Casting was definitely a strong point in the Santa Fe Opera’s opening weekend. A well sung and strongly acted Falstaff was followed on Saturday night by an equally effective Marriage of Figaro. The weekend was dedicated to outgoing general director Richard Gaddes. This salute was quite a compliment and a memorable part of his legacy.
As usual, Mozart and his collaborator, Lorenzo da Ponte, created a set of well delineated characters in The Marriage of Figaro. The text and the music accentuate their individuality, and this was further enhanced by the fine voices and theatrical sense of Saturday night’s cast. There wasn’t a one who didn’t seem to fit the part.
Luca Pisaroni (Figaro) and Mariusz Kwiecien (Count Almaviva) were a well-matched pair of antagonists, each singing powerfully and projecting his strengths: the Count a commanding figure and Figaro a worthy opponent with his intelligence and not-entirely-subdued revolutionary sense.
The women were a fine and again well differentiated group: Elizabeth Watts (a petite and endearing Susanna), Susanna Phillips (an elegant and sorrowing Countess Almaviva), Isabel Leonard (a hormone-driven Cherubino) and Michaela Martens (an older but still man-hunting Marcellina).
Gwynne Howell (Dr. Bartolo), Aaron Pegram (Don Basilio), Jamie-Rose Guarrine (Barbarina), Kyle Albertson (Antonio) and Alex Mansoori (Don Curzio) filled out the varied cast.
By the way, the origins of the cast — they are from Venezuela, Poland, England, Wales and the United States — emphasize the international character of opera today. With their unity of style, you’d never guess they weren’t from one nation.
The Santa Fe orchestra was in fine form, and Kenneth Montgomery led a sensitive performance, though one might argue with some of the silences, which lingered a bit too long.
Though stage director Jonathan Kent’s ideas and Paul Brown’s scenic and costume designs were generally enhancing, there was a slight tendency to veer toward gimmickry.
For instance, at the opening the stage is covered with a forest of flowers, their stems embedded in the floor. They seem to cover virtually every square inch, so that there’s no room to tiptoe through the tulips. As the overture begins, six liveried attendants come forward and begin removing the flowers, bunch by bunch. It seems an impossible task, but they manage to completely clear the front half of the stage just as the overture ends. Later in the opera they return to replant some of the flowers.
It must be admitted that the flowers make a pretty picture at the beginning, especially with the New Mexico landscape visible in twilight as background, but what’s the point? All this gardening activity shifts attention away from the music.
Flowers aside, the sets and costumes are interesting and handsome. This is a traditional Figaro set in Mozart’s time.