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Ensembles highlight Opera Tampa’s well-rounded ‘Figaro’

By Andrew Meacham, Times Performing Arts Critic
Published: March 3, 2018 Updated: March 3, 2018 at 08:49 PM
Claire Coolen plays Susanna, and SeungHyeon Baek is Count Almaviva in Opera Tampa's The Marriage of Figaro, at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts March 2 and 4. Courtesy of the Straz Center.

TAMPA — After The Barber of Seville, the predecessor in Pierre Beaumarchais’ Figaro trilogy, The Marriage of Figaro promised an entertaining continuity. Singers in two major roles would return, Gabriel Preisser as Figaro and Cecilia Violetta López as the former Rosina (now Countess Almaviva), this time in an opera scored by Mozart that some consider the greatest ever written.

This production, which opened Friday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, makes every effort (as did the composer and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte) to streamline its complications, even though these by definition take a few hours to unravel. The result is at least even-handed and often thrilling, particularly with the ensemble singing that has dazzled audiences since 1786. The opera was daring for its irreverent portrayal of wealthy men as lecherous ogres and famous for the gentle rebuke of its biggest supporter, Emperor Joseph II, who chided, "Too many notes, Mozart." (Other contemporaries dinged his work for its "impenetrable labyrinths" and "bizarre flights of the soul.")

Preisser has the comedic instincts to portray a lighthearted Figaro, who has legitimate reasons to seek revenge on Count Almaviva (Se vuol ballare, "If you want to dance, sir count"), and scales the higher climes of his baritone range like a second tenor.

No one mined unhappy marriages better than Mozart (see Cosi Fan Tutte and Don Giovanni). The Count’s unscrupulous designs on Susanna, Figaro’s fiancée, sets the stage for decidedly noncomedic dimensions, starting with López’s aria to open the second act (Porgi, amor, qualche ristoro, "Grant, love, some comfort"), which exudes the pathos of a lonely marriage. SeungHyeon Baek has a commanding baritone, delivering the strongest singing in a male role. At the same time, he seemed stuck on being menacing, providing little support for why his affections would be missed.

Overall, however, this production threads the delicate balance between vocals and acting prowess as well as any local opera in recent memory. Claire Coolen provided both as Susanna in a performance that carried the show’s comic energy through four acts. Coolen occasionally seemed a little strained in the upper register, but smoothed that out after the first act. Emily Righter did indispensable work as Cherubino, the lovestruck teenage boy (who later disguises himself as a woman), particularly in her movement.

Smaller roles also acquitted themselves well, including Robyn Rocklein as Marcellina and Eileen Vanessa Rodriguez as the saucy Barberina. So, too, did conductor Jorge Parodi, who led the orchestra with the right mix of restraint and exuberance, starting with that explosive overture.

The biggest payoff comes in those labyrinthine ensembles, with clusters of singers singing trios and quartets simultaneously, the kind of work that led Johannes Brahms to declare, "In my opinion, each number in Figaro is a miracle; it is totally beyond me how anyone could create anything so perfect."

Examples include the trio, Susanna, or via, sortite ("Susanna, come out"), the 20-minute finale in the second act and the finale in the fourth. So many fine singers lined the stage, pouring out those joyous harmonies like golden liquid from a pitcher.

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.