Pittsburgh Opera Breathes New Life Into Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’

Outstanding Cast of Vocalists Gives Old Standard New Appeal

Reviewed by George B. Parous

First things first. If you’ve seen The Marriage of Figaro once, or a dozen times, there’s a chance you might not have heard Mozart’s music sung by a cast so thoroughly in tune with the delicacies of the old master’s style, than last night’s. Singularly and in the many duets and ensembles, a text book definition of bel canto was on display from the time the curtain rose until it fell. A large audience was riveted by the opera’s beauties, amused by its naïve comedy, appreciative of the shades and nuances Antony Walker discovered in the orchestration, and only the brightening of the house lights convinced people it was time to go home. Many, no doubt, realized they had just witnessed the best performance of the centuries’ old masterpiece they had ever seen. 

There is something that simply “feels right” about the entire vibrant production. Mr. Walker can always be depended upon to bring out the best in the orchestration. Mark Trawka, likewise, makes the choral numbers stand out excellently. The scenery, constructed by Lyric Opera of Kansas City, is the most effective seen on the Benedum stage since opera performances resumed there. Stephanie Havey directs the entire production in a manner that allows for no weak spots. The period costumes are delightful, as are the wigs, make-up, set designs, lighting – everything comes together as a well planned, well rehearsed, perfectly grouped ensemble, full of excellent individual accomplishments.

Count Almaviva (Jarrett Ott) confronts Figaro (Michael Sumuel)

In his first appearance with Pittsburgh Opera, baritone Jarrett Ott made a striking first impression as the Count Almaviva. He cut a dashing figure as the philandering nobleman, and sang with a warm, powerful voice that commanded attention in his many scenes. The combination of his vocal talent, acting ability and wonderful costuming made him a “story book” Count come to life. He made the Act III aria, “Vedrò mentr’io sospiro,” a fine showcase for his evening’s accomplishments. As Rosina, the Countess, Nicole Cabell returned after being heard a few years back as Mimì in La Bohème. As well as she sang that role, nothing could have prepared listeners for the glorious interpretation she poured into every corner of the Benedum last evening. Looking every inch the noblewoman, she sang with an exquisite legato that seamlessly glided from one register to the next. Her singing of the “E Susanna non vien – Dove sono i bei momenti” recitative and aria in Act III was a thing of astonishing beauty.  Her tones were rich and mellow, and she, like Mr. Ott, received a tremendous ovation at the final curtain.

Count Almaviva (Jarrett Ott) asks the Countess (Nicole Cabell) for forgiveness

Michael Sumuel, the bass-baritone making his company debut as Figaro, was another singer whose first impression was one of complete success. His resonant, luminous tones and finely honed comedic timing made him a stand-out among many, and he made the most of his solo and ensemble opportunities, particularly in Act I. Natasha Te Rupe Wilson, the soprano the Resident Artist program lost to the pandemic, returned in all her glory as Susanna. She gave a sterling performance, her crystal clear and lustrous soprano ringing brilliantly, her engaging presence and acting abilities making many in the audience extremely happy that she was able to return to the company. The audience made it clear she was a favorite, as was Jazmine Olwalia, the delightful Cherubino of the cast. The diminutive mezzo-soprano made the lovesick page boy more realistic than is frequently the case, sang the part well and was a comedic delight.

Cherubino (Jazmine Olwalia) and Susanna (Natasha Te Rupe Wilson)

Two Resident Artists made their debuts – tenor Daniel O’Hearn, doing double-duty as Don Basilio and Curzio, and bass-baritone Evan Lazdowski as Antonio, the tipsy gardener. Both proved worthy of their company and we’ll look forward to hearing more of them in the future. As the comical pair of Dr. Bartolo and Marcellina, Ricardo Lugo and Helene Schneiderman were other singers making their local debuts.  Both had the voices and comedic acting skills the roles require, and a bit more to make them shine brighter than usual.

Julia Swan Laird in the small role of Barbarina, Loghan Bazan and Emily Tiberi as Bridesmaids completed the stellar cast, while the chorus and instrumentalists of the orchestra can’t be forgotten for the parts they played in creating such a magical night.

 Dr. Bartolo (Ricardo Lugo) and Marcellina (Helene Schneiderman) plot and scheme

So if you think you’ve heard all there is to hear in Le Nozze di Figaro, you’d be doing yourself a favor by not missing this top-notch production. You can read more about the full production details – and buy TICKETS – by visiting Pittsburgh Opera.

The Artistic Team for The Marriage of Figaro –

Conductor, Antony Walker; Stage Director, Stephanie Havey; Set & Costume Designer, Leslie Travers; Lighting Designer, Andy Ostrowski; Wig & Make-up Designer, James Geier; Assistant Wig & Make-up Designer, Nicole Pagano; Assistant Conductor, Glenn Lewis; Chorus Master, Mark Trawka; Associate Coach/Pianist/Continuo, James Lesniak; Assistant Stage Director, Haley Stamats; Stage Manager, Cindy Knight; Assistant Stage Managers, Hannah Nathan & Monica Soderman

David Bachman Photography for Pittsburgh Opera

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