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Houston's 'Figaro' and 'Ariadne' Are Strong Vocally

by Olin Chism 2 May 2011 5:27 PM

The Houston Grand Opera’s latest pair of productions — “The Marriage of Figaro” and “Ariadne auf Naxos” — scored most impressively this past weekend where it was most important to do so, in the leading vocal roles.


The Houston Grand Opera’s latest pair of productions — The Marriage of Figaro and Ariadne auf Naxos — scored most impressively where it was most important to do so, in the solo roles, and displayed at least competence in other areas.

Mozart’s opera (left) closed its run Saturday night in the Wortham Theater Center. Among the principals there was one deficiency: Patrick Carfizzi in the part of Figaro had some pitch problems, which was a bit of a bother though not disastrous, especially as he was a decent actor.

The remainder of the lively cast combined lovely singing with a smart sense of the stage. Especially appealing were the commanding Count of Luca Pisaroni, the endearing Susanna of Adriana Kucerova and the melancholy Countess of Ellie Dehn.

Other roles were ably filled, with Marie Lenormand taking the part of Cherubino, Carlo Lepore as Dr. Bartolo, Suzanne Mentzer as Marcellina, Jon Kolbet as Don Basilio, Kiri Deonarine as Barbarina and Michael Sumuel as Antonio.

Conductor James Gaffigan, who has been a guest of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, led a smartly paced performance with due sensitivity in the Countess’s two great arias.

Carl Friedrich Oberle’s sets were traditional and a little drab (some plants in the garden scene would have been nice) and Harry Silverstein’s staging was conventional and effective.

One irritating factor: Figaro’s four acts were performed with only one intermission (between the second and third acts) and the break was a short one. The Wortham’s restroom facilities are inadequate, so more than a few people in the long lines wondered if they were going to get back into the auditorium before the doors closed.

Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, which was performed Sunday afternoon, is a cute comedy which turns kind of serious toward the end. Basically, a rich 17th-century Viennese aristocrat gets impatient and orders two contrasting and mutually antagonistic troupes, a group of comedians and a cast of opera singers, to perform simultaneously before his guests to save time. So High Drama meets the Three Stooges, with delicious complications.

Houston’s large cast provided plenty of entertainment and, in the top roles, some spectacular singing. Laura Claycomb brought down the house with Zerbinetta’s marathon coloratura and Susan Graham was a superb Composer. Christine Goerke produced some awesome Wagnerian sounds as Ariadne and Alexey Dolgov was almost as impressive as Bacchus.

Conductor Patrick Summers guided orchestra and cast steadily through the stylistic obstacle course (comedic and solemn) and director John Cox’s witty staging provided pleasure. Robert Perdziola’s clever set shifts elements to allow the audience a view from both the stage side and the audience side of the action as well as underneath where the stage machinery is.

Ariadne auf Naxos will continue through May 10.