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Madison Opera: Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro"

Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro

Figaro: Charles Austin, bass
Susanna: Korliss Uecker, soprano
Countess Almaviva: Sally Stevens, soprano
Count Almaviva: Jeff Morrissey, baritone
Cherubino: Kitt Reuter-Foss, mezzo-soprano
Don Basilio: James Doing, tenor
Don Bartolo: Bruce Baumer, bass
Marcellina: Antonia Fusaro, mezzo-soprano
Don Curzio: Calland Metts, tenor
Barbarina: Sarah Lawrence, soprano
Antonio: Andrew Abrams, baritone
Madison Symphony Orchestra
Susan Haig, conductor


If you have the singers and you have Mozart, as the Madison Opera amply proved in these two performances of The Marriage of Figaro, a big success is assured. It also helps to have full houses: the combined audience of 4300 -- be it noted, including lots of younger people -- was warmly enthusiastic, spurring the performers on.

It's a comedy, with loads of high-jinks and laughter, but also full of deeply genuine emotion and pointed portrayals of class, as the autocratic, womanizing Count Almaviva is outwitted time and again by his servant Figaro, the long-suffering Countess and her servant Susanna.

The highly accomplished Charles Austin brought excellent singing and acting to full-blown life in his Figaro. Korliss Uecker's Susanna was saucy and wise, and her singing was several cuts above even some famous recordings. Sally Stevens, as the Countess, acted well and was vocally ravishing in both her great arias, "Porgi amor" and "Dove sono." As the Count, Jeff Morrissey sang well, though I wished for greater variety in his fortes, and was a very convincing actor. In the pants role of the love-struck young page Cherubino, Kitt Reuter-Foss was skillfully bold and bashful, singing as well as I've ever heard her. In the character roles, James Doing (Don Basilio), Bruce Baumer (Don Bartolo), Antonia Fusaro (Marcellina), Calland Metts (Don Curzio), Sarah Lawrence (Barbarina) and Andrew Abrams (Antonio) all acted and sang very well. Certainly a first-rate cast.

Lorna Haywood's superb and sensitive stage direction moved the actors through their roles without bumps and brought home both the broad comedy and the moving pathos of the play. The settings, from Tri-Cities Opera, were a bit dowdy-looking, I thought.

My one reservation, but a major one, concerns Susan Haig's conducting. The glory of this opera is Mozart's music: its sparkling recitatives, its extraordinary arias and above all its glorious, absolutely miraculous ensembles. Haig's concept was relentlessly instrumental when it should have been vocal, failing to allow adequate breath into the climaxes and the ends of phrases, thereby causing a rushed feeling even in slower tempi. This wasn't so disruptive in arias, because the singers can adjust. But in concerted singing it's disastrous both musically and pragmatically, to the point where in the fourth-act finale on Sunday there was a general collapse of ensemble between the stage and the pit that clearly startled the singers. What a pity to tarnish the bloom of so nearly-perfect a rose.

Isthmus, November, 1999
Copyright 1999 Jess Anderson

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