Madison Opera celebrated a most auspicious occasion, with an opening production of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” fo their fiftieth season Friday at Overture Hall with a most auspicious performance. The secret to this thoroughly captivating realization of one of the greatest operas ever composed, was the thing that make all longtime marriages work: commitment.
Director A. Scott Parry committed to stage action that was deft and laugh-out-loud funny without being over the top; his willing cast was committed to ensemble values and never forced a spotlight on themselves even in the big arias; and at the helm of a suitably pared down Madison Symphony, John DeMain committed to the “elegant and lean” interpretation he had hoped for in an interview earlier in the week.
But when the curtain went up for the first time, the sold-out house first saw a living testament to the first half-century of the company. General Director Allan Naplan introduced nine former heads of the board, along with DeMain, current president M. Fran Klos, former Director Ann Stanke, and founder Roland Johnson. Naplan introduced Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton, who gave way to Mayor Cieslewicz. Mayor Dave read a proclamation, and took suitable use of the moment to reiterate his belief that the Overture Center situation would be resolved by the end of the month. Aside from that much-desired resolution, the gathering of the notables onstage was a vivid illustration of a remarkable half-century of growth, from occasional “workshops” (the second of which in 1961 was “Figaro”) to a company with a two million dollar budget that attracts major international talents.
When the curtain rose again after a lithe overture from DeMain and his troops, the fun began at once, with Figaro and Susanna, servants to the Count and Countess, making preparations on their wedding day. Jason Hardy and Anya Matanovic at once displayed skills for light, natural comedy — and the kind of singing that backs up their resumes dotted with stops such as New York City Opera. Of course, the heart of the plot centers around the Count’s persistent attempts to seduce Susanna, Figaro’s scheming responses, and the Countess’ struggles with her husband’s ongoing philanderings.
As the royal couple, Jeff Mattsey had both the physical bearing and commanding, yet nuanced voice, and his wife, as portrayed by Melody Moore, truly lived up to her name in the great Act 3 “Dove sono.” That proved a perfect illustration of all forces, starting with Moore, giving the great number its due, and yet still managing to keep everything in the greater context and flow.
In her Madison Opera debut, Emily Lorini took the famous “trousers” role of Cherubino, the mid-teenaged boy with the raging hormones who seemingly can’t resist any of the women. Lorini has the look, the charm and the voice to make these kinds of roles her own, the way the young Frederica von Stade did. Another notable local debut was that of Michael Gallup as Dr. Bartolo. A veteran of no fewer than 41 Los Angeles Opera productions, his appearance here is further evidence of Madison Opera’s ability to attract singers of true international stature.
But again, the key to a glorious evening was that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts, and in masterpieces of this magnitude, that is no easy feat. For what Mozart and his librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte achieved was a seamless blend of recitative and aria (not to mention the natural progressions from duet, trio, quartet and beyond!), all put at the service of a story that is funny but never fails to touch us as well. In the greatest of Mozart operas, we see ourselves, sometimes all too clearly. But a work like this constantly tempts nearly every participant to stray over the line of perspective, whether in a great aria, physical activity among the singers, the conductor in the pit, etc. These folks get it, and surely this production will fittingly be remembered as one of the high marks of the first half-century of Madison Opera. Here’s hoping it also marks the cornerstone of the next fifty years — and a long and happy marriage to the Overture Center.
“Figaro” will be performed again Sunday, at 2:30 p.m.