in: Reviews

January 18, 2009

Confusion Reigned at Harvard Thanks to Boston’s Youth

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Who was expected to be in the closet turns out not to be. A letter they thought said one thing said something else. Plans, one after another, thwarted. Confusion reigned at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre on January 18 thanks to Boston’s youth—and others—with a semi-staged production of Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro).

We remember composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart not only as wunderkind but also as servant to an emperor. In this four-act comic opera, one of the most popular operas around, servants and aristocrats are constantly at it, mixing it up with every kind of misunderstanding. But through twist after twist over and again the innumerable perplexities of the opera somehow come unraveled and all ends well with more than one marriage.

It was the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra, a cast of young  professionals, and members of the Chorus pro Musica under the direction of Federico Cortese that brought on some very comical opera.

First, a few of Cortese’s words are in order: “A generous and passionate commitment to music among fellow young musicians will deepen the sensitivity, understanding and intelligence of our students for the arts while opening their eyes to the world. This is a unique opportunity for growth as young human beings, regardless of one’s professional aim.”

With this in mind, would it be enough to say that these orchestral performers in the heyday of their youth came up to the mark of professional playing? Such comparisons are always inevitable. What, though, do youth bring to music that only they can bring?

With the orchestra onstage, Boston’s youth could be seen performing with a kind of discipline and engagement rarely found in adult organizations. That was in itself exhilarating. Remember the opera lasts some two and one half hours, the instrumental parts going far beyond merely supporting roles.

Out of Cortese’s visually wonderful conducting came orchestral precision (almost to a fault). Impeccable, vibrant phrasing rejuvenated this centuries-old score. Even though there was heaviness in the playing once in a while and rigidity in the harpsichord accompaniment, the entire result was, as today’s youth might put it, “awesome.” The eyes of these young instrumentalists are open to the world; it is a wonder how far they were able to penetrate the meaning of this music, not all humorous, but a dense mosaic of moods.

Creating their share of comic confusion at this special Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra event was a cast of budding professionals. Amanda Ingram got big laughs every time she came on stage. She was a “hoot” as Marcellina, Figaro’s undisclosed mother. Abigail Nims really played the boy part, acting and singing her way through the role of Cherubino with all the spunk of someone that age. She bonded with the audience naturally, eagerly.

With gorgeous voice, Sara Jakubiak’s Countess of Almaviva tugged at heartstrings. More on point, Jakubiak’s arresting on-stage presence endeared her to the audience, evoking enthusiastic applause. Edward Parks as the constantly misguided Count sparked moments of remarkable gullibility and rage, his character evolving more convincingly from the third act on.

Enter Bartolo with his surprising admission-he is Figaro’s father! Rubin Casas made a compassionate doctor out of him, drawing our sympathy for his plight. His deep, rich voice lent authority and reason. He, along with the near full cast on stage, got most everybody in the audience laughing out loud.

Oddly, the central figure, Figaro, appeared at times elusive to Eric Downs. Sometimes we could figure him out, but not always. His bass-baritone voice, though, displayed polish. Figaro’s fiancé, Susanna, remained one dimensional with soprano Joanna Mongiardo playing-or rather, singing-to the audience.

Chorus pro Musica also added lots to sound and sight. Dressed in an assortment of fashions that you would find in a re-sale shop, they sang cheerfully in fine choral style.

Given the limited space, there were just enough scenic indicators, all modest and in keeping with a second-hand theme, to nudge the imagination. Stage director Micha Hendel and lighting designer Holly Gettings indeed furthered the sense of confusion that brought on so much bright comedy.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and Chairman of the Department at U. Mass Boston for the past 15 years, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award in Teaching and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. Also a composer, he lives in Watertown.

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