What is not to like about Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”? Not much. When skillfully executed, the music is Mozart at his liveliest. The story is a convoluted farce with overtones of the conflict between the classes and the eternal battle of the sexes told with charm, giving the cast an opportunity to show its free spirit. In a letter Mozart wrote, “We humble people can only choose a wife whom we love and who loves us … because we are neither noble nor highly born, nor aristocratic, nor rich.” In “Marriage” he skewers the droit de seigneur (the historic veracity of this right is actually debated) with rapier wit and nimble recitative.
Ian Judge’s production has been a perennial favorite with Music Center audiences, and 2015 is the fourth season since its premiere in 2000 that they have filled the Chandler with their enthusiasm. This year’s cast includes two Operalia winners, South African soprano Pretty Yende as Susanna, Countess Almaviva’s lady’s maid, and Chinese soprano Guanqun Yu as Countess Almaviva. Bass-Baritone Roberto Tagliavini, flown in at the last minute for his American debut, is splendid as the swashbuckling Figaro, valet to Count Almaviva. Together this ensemble approaches their plotting and planning with relish and soaring voices. Lucy Schaufer (Marcellina) adds spice to the mixture. They look and sound as though they are thoroughly enjoying themselves.
Judge has set his “Marriage” vaguely in the 1950s. There is a cord telephone in the Countess’ bedroom, and the women’s ballerina-length skirts are buoyed up with crinolines. Sets are color-saturated rooms in the Count’s villa: ornate moldings with starkly simple walls, scattered pieces of period furniture, and a formal garden simply sketched out with cypress trees that descend from above and a full moon behind. The curtain opens with Figaro painting the walls of the about-to-be-married couple’s room a lustful red; Act II is set in the Countess’ bedroom with walls of Klimtian gold. The Count’s office, Act III, is a luscious green with black trim. Set designer Tim Goodchild has executed it all with a spare but sure hand. When the finale comes, Figaro and Susanna are married without the execution of the droit, the Count has had his comeuppance and the Countess has offered her forgiveness, and Bartolo has finally married his consort Marcellina. The onstage fireworks (real) are perfect for the occasion.
As I said in the beginning, “What’s not to like?” LA Opera is presenting a “Marriage of Figaro” imbued with humor and artistry. Enjoy.