A Triumphant Figaro Leaves Audience on Cloud Nine

United StatesUnited States Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro: Soloists, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Henrik Nánási (conductor), Civic Opera House, Chicago. 26.9.2015 (JLZ) 

Cast of "The Marriage of Figaro" (Photo courtesy Lyric Opera of Chicago)
Cast of “The Marriage of Figaro” (Photo courtesy Lyric Opera of Chicago)

Susanna: Christiane Karg
Figaro: Adam Plachetka
Countess Almaviva: Amanda Majeski
Count Almaviva: Luca Pisaroni
Cherubino: Rachel Frenkel
Marcellina: Katherine Goeldner
Bartolo: Brindley Sherratt
Basilio: Keith Jameson
Antonio: Bradley Smoak
Barbarina: Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi


Director: Barbara Gaines
Set Designer: Jim Noone
Costume Designer: Susan Mickey
Lighting Designer: Robert Wierzel
Chorus Master: Michael Black
Choreographer: Harrison McEldowney
Conductor: Henrik Nánási


While Brahms considered Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro to be a perfect opera, the same could be said of Lyric’s new production that opened the 2015–2016 season. Invited by Anthony Freud to create this new production, Chicago Shakespeare Theater artistic director Barbara Gaines gave this perennial favorite freshness, style and grace.

The fun started in the last measures of the overture, when Count Almaviva chases his latest conquest through the audience onto the stage, then under the scrim, with the Countess following, looking under the scrim, then yanking it to reveal her husband’s infidelity. This sense of dramatic detail and nuance informed the entire production through the final curtain. Gaines allowed the music and the drama to blend amiably, without the cheap tricks of blank symbolism that some directors use. Instead, we have a master hand creating a Figaro that speaks directly to modern audiences, without ever losing its grounding in Mozart’s score.

Likewise, conductor Henrk Nánási led with consummate style. Without ever wandering from the score, Nánási brought out details with subtly effective tempos and satisfying phrasing. The overture built dynamically to the concluding bars to coincide with the stage action. For the brass contingent, the trumpets and horns fit nicely with the richly voiced string textures, just as the woodwinds had the full burnish of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Continuity was remarkable; the orchestral passages and recitative from the keyboard were seamless. Nánási allowed stylish decoration, as with Amanda Majeski’s masterful reading of the third-act aria “Dove sono.”

As Countess Almaviva, Majeski was engaging both musically and dramatically. She was commanding in her phrasing of the second-act aria “Porgi amor,” and in Act III’s “Dove sono,” she subtly shifted from an initial elegiac quality, increasing dynamics and tempo to fine effect. She was also effective in the ensembles, particularly the scenes with Luca Pisaroni, as the Count.

Pisaroni was exceptional, with impeccable delivery that brought out not just lecherous and blustery aspects, but also the later changes in his persona. His facial expressions and body language in the Act II finale, plus his interactions with Majeski and the rest of the cast showed unusual acting skill. In the extended scena in Act III, he delivered an incredibly clear and powerful “Vedrò, mentr’io sospiro.” Pisaroni’s Count makes others seem monochromatic, and it is worth the price of the ticket to hear him alone.

As Figaro, Adam Plachetka used his sonorous bass-baritone with nuance and assurance. His first-act aria “Non più andrai” had the requisite humor, as well as avuncular warmth, and showed a fine upper register. And in the fourth-act aria “Aprite un po’ quegli occhi,” he was notable for his phrasing and pacing of the vocal line.

In her American debut, Christiane Karg made a lithe, scheming Susanna, one of her signature roles. Her lyric qualities emerged in the Act III letter duet (“Sull’aria”) with Majeski, but in Act IV, “Deh’ vieni, non tardar” was stunning, showing rich, full qualities in full force. It was no wonder that Figaro recognized her voice—the audience certainly did.

The trouser role of Cherubino has its challenges, and Rachel Frenkel met them effortlessly with her engaging mezzo soprano. “Voi che sapete” embodied all the emotion and impulsiveness the character should have, and Frenkel bent the phrases nicely to bring out the text. At the same time, she brought a welcome physicality to the role.

The secondary parts were equally strong, particularly Katherine Goeldner as Marcellina. She formed a fine trio with Brindley Sherratt as Bartolo and Keith Jameson as Basilio, both distinctive. Jim Noone’s refreshing sets blend modern representational elements with traditional details, including an impressive oversize bed in the first two acts, and statuary and chandeliers in the third—all combined with Robert Wierzel’s appropriate lighting. The production as a whole is an unqualified triumph. Director Barbara Gaines intended to have the audience leave on cloud nine, and she achieved that goal completely.

James L. Zychowicz

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