Chiaroscuro classics: The Marriage of Figaro

Chiaroscuro classics: The Marriage of Figaro

Johanni van Oostrum as Countess Almaviva and Jacques Imbrailo as Count Almaviva and The Marriage of Figaro. Photo: Dan Norman.

On November 11, The Marriage of Figaro opened at Minnesota Opera at the Ordway Performing Arts Center. The show was headed by Richard Ollarsaba as Figaro, and Angela Mortellaro as his bride, Susanna. The Countess was sung by South African soprano Johanni Van Oostrum. Her luscious high notes filled the hall. Adriana Zabala sang an energetic Cherubino. Count Almaviva, Jacques Imbrailo, was appropriately slimy, but lacked palpable outrage and anger in the first two acts.

The cast of Minnesota Opera's The Marriage of Figaro. Photo: Dan Norman.

This being the quintessential ensemble opera, secondary characters occasionally stole the spotlight. Nadia Fayad as Marcellina was a bitter, lusty woman of a certain age, and Andres Acosta as Don Basilio/Don Curzio stood out with his physical comedy. It is interesting to note that there are five current Resident Artists, and four former Resident Artists in the cast. Minnesota Opera certainly keeps it in the family!

Johanni van Oostrum (Countess Almaviva), Richard Ollarsaba (Figaro), Angela Mortellaro (Susanna), Jacques Imbrailo (Count Almaviva), Andres Acosta (Don Basilio), Nadia Fayad (Marcellina) and Matt Boehler (Doctor Bartolo) in Minnesota Opera's The Marriage of Figaro. Photo: Dan Norman.

The production was seen at Opera Philadelphia last spring and designed by. The set consists of a large unwieldy set piece that appeared one dimensional, but actually has four sides that can unfold and spin around. The singers could even enter the rectangle and open the doors in the panels (providing for cleanly executed and surprising entrances). Alluring because of its individuality, it was very limiting for the drama onstage. Large spaces of the stage were unused, therefore sections of the performance were very confined and static. There was a scarcity of other set pieces, during the first act the whole the only thing on stage was a four poster bed.

Johanni van Oostrum as Countess Almaviva in Minnesota Opera's The Marriage of Figaro. Photo: Dan Norman.

A very interesting aspect of this production was the introduction of a dream sequence after the Count's aria. The other male servants appear wearing Don Giovanni-esque masks and smash engraved portraits of the Count's noble forefathers. For the customary wedding march and dance, the entire chorus came out wearing the black masks and mocked the Count. A very effective political statement, the Count was fuelled until the end of the opera by the knowledge of his world, literally crumbling around him.

Adriana Zabala (Cherubino), Christina Christensen (Barbarina), Johanni van Oostrum (Countess Almaviva) and Angela Mortellaro (Susanna) in Minnesota Opera's The Marriage of Figaro. Photo: Dan Norman.

Even with the dark elements, the piece did not lose its comic lightness. It was still an evening full of laughs and slapstick, but the more serious aspects were brought forth. Along with this unexpected episode, Mortellaro's characterization of Susanna in the final two acts deviated from the common chipper portrayal of this sassy maid. She was a bride-to-be who truly didn't want to go along with the Countess' plan to trap the Count. "Crudel perche finora" was full of pain, and her "Deh vieni non tardar" was regretful and sorrowful. But of course, everything comes out alright in the end, and for another unusual aspect of the night, the whole cast ended up in their undergarments (and no socks) by the finale.

Jacques Imbrailo (Count Almaviva), Richard Ollarsaba (Figaro) and Johanni van Oostrum (Countess Almaviva) in Minnesota Opera's The Marriage of Figaro. Photo: Dan Norman.

The Minnesota Orchestra had a fine sound, but lacked energy that ultimately bled on stage. I am sure this will be corrected as the run goes on. There were some moments in the staging that interrupted the flow of the music, most noticeably in the act two finale before "Voi signor che giusto siete". Musically, many characters did enjoyable ornaments in their arias and there was the customary cut of Marcellina and Don Curzio arias. Personally, I thought the tempi in the final act were a little fast, not giving time for the audience to savor the long awaited melodies.

Jacques Imbrailo (Count Almaviva) and Angela Mortellaro (Susanna) in Minnesota Opera's The Marriage of Figaro. Photo: Dan Norman.

Minnesota Opera played to a full house on opening night and has limited availability as the run goes on, a wonderful introduction opera for newcomers!

Jacques Imbrailo (Count Almaviva) and Johanni van Oostrum (Countess Almaviva) in Minnesota Opera's The Marriage of Figaro. Photo: Dan Norman.

Minnesota Opera's The Marriage of Figaro runs through November 19. For details and ticket information, follow our box office links below.

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Written by

Callie Cooper

Callie Cooper

Callie Cooper is an undergraduate soprano Vocal Performance Major at University of Minnesota. She is originally from the Washington D.C. and is an alumna of The Washington National Opera Summer Institute, National Symphony Orchestra Young Associates and was an inaugural member of The Kennedy Center Youth Council. Her favorite operas include The Marriage of Figaro and Carlisle Floyd's Susannah.

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    The Marriage of Figaro

    Comedy, classism, and calamity. All is fair in love and war in this new staging of Mozart’s timeless comedy of errors, widely considered the perfect opera. Mozart’s infectious score brings humor, drama, and humanity to this story of class conflict. It should be the happiest day of their lives, but the wily servant Figaro and his charming fiancée Susanna must fend off the philandering, arrogant Count Almaviva before he ruins everything. On a day filled with chaos and confusion in which disguised identities are revealed and shenanigans ensue, will the young lovers finally make it to the altar?

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