May 29, 2017

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Frothy Figaro a dazzling delight

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/11/2015 (553 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

To borrow from the great Bard himself: "the course of true love never did run smooth." However, it does make for a good night of madcap opera, as evidenced Saturday night during Manitoba Opera’s season-opener of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.

Last staged by the 43-year-old company in 2006, the four-act comedy, sung in Italian and based on Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto, is listed among the top 10 operas performed worldwide.

Countess Almaviva (Lara Ciekiewicz) presents Figaro (Gordon Bintner) and Susanna (Andriana Chuchman) to her husband, Count Almaviva (Daniel Okulitch), during Manitoba Opera's production of Mozart's 'Marriage of Figaro.'

ROBERT TINKER

Countess Almaviva (Lara Ciekiewicz) presents Figaro (Gordon Bintner) and Susanna (Andriana Chuchman) to her husband, Count Almaviva (Daniel Okulitch), during Manitoba Opera's production of Mozart's 'Marriage of Figaro.'

Countess Almaviva (Lara Ciekiewicz) is queried by her husband, Count Almaviva (Daniel Okulitch), about the noises he heard from her bedroom.

ROBERT TINKER

Countess Almaviva (Lara Ciekiewicz) is queried by her husband, Count Almaviva (Daniel Okulitch), about the noises he heard from her bedroom.

Figaro (Gordon Bintner) and his Fiancée Susanna (Andriana Chuchman).

ROBERT TINKER

Figaro (Gordon Bintner) and his Fiancée Susanna (Andriana Chuchman).

The three-performance production directed by Brent Krysa runs again Tuesday and Friday evenings, and features the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra led by Tadeusz Biernacki, who also prepared the Manitoba Opera Chorus.

Set in Count Almaviva’s palace near Seville, Spain, on the eve of the French Revolution, barber-turned-valet Figaro is set to wed his beloved Susanna — until the lascivious count, who wishes to exercise his feudal rights, attempts to seduce her.

One single whipsaw day later, covering a multitude of convoluted plot twists, as well as some of the most exquisite music in the opera canon, all ends happily ever after as a testament to the redemptive power of love.

The three-hour-plus (including one intermission) production also bore witness to the world-class vocal talent that continues to spring from our province, including a dream team of accomplished sopranos.

Winnipeg-born soprano Andriana Chuchman, whose skyrocketing career has recently taken her from the Metropolitan Opera in New York to the L.A. Opera in California, last appeared on the Manitoba Opera stage in 2011. As compelling actor as she is a singer, she crafted a radiant Susanna with her Act 3 aria "Deh, vieni, non tardar," in which she sings of "the fire of my love." The performance particularly showcased her luminous, soaring vocals.

Local soprano Lara Ciekiewicz proved once again she’s a versatile stage chameleon, able to crack viewers up one minute with her razor-sharp comic timing, before breaking their hearts the next with soulful characterizations. Her two show-stopping solos as the Countess Almaviva — "Porgi, Amor" and the breathtaking "Dove sono I bei momenti" — did the latter, as she revealed the complex emotional underbelly of her conflicted, all-too-human character.

Canadian bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch likewise dazzled with his swaggering portrayal of the skirt-chasing Count Almaviva, who petulantly stomps his feet and wields large axes. His robust vocals, as displayed during his Act 3 recitative and aria "Hai già vinta la causa! ... Vedrò, mentr’io sospiro," added brooding gravitas to the comic froth. His truly touching finale, "Contessa perdono!", where he begs his long-suffering wife for forgiveness, added its own grace note to the show.

Kudos to veteran mezzo-soprano Donnalynn Grills for performing as Marcellina despite an illness on Saturday’s opening night. Singing mostly sotto voce, Grills’ strong acting chops helped sell her housekeeper character, aided by simpatico sidekicks Dr. Bartolo (baritone Peter McGillivray) and Don Basilio (tenor David Menzies).

Canadian bass-baritone Gordon Bintner created a convincing Figaro, including his "Non piu andrai farfollone amoroso," which was sung with military precision, his resonant voice noticeably growing more confident as the evening progressed. He also received the night’s biggest guffaws after leaping into Grills’ waiting lap as his long-lost mother, before later tossing off the tongue-twisting "Aprite un po’ quegli occhi," which earned bravos.

Mezzo-soprano Alicia Woynarski marked her Manitoba Opera debut as the lovesick page Cherubino. She created an admirably convincing male persona, although she suffered minor intonation issues during early aria "Non so piu cosa son." Her later "Voi che sa pate," sung with relish and clear diction, fared better, although her portrayal could have gone much further.

A special highlight proved to be the now Toronto-based coloratura soprano Anne-Marie MacIntosh, a recent graduate from the University of Manitoba’s Desautels Faculty of Music, making an impressive Manitoba Opera debut as gardener Antonio’s (bass-baritone David Watson) daughter, Barbarina. This rising star made every minute of her relatively short stage time count, including delivering a riveting aria "L’ho perduta, me meschina" under a starry night sky.

The stylish, albeit more traditional, production, which received a standing ovation, included revolving mirrored door panels, strategically spun throughout the show to add greatly to the overall crazy, funhouse atmosphere that’s a bit like love in the end.

holly.harris@shaw.ca

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