Next Up at Pittsburgh Opera – Mozart’s Perennial ‘The Marriage of Figaro’

Soprano Nicole Cabell Returns as the Countess – Performances begin November 5th, 2022 at the Benedum

By George B. Parous

For the second production of its season, Pittsburgh Opera is offering Mozart’s timeless favorite, The Marriage of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro). That this 18th century comic story of romance and mistaken identity continues to delight audiences over 200 years after its first performance might surprise Mozart himself, but his fascinating music will keep it on the stage for many years to come. As mentioned in a previous Figaro review, even Albert Einstein was awed by Mozart’s compositions. “Beethoven created his music,” he wrote, “but the music of Mozart is of such purity and beauty that one feels he merely found it – that it has always existed as part of the inner beauty of the universe waiting to be revealed.”

Judging from available photographs of the production, this staging of The Marriage of Figaro, jointly owned by Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Opera Philadelphia, San Diego Opera, and Palm Beach Opera, offers a spectacle for the eye. Directed by Stephanie Havey and conducted by Antony Walker, the performances will take on added interest from the fact that quite a few of the leading roles will be taken by singers entirely new to Pittsburgh Opera. Michael Sumuel, the American bass-baritone whose lengthy resume includes past and upcoming engagements at the Metropolitan Opera, will debut here in the role of Figaro. Baritone Jarrett Ott, another American with successes at home and abroad, will appear as the Count Almaviva. Opera News has said of Mr. Ott  that he is “a man who is seemingly incapable of an unmusical phrase.” Soprano Natasha Te Rupe Wilson, who gave sensational performances as a Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist before the pandemic forced her return to her native New Zealand, returns in the charming role of Susanna. Puerto Rican bass Ricardo Lugo, with a hefty resume of international opera and concert appearances, will make his Pittsburgh Opera debut as Dr. Bartolo.

New and returning Resident Artists are included in the cast as well. Jazmine Olwalia, mezzo-soprano, first heard in Rusalka in September, returns in the role of Cherubino. The same may be said of soprano Julia Swan Laird, cast for the role of Barbarina. Resident Artists making their debuts are tenor Daniel O’Hearn, doing double-duty as Don Basilio and Curzio, and bass-baritone Evan Lazdowski as Antonio. Helene Schneiderman, another newcomer, is cast as Marcellina, while Loghan Bazan and Emily Tiberi are billed as Bridesmaids.

Last, but by no means least, soprano Nicole Cabell returns for her second appearance with Pittsburgh Opera, as the Countess Almaviva. The gifted soprano was first heard here a few years back, when the company last presented La Bohème, with Ms. Cabell as Mimì. She made an excellent first impression, and displayed a powerfully dramatic voice of fine range, color and nuance. When she sang the Countess with Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Chicago Tribune said that Ms. Cabell’s “creamy sound and poised line, effectively conveyed her character’s pathos and resolve.” This week Ms. Cabell stepped out of rehearsals long enough to tell us a little about herself and the upcoming production of The Marriage of Figaro.

Nicole Cabell by Devon Cass

“I began singing at 15 years old,” she said, when asked how her career in opera began, “and because of the kind of voice I have, it was a very short matter of time before I was led to teachers who specialize in classical singing and opera. It wasn’t one of those things where I said ‘opera is beautiful, I want to learn how to sing it’, but rather it found me very quickly.” She’s not the only singer I’ve heard say that the voice came first and opera followed later. “From beginning to end,” she said of her first appearance here, “I had a wonderful experience the last time I was here in Pittsburgh. It was prior to the pandemic, and I was really hoping I could come back here after the pandemic. I’m so lucky to be back. The audience was very responsive and wonderful. The hall was great, my fellow singers were first rate. I’m really excited to be here.”

“You can’t think of her as matronly or ‘old,’” she said of the Countess in Figaro.“You have to approach her as someone who relatively recently has been in a situation where the man she loved, and still loves, turns out to be a philanderer. This is her struggle. It’s ‘how do I get his attention back on me in a way that’s safe?’ So you have to play her not with a sense of tragedy, but with a little bit of desperation, eagerness, and passion. The Marriage of Figaro is an opera that has it all. It’s very funny, but it also has moments of real tenderness and struggle – you laugh and you cry. There are lots of melodies in it that anyone might recognize, so it keeps you engaged with the music. It’s an extremely entertaining opera from beginning to end. It’s one of the most perfect operas ever written.

“Every production is different because every singer and their interpretation of the role, and their relationships with the other singers on stage and the director, is different each time. The collegial interactions are always going to be fresh for every production. Be on the look out for fantastic singing, really clever stage direction, and a beautiful, sumptuous, traditional production. The Act II finale is amazing. It’s twenty minutes of nonstop music and a roller coaster of emotions. You never know where it’s going, and from beginning to end is a real work of mastery.”

“Pittsburgh Opera has assembled a really fine collection of singers,” Ms. Cabell said in conclusion, “and a fantastic conductor and director. In the two weeks I’ve been here, it’s simply one of the most enjoyable productions I’ve been in in a long time. The audience will see us really having fun together on stage.”

We’ll look forward to the opening night of Saturday, November 5, at the Benedum, with the usual Tuesday and Friday evening, and Sunday matinee, repetitions. You can find full productions details – and purchase tickets – by visiting Pittsburgh Opera.

Special thanks to Chris Cox, Director of Marketing and Communications for Pittsburgh Opera

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