Review—Cinnabar Theater’s fabulous“Figaro”—Mozart’s playful and tangled web of matrimony
A big Figaro, up close and personal in Cinnabar’s intimate schoolhouse theater is a treat you can’t pass up. After last season’s sold-out run of Carmen, Artistic Director Elly Lichenstein and Music Director Mary Chun reunite to close Cinnabar Theater’s 41st season with Mozart’s glorious marriage of music and theater. The opera opened last Saturday to a sold-out house and closes June 15 but it has been so successful that an additional performance has been added on Wednesday, June 11.
For those who haven’t experienced Mozart’s magical farce, The Marriage of Figaro which premiered in Vienna in 1786, Cinnabar’s is a wonderful introduction. It has all the special touches that we associate with Cinnabar’s bankable perfectionism and it’s in English. Jeremy Sams’ smooth translation of Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto eliminates the fuss of subtitles and lays out all complex plot twists, of which there are many. For those who know Figaro, here’s a chance to sit back and enjoy the scheming, with a new twist—it’s set in the 1920’s rather than the usual 18th century.
The performance takes place on a small ground-level stage with gorgeous sets by Wayne Hovey that take their inspiration from a well-appointed Downton Abbey-like estate. Wherever you’re seated at Cinnabar, you’re just a few feet from the action, so you can take in the expressions on the singer’s faces and the fine details in the costumes and props, making it intense and immersive, just as opera should be. You’re in for a visual treat with the 1920’s inspired costumes created by Lisa Eldrege, who outfitted the entire cast of 22 in hues of black and white, gray, and gold. The gents sport country tweeds and linens and the ladies, lavish evening attire and gowns appointed with delicate lace. The chorus members wear individualized servant’s uniforms.
Figaro is one of my favorite operas because of the wonderful match between Mozart’s lively music and the onstage drama. Mary Chuni and her small but ample orchestra of ten outdid themselves AGAIN. Snuggled between two walls and sitting in a snaking line, they opened with a gorgeous overture and proceeded to play beautifully for all four acts, in perfect sync with the action.
Soprano Kelly Britt, as the young maid Susanna, glows with bright energy and has natural chemistry with her fiancé, Figaro (Eugene Walden), and with Countess Rosina (Bharati Soman) and a palpable revulsion for the skirt-chasing Count. Susanna does the most singing of all the characters and Britt’s powerful voice carried her through the opening night performance, growing lovelier and more nuanced as she relaxed into her role. Her Act III duet with the Countess, about a letter intended to the dupe Count, was a wonderful blending of two naturally lyrical voices. Her Act IV garden aria, “Come Here” (“Deh vieni”), where she sings of love and confuses Figaro, was touching.
Soprano Bharati Soman has her debut at Cinnabar as the Countess Almaviva and what a lovely voice and countenance she has. She’s in love her husband, the Count, but knows that he wants to cheat on her with gorgeous Susanna, her maid, who is engaged to Figaro, the Count’s servant. At times regal and at times terribly vulnerable and regretful, Soman sang the Countess’s two great arias with poise and great tenderness— Act II ”Oh Love give me some comfort!” (“Porgi, amor”) and Act III “Where are the beautiful moments?” (“Dove sono I bei momenti”).
Baritone Eugene Walden, as Figaro, has a natural comedic flare and excelled in his solo arias and in the wonderful ensembles. In the Act I duet, “Five, ten, twenty” (“Cinque, dieci, venti”), where he’s taking measurements in the bedroom, his endearing chemistry with Susanna set the tone for the rest of opera.
Charismatic baritone Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek sang the role of the scheming lord of the manor, Count Almaviva, impressively, revealing his brooding insecurity. Almaviva fancies himself a wild womanizer but without his money and position, he’d be washed up. Smith-Kotlarek’s Act III revenge aria, “Shall I live to see” (“Vedro, mentr’io sospiro”), is an incisive commentary on class, revealing the Count’s seething anger about his vassals Susana and Figaro outwitting him and finding the happiness that has eluded him.
Standouts in the ensemble include the wonderfully animated mezzo soprano Krista Wigle as Marcellina (Dr. Bartolo’s housekeeper) who claims Figaro owes her money and, if he doesn’t pay, he will have to marry her. Wigle has the “it” factor—it’s impossible to take your eyes off her and she’s a delight in every scene she’s in.
Mezzo-soprano Cary Ann Rosko shines in a pants role as Cherubino, the Count’s flirtatious young page, whom the Count suspects is having an affair with his wife. Rosko’s impish antics are delightful, especially when Susanna and the Countess dress him in girl’s clothes as a disguise. Rosko’s Act II aria “You ladies know what love is” was well sung and the leap out the window that followed comically executed.
Cudos to Wayne Hovey, who spent years doing Cinnabar’s lighting, and is now applying his engineering skills to set design. His set of fluidly shifting walls get top billing, right along with the music and singing—they expand, contract and pivot to create a garden and three beautifully appointed rooms replete with period paintings and portraits.
Details: Cinnabar Theater is located at 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North (at Skillman Lane), Petaluma, CA, 94952. The Marriage of Figaro has 7 remaining performances—June 6 (sold-out), 7, 8, 11, 13, 14, and 15. Buy tickets online here. ($40 General, $25 under age 22, $9 middle-school and high-school.)
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