Review: Santa Fe Opera Reverentially Revives “Nozze di Figaro”, June 29, 2013

Santa Fe Opera’s second 2013 summer festival offering was a revival of Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro”, previously seen in the 2008 season.

The Mozart comedy is one of humankind’s greatest masterpieces. It provided Santa Fe audiences with the chance to hear important new voices in the roles of Figaro and Cherubino, and established stars in mid-career as Susanna and the Count and Countess Almaviva.

There was also the nostalgic reaquaintance with the great mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer as Marcellina, with veteran character actors Dale Travis and Keith Jameson as, respectively, Doctor Bartolo and Don Basilio.

[Below: a scene of confusion in the Countess’ bed chambers, with, from left to right, Don Basilio (Keith Jameson), Marcellina (Susanne Mentzer), Dr Bartolo (Dale Travis), Count Almaviva (Daniel Okulitch), Figaro (Zachary Nelson), Susanna (Lisette Oropesa) and the Countess Almaviva (Susanna Phillips); edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]


Reviving the Jonathan Kent – Paul Brown Production

I had reported at length about the  original  production by British director Jonathan Kent [See Kwiecien, Pisaroni Lead Youthful “Figaro” Ensemble in Santa Fe – August 13, 2008.] Stage director Bruce Donnell, a veteran of many New York Metropolitan Opera and Santa Fe Opera productions, re-staged it, retaining the charm of Kent’s original design.

Kent’s collaborator had been set designer Paul Brown, who has a signature style, that I call the  “indoor-outdoor” unit set, here reflected in a field of flowers (often visible from the interior spaces in which the opera’s final scene takes place.

Zachary Nelson’s Figaro

The lead role was sung by Zachary Nelson, who, significantly, as a 2012 Santa Fe Opera Apprentice, had been assigned the major comprimario part of Angelotti in Puccini’s “Tosca”.

[Below: Zachary Nelson as Figaro; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]


Nelson’s career obviously in rapid ascendancy, this recent graduate of Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts gave a secure, sympathetic performance, excelling both in Figaro’s solo arias and in Mozart’s justly revered ensembles.

Daniel Okulitch’s Almaviva

Canadian baritone Daniel Okulitch sang the role of Almaviva impressively, portraying him with restraint and the dignity that the character himself would expect of his subordinates and subjects, yet totally believable in his sexual scheming that, to his fury, fails to achieve its goals.

[Below: Daniel Okulitch as the Count Almaviva; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]


Okulitch, who also sings the role of Figaro [see Domingo’s Domain: The Incredible Maestro Conducts Los Angeles Opera “Nozze” – October 6, 2010], has proven to be a solid Mozart singer with a strong and attractive bass-baritone and the technical fundamentals that these roles require.

But, as evidence that he’s not just a Mozartean, his return to the Santa Fe Opera follows his farcical triumph in a Menotti comedy [see Loving “The Last Savage”: Over the Top Menotti Charms at Santa Fe Opera – August 5, 2011].

Additionally, his creation of the role of Seth Brundle in Howard Shore’s opera set Paris and Los Angeles abuzz [See Dissecting “The Fly”: the American Premiere of Shore’s Opera in L.A. – September 7, 2008.]

Susanna Phillips’ Countess Almaviva

A Santa Fe Opera favorite in Mozart’s great operas, also appearing here in as Donna Elvira, [see The Man Who Loved Women: Lucas Meachem’s Empathetic Don Giovanni – Santa Fe, July 31, 2009], Susanna Phillips sang the role of Countess Almaviva with the expected poise and dignity, elegantly singing the Countess’ two great arias Porgi, amor  and  Dove sono.

[Below: Lisette Oropesa as Susanna (standing, left) and Susanna Phillips as the Countess Almaviva (seated, right); edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]


Lisette Oropesa’s Susanna

Lisette Oropesa, in the opera’s longest role, was a sprightly Susanna. [See also Graham, Daniels, Prina Excel in Elegant, Witty “Xerxes” – San Francisco Opera, October 30, 2011.] Brilliant in the ensemble pieces, her last act solo aria Deh vieni, non tardar was particularly affecting.

Emily Fons’ Cherubino

As with Nelson’s Figaro, the production also provides a career boost for the Cherubino, mezzo-soprano Emily Fons (as it did for Isabel Leonard, her predecessor in this great mezzo “trouser” role in 2008.)

Playing the sexually aware page, she was was dramatically believable as a gangling adolescent boy, sniffing the lingerie in the Countess’ laundry, all giggly when Susanna and the Countess adorn him in girl’s clothes in which he is to be disguised.

[Below: Emily Fons as Cherubino; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]


The Ensemble

Care was taken also in the casting of each of the five smaller roles. The gardener Antonio is the promising Adam Lau.  The Barbarina,  nicely performing her solo aria in the final scene, was Rachel Hall.

Jonathan Winell, who gets to join in the hilarity of the “recognition” scene of Figaro’s parents, was the notary, Don Curzio. Lindsay Russell and Samantha Korbey were the two bridesmaids.

John Nelson conducted with spirit. The chorus master was Susanne Sheston. Duane Shuler designed the lighting.


I recommend this production and cast without reservation.