Chicago Opera Review: THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO (Lyric Opera)

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by Barnaby Hughes on September 26, 2015

in Theater-Chicago


Lyric Opera’s season-opening production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro celebrates love and beauty with vibrant colors, light-hearted laughter and sublime music. It is a joyful celebration, one that minimizes some of the darker elements and revolutionary undercurrents in Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto, based on Pierre Beaumarchais’ 1778 play.

Katharine Goeldner, Christiane Karg c. Michael Brosilow

Hungarian conductor Henrik Nánási drives the score with energy and panache, while Chicago Shakespeare Theater artistic director Barbara Gaines brings freshness and creativity to this new production commissioned by Lyric Opera General Director Anthony Freud.

Christiane Karg, Rachel Frenkel, Adam Plachetka c. Michael Brosilow

Featuring a comic plot of Shakespearean complexity—think Comedy of Errors or A Midsummer Night’s DreamThe Marriage of Figaro unwinds over the course of a single day, culminating in the titular nuptials. Yet, before Figaro (Adam Plachetka) can marry his beloved Susanna (Christiane Karg), many of his rivals seek to delay or prevent the wedding, such as Count Almaviva (Luca Pisaroni).

Christiane Karg, Rachel Frenkel, Amanda Majeski c. Michael Brosilow

Among the numerous subplots is the effort of Bartolo (Brindley Sherratt) to marry Figaro to Marcellina (Katharine Goeldner), though Figaro discovers that Marcellina is actually his own mother and Bartolo his father.

Adam Plachetka, Amanda Majeski, Christiane Karg c. Andrew Cioffi

Another subplot involves Cherubino (Rachel Frenkel), a lovestruck young gallant who flirts with the Countess (Amanda Majeski) and later runs off with Barbarina (Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi). In true comedic fashion, all ends well with no plot thread left undone.

Christiane Karg, Amanda Majeski, Katharine Goeldner c. Michael Brosilow

Overall, this production showcases a strong cast and some excellent vocal performances. Luca Pisaroni’s count might not be terribly menacing, but he still retains his nobility, no doubt aided by fluid phrasing, a fine physique and a well-tailored wardrobe. In this, he is well-matched by Amanda Majeski, whose noble heart redeems her wayward husband. Her tender and delicate singing approaches the transcendent, from the poignant solo aria “Porgi amor” to the breathtaking duet “Sull’aria” (with Christiane Karg).

Christiane Karg c. Todd Rosenberg

By contrast, Karg and Adam Plachetka, come across as rather ridiculous. Plachetka, in particular, seems buffoonish, hardly the romantic protagonist, especially when compared to the lusty and lovestruck youth Cherubino. Frenkel’s charming Cherubino woos the audience well with his/her moving aria “Voi che sapete.”

Luca Pisaroni, Christiane Karg c. Todd Rosenberg

Visually, Lyric Opera’s new production aims for more of a contemporary reinterpretation of the past rather than historical accuracy with a bit of fantasy thrown in for fun—something along the lines of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette or Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

Luca Pisaroni, Rachel Frenkel, Keith Jameson, Christiane Karg c. Todd Rosenberg

James Noone’s simple sets contrast nicely with Susan Mickey’s often garish costuming. His most successful piece is the massive 25-foot bed dominating Act II. His Act IVFour garden, however, is disappointing; there isn’t a single shrub or bit of greenery in sight. Even the statues are repurposed from Act III. Nor does Robert Wierzel’s Act IV lighting convey any suggestion that the action takes place at night.

Rachel Frenkel, Adam Plachetka, Luca Pisaroni c. Todd Rosenberg

Sarah Hatten has created some fantastic wigs for the show’s women, but those for the men are less successful. While the staging is generally excellent, making full use of the performance space and providing comic interludes between acts, one glaring oddity is the upper placement of the chorus in Act One, rendering it more church choir than peasant crowd.

Katharine Goeldner, Brindley Sherratt c. Todd Rosenberg

Lyric Opera’s slightly silly, fantastic and highly entertaining new production of Mozart’s endearing The Marriage of Figaro is a splendid way to kick off the 2015/2016 season. It is worth going just to hear Majeski and Karg’s duet, or to see Cherubino’s comic antics in Act III, but this show offers so much more, not least of which is the the mature Mozart’s incomparable score.

Bradley Smoak, Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi, Rachel Frenkel c. Todd Rosenberg

photos by Todd Rosenberg, Michael Brosilow and Andrew Cioffi

Amanda Majeski c. Todd Rosenberg

Christiane Karg c. Todd RosenbergThe Marriage of Figaro
Lyric Opera of Chicago
Civic Opera House
20 N. Wacker Drive
ends on October 24, 2015
for tickets, call 312.827.5600 or visit Lyric Opera

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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