating and everyone in the cast on the same page, and on that account the production largely succeeds, if at times lacking in detail. a sense of forward thrust during its three hours. -more operating time.
The many roles featured were all pleasantly sung and everyone seemed to know when to step into the spotlight and when to retreat to the background. Mezzo-soprano Deepa Johnny as Cherubino gave a lovely retelling of the opera’s most famous aria, “Voi che sapete”, although she seemed to struggle a bit to find a coherent physique for her role. of pants. Baritone Eugene Brancoveanu was an impressive-voiced Count Almaviva, appropriately pompous without being entirely off-putting. Soprano Maria Natale made Almaviva an attractive Countess, particularly in her meditative Act II aria ‘Poggi amor’ and shimmering Act III duet ‘Che soave zeffiretto’ with Susanna.
At the center of the production are two glorious performances by Efraín Solís in the title role and Maya Kherani as Susanna. While neither vocalist is one to stun you with the sheer force of their lung power, both possess beautifully expressive vocals and warm, exceptionally winning stage presences. They sang beautifully throughout, bringing nuance and lively musicality to Mozart’s melodies while clearly articulating the text and playing up the underlying emotions.
Solís was particularly effective in his plaintive and tragicomic recitative of Act IV “Tutto è disposto / Aprite un po’ quegli occhi” and followed with some skillful and silent comic antics behind the tenderly tender aria “Deh vieni non tardar” by Kherani, which was the highlight of the whole performance. The sheer beauty of Kherani’s golden soprano is marvelous, as is her ability to infuse her character with courage and wit to make it clear that Susanna might be caught in circumstances that aren’t her fault, but she don’t be fooled. She and Solís have a level of connection and chemistry that is rare in the world of opera and gives their scenes a wonderful sense of spontaneity. They are the very antithesis of the old school “park and bark” style of opera performers.
Scenographer Steven C.Kemp offers a succession of eye-catching sets, each more striking than the next, including a sumptuous peacock-inspired bedroom in Act II and an ornate fountain in Act IV supported by a gilded arch adorned with heliotrope curtains lit so brightly by the designer Anshuman Bhatia that they seem practically in levitation. Costume designer Deepsikha Chatterjee makes wonderful use of an extravagant variety of Indian patterns and colors, but my favorite was actually her extremely simple and beautiful cream-colored wedding suit for Figaro, accessorized with a matching vermilion scarf. Susanna’s embellished dress.
Conductor Viswa Subbaraman led the 36-piece orchestra in an accurate account of Mozart’s score, always attentive to the singers’ needs. Antara Bhardwaj’s Indian classical and folk dance-inspired choreography is a neat idea that only felt partially realized, culminating in a cheery, if rather truncated, Bollywood finale. Oh, how I wish she had permission to make the whole production really dance.
Either way, it’s a richly rewarding evening. What a pleasure to experience great opera in the relatively intimate confines of the beautiful California theater, where you are close enough to the stage to really feel the energy of the performers. In its ability to produce works of this caliber, the San José Opera once again proves that it is one of the jewels of the Bay Area art scene.
(all photos by David Allen)
The San José Opera production of Figaro’s wedding is sung in Italian, with surtitles in English and Spanish. Performances continue through September 25, 2022 at the California Theater, 345 South 1st Street, San Jose, CA. The duration is approximately 3h10, including an intermission. For more information or to buy tickets, visit operasj.org or call (408) 437-4450.