What can happen in opera when all goes well but the orchestra? Believe it or not, much can and did at the Boston Opera Collaborative’s The Marriage of Figaro, currently at Mass Art’s Tower Auditorium. (This reviewer saw the performance on Sunday, July 18.) Mozart’s four acts of shenanigans taking some three-plus hours came fast-paced all the way and with integrity, save for the musicians in the pit. The singing, especially from Taesung Kim as the Count, Graham Wright as Figaro, and Margaret Felice as Figaro’s mother, kept the opera firmly on its feet.
A very boyish-looking Hilary Anne Walker brought Cherubino to life. The unwavering harpsichord accompaniment of Julia Carey richly and expressively textured the recitatives. The more you heard and saw Kim, the more convincing and appealing he became. His voice subtly allures. Wright, on the other hand, started strong, then, perhaps due to his highly relaxed, almost informal presence, turned into more of a friendly neighbor than a Figaro — but his voice always entertained.
Susanna played by Vanessa Julia Isiguen never caught fire. But Marcellina, who is discovered to be Figaro’s own mother, came off as cheerful, even giddy at times, this, because of Margaret Felice’s light and lovely voice. Erin M. Smith, the Countess Almaviva, was inconsistent, her vocal details particularly needing more attention. One of the best things that happened was in the duets and ensemble singing, where just about everyone seemed to sound better, working so naturally with one another.
The medium-sized Tower Auditorium at MassArts, really a lecture hall (so with less reverberation than found in some of the dedicated spaces around town), did not significantly hamper voices but probably did expose more of the wrong-doing by virtually every instrumentalist. One wonders if the fairly small stage played more of a role in limiting action and sets, or if it was the economy of the State, or better still, and which is more probable, the financial resources of the opera company itself.
Fine slender columns found new configurations; later a bed became a desk, and in the final act, garlands of small lights were looped about, heightening the very pleasing satiny-gold aura and giving the entire production a subdued royal elegance. Dancing during the wedding scene and a few other such smaller moves suggested there be more. A touching moment came when the Count simply kneeled before the Countess to ask her forgiveness. If there could have been more movement, play of lighting, and set cleverness, this three-hour opera could have had more impact. For the eye, the production finally became static.
All in all, almost all went well when one also considers the unbeatable price of a ticket at $25, with students coming in at $15. An ongoing issue with expensive events, accessibility cannot be blamed for keeping anyone away from opera. Had the Red Sox been away, free parking would have been easy for most to find. To boot, good refreshments could be had at good prices.
Performed in Italian with English supertitles, The Marriage of Figaro under the stage direction of Michael Ouellette may not be a must-see, but why not check it out, if you can. Adam Boyles, music director, must be asked about the orchestra: did he field these players? With another weekend of performances scheduled, can something be done, even in so short a time? Another cast will take over, so why not another orchestra?
Really, even the least experienced know when it gets this bad. Why not forgo the commitment to early instruments and get some modern ones in that can hold tune and play up tempo? Besides, I understand that only a few string players actually played on old instruments; most all merely held their modern bows higher up while using a two-plus-two formula: two gut strings (early-instrument idea) and two metal strings (modern). I also learned that a fortepiano could not be acquired, thus the harpsichord—which turned out be one of the best things all afternoon on July 18.
In its fourth season, Boston Opera Collaborative’s all-volunteer cast and crew are fresh to most Bostonians, including myself. This, in itself, might be compelling reason for taking a chance on them. Remaining performances take place Friday through Sunday July 23-25.