Those who say ‘Opera is in decline’ must not have seen the Boston Conservatory’s production of Le nozze di Figaro last weekend. Applause and hollering from the packed crowd accompanied the lively (if sterilized) collegiate production. The Saturday evening cast featured many current students with wonderful chemistry in the ensemble. While everyone performed any solo excellently, the group numbers (both in recits. and finales) most memorably displayed Mozart’s magical ability to capture drama in musical notation. Director David Gately tempered the show’s many twists and turns, resulting in a straightforward presentation of the story.
Conductor Joseph Mechavich conducted the show while playing harpsichord continuo. Never a dull moment, he filled his creative improvisation with flashes of arpeggios, fragments of piano sonatas, and tunes from the opera to ease transitional moments. His atypical realization of the bassline enhanced the audience’s immersion into the Mozartian soundscape. The orchestra played well, though balance problems obscured the voices in some passages. The condensed tone of the strings blended well with the wind players’ pungent, reedy color. Bright shimmers of horn, sometimes heralding, sometimes droning, rounded out Mozart’s masterful orchestration. The orchestra moved on one accord with sharp contrasts of volume around fortepianos. In titillating moments, the roar of the orchestra could die away to accommodate the singers.
With production design and scenery on loan from the Maryland Lyric Opera, the traditional set whisked the audience out of the second-floor black box and into an image of 18th-century elite life. Kevin Gregory Fulton’s dynamic lighting enlivened the set with changing light levels and directions throughout la folle journée, while ubiquitous damask embroidery graced every surface not nailed to the floor. The set for the second act, the Countess’s Bedroom, was probably the most elaborate set, with a canopied bed the largest single set piece. The many chairs provided ample places for characters to hide without appearing cluttered. The warm top lighting at the opening of the second act pulled the audience into the Countess’s headspace, casting the actors in silhouette until the beginning of the aria when frontal lighting illuminated her anguished face. Overturned green chairs mimicked bushes for the garden scene in the fourth act.
Christopher Humbert’s (Figaro) infectious energy enlivened his every scene. His Figaro showed nobleness of character and sincerity while remaining grounded in the story. Even when crouched on his knees or laying on the floor, he projected to every attentive listener. Recits flowed with a natural disposition and clear communication.
Emily O’Connor (Susanna) realized her role with a level dramatic realism usually seen in musical theater, not in ‘stiff’ opera. She expressed every line of dialogue with a hand gesture or turn of the head, motions small enough to be missed but subtle enough to bring Mozart’s notes to life. I enjoyed her balanced duets where she inspired her costars to animate their characters as much as she. Well timed moments of sing-speak added some welcome of sass to her three-dimensional character.
Nina Anderson (Countess Almaviva) brought a strong emotive element to the ensemble, moving the audience through the Countess’s turmoil. Her powerful voice filled the room with sweet, lyrical music.
Joel Clemens (Count Almaviva) best displayed his strengths as a dramatic actor in his act three monologues. The scenes unfolded like a movie. Clemens carried the audience through the microdrama of conspiracy and confusion, using his facial expressions and body language as effectively as his voice. Throughout the show, he spat out the Italian libretto with the ease of a native speaker.
Grace Heldridge (Cherubino) charmed the audience with her breeches role. Her sparkling voice and radiant personality imparted a boyish wonder to the character, but her nimble articulation invoked a mischievous element. She balanced these elements well in dramatic moments, and enlivened ensembles with the right level of naivety.
Darya Narymanava (Marcellina) gave a powerful performance of the show’s most sinister character. She manifested a coarse personality through her interactions. During the wedding scene, I could not help but think of the phrase “misery loves company.”
Craig Juricka (Bartolo), the cast’s sole faculty member, gave a refined performance of the comic role. Whether the center of attention or a background character, he knew what to do and when to do it.
If a production can only be taken as seriously as the actors take it, then this production is one to remember. Even minor actors Corey Mann (Don Curzio), Ally Brigley (Barbarina), Vaughn Nesmith (Antonio), and Sam Crosby-Schmidt (Basilio) brought as much dedication to their limited but not unimportant roles as the leads did, and I hope to hear them again as Papageno or Fiordiligi in the near future.
Director – David Gately
Conductor – Joseph Mechavich
Assistant Conductor – Michael Strauss
Stage Director – David Gately
Scenic Coordinator – Danielle Ibrahim
Costume Designer – Glenn Avery Breed
Costume Provider – Wardrobe Witchery
Costume Coordinator – Chloe Moore
Lighting Designer – Kevin Gregory Fulton
Surtitle Designer – Emma Shelton
Coaching and Musical Preparation – Jean Anderson, James Myers
Rehearsal Pianists – Maja Tremiszewska, John Elam
Student Conductor – Julian Gau