Washington Classical Review » Blog Archive » The Maryland Lyric Opera returns to the stage with an exceptional “Figaro”

Javier Arrey and Mary Feminear as Mozart’s Count and Countess The Marriage of Figaro at the Maryland Lyric Opera. Photo: Julien Thomas

After two semi-organized concerts earlier this spring, the Maryland Lyric Opera closed its season at The Clarice’s Kay Theater. For the first time since Massenet Thais, just before the coronavirus lockdowns in 2020, the company staged a full opera. This remarkable new production of Mozart The Marriage of Figarodelayed two years by the pandemic, opened on Wednesday evening.

Bass-baritone Hunter Enoch headlined a solid cast of mostly MdLO regulars, with a polished performance as Figaro. Her performance was vocally agile, displaying consummate control over the entire range of the role, including powerful top notes. As a servant who eventually outwits his bullying master, Enoch’s calm presence seethed with pent-up resentment.

Nayoung Ban’s Susanna counterbalanced Enoch with her lighter soprano, sunny and more humorous presence against Figaro’s wrath. Ban’s voice shone most effectively in a stunning “Deh, vieni” in Act IV, down to a few rich bass notes, though it sometimes lacked the power to shine at the top of the sets.

The couple’s noble counterparts made brilliant foils to the servants, starting with the swaggering and arrogant baritone Count Javier Arrey. Deploying a superbly refined voice, he embodied the superficial polish and inner rage of the aristocrat, as his plans and desires were continually thwarted. The sincerity of his repentance at the end of Act IV, in brilliant legato sound as he knelt before his aggrieved wife, poignantly completed a commendable performance.

The soprano Mary Feminear made an exquisitely beautiful countess, equal in lyrical beauty to her husband and far more sympathetic in her tragic sadness. His two demanding arias proved highlights of the evening, the limpid tone with a steady vibrato in “Porgi, amor” from Act II. Her ultra-smooth repetition of the main theme of “Dove sono” added a desperate note to the neglected wife’s complaint, and she merged beautifully with Ban in Act III Letter Duet.

Among the supporting cast, praise goes to stunning mezzo-soprano Allegra De Vita, who has displayed an incredible range of acting abilities over the years at the Washington National Opera and on other local stages. Her masculine way of standing and walking convinced visually as Cherubino, and her unrivaled vocal mastery of the character’s two tunes sealed a take on the hormonal teenager that was rightly more goofy than antique.

Washington-born bass-baritone Kenneth Kellogg, a menacing Grand Inquisitor within the company don carlo, showed his humorous side just as fine as a ridiculous and pompous Bartolo. Mezzo-soprano Leah Heater made a notable debut with the company as the over-the-top Marcellina, a powerful voice that served her comedic purposes and made her presence known in ensembles. (His aria and that of Basilio were, as usual, cut from the fourth act.)

Nayoung Ban as Susanna and Hunter Enoch as Figaro in Mozart The Marriage of Figaro. Photo: Julien Thomas

Tenor Joseph Michael Brent built on his success as a Pang in society Turandot earlier this year, with good comedic timing and a burnished tone like Basilio. Melissa Mino did a flirty, flirtatious Barbarina, and Michael Pitocchi gave vocal weight and heaviness to gardener Antonio. Mauricio Miranda displayed comic appeal as the Curzio advocate, but his rush of pacing helped destabilize the Sextet in Act III. The small chorus, prepared by associate conductor Husan Park, added a rustic verve to their scenes.

Music director Louis Salemno elicited a commendable, unified sound from his compact orchestra in the pit. The strings, winds, and horns all responded with athletic grace in the opening, and the woodwinds consistently excelled, especially on their beautiful lines in Susanna’s “Deh, vieni.” The singers strayed from the beat on more than one occasion, more so than the orchestra, indicating that Salemno’s gestures were not always clear to the platform. Husan Park accompanied recitatives with a harpsichord on a balcony near the stage.

David Gately directed the staging, originally conceived for the company in collaboration with the great bass-baritone Ruggero Raimondi. The production was tailored to the planned setting and time of the opera, in line with MdLO’s aims to present ‘classical’ or traditional productions. Clever acting direction often enhanced characterization, such as when Cherubino first kissed Susanna, placing his hand firmly on her chest. Beautiful costumes, designed by Glenn Avery Breed and rented from the Witchery Wardrobe, clarified the 18th century social distinctions between the characters.

Carmen Castañon’s stage design consisted of four painted backdrops, hung one in front of the other. With each new act, one was removed to reveal the next, gradually expanding the stage space from the claustrophobic surroundings of Figaro’s bedroom in Act I to a vast moonlit garden in Act IV. The lighting designed by Jeff Bruckerhoff added considerably to the visual appeal of the latter. Scene changes necessitated intermissions after Acts I and II, extending the runtime to nearly four hours.

The Marriage of Figaro runs until July 3. mdlo.org

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