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Review: 'Figaro' is up close, personal

March 09, 2009

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    March 09, 2009
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    Opera Carolina News

Review: 'Figaro' is up close, personal

Without knowing about Opera Carolina's finances as of this moment, we can't know exactly how necessary it was to cut $80,000 from the cost of "The Marriage of Figaro." But there's no doubt about this: The company turned it into a virtue.

The savings came from do ing away with sets. The company moved the orchestra out of the pit, raised the pit's floor level with the stage and let the cast play most of Mozart's comedy there, 20 feet or so closer to the viewers than in the usual setup. The singers - with the orchestra onstage behind them - had the front row of the audience sitting at their feet.

If there's one opera in which everyone gains from having the action so up-close-and-personal, this is it. The fun of "Figaro" comes from seeing the characters set plots in mo tion, outmaneuver each other, sneak around, don disguises and finally untangle it all when the philandering Count Alma viva - caught red-handed through the trickery - receives forgiveness from the people he has mistreated.

Rarely is everything actually intelligible in the theater. But it was on Saturday.

The proximity only gets part of the credit. John Lehmeyer's lush costumes supply the 18th-century atmosphere in lieu of a set.

Stage director John Hoomes laid the action out clearly and inventively.

He even managed to show - without having any partitions onstage - that someone was hiding fearfully in a closet. The youthful, energetic cast acted and reacted as real people would - registering surprise, anger, amusement, anxiety or relief at each twist in the story.

John Lehmeyer's costumes supplied the 18th-century As Figaro, the quick-think ing leader of the schemes against the count - who gets on his bad side by chasing Figaro's fiancee - Kristopher Irmiter treated Mozart to a balance of masculine resonance and com ic jauntiness. Kyle Pfortmiller was a Count Almaviva whose lord-of-the-manor hauteur could erupt into fury or dissolve in amazement in an instant.

The nobility of the count's mistreated wife came through in the poetic turns that Ailyn Perez gave Mozart's music - that is, after her voice had a few minutes to warm up. There was no delay to the charm of Figaro's fiancee, Susanna: Anne-Carolyn Bird sang with warmth and spirit from the start.

The various conniving courtiers came across just as vividly. The only false note was in the role of the girl-crazy Cherubino, an adolescent portrayed by a woman. Diane McEwen-Martin sang vigorously to the point of tedium.

Maybe conductor James Meena could have simmered her down a little - assuming he would've wanted to - if he and the orchestra had been in the usual location. The danger of the "Figaro" setup was that with Meena and the orchestra where they were, his back was to the singers, and they could only see him on TV monitors.

It wasn't conducive to coor- dination. In one spot, the sing- er playing the music teacher Basilio started into a phrase early, but he apparently got back on track by himself - a lucky thing, since it probably would've been hard for Meena to give him a cue.

Occasionally, the singers and orchestra pulled a little apart from each other. Mostly, though, the cast and Charlotte Symphony held together. The orchestra played with zip and deftness, except for a couple of odd little goofs. I doubt that the setup on onstage was to blame for those.

By Steven Brown