Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Chi al par di me contenta? OperaRox Figaro

Happy Families? Figaro's matrimonial entanglements
(L-R: Miller, Maliakel, Smith, de Bettancourt)
The start of the academic year precipitated another Blogging Backlog, but that's now being cleared with Alex's MusicologistRoommate report on OperaRox's can-do, creative production of Le Nozze di Figaro, an operatic offering I'm sorry to have missed.

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I recently had the pleasure of attending OperaRox Presents’ first full-length production, Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (1786), at the National Opera Center. OperaRox, OperaRox Presents’ parent organization, is an online community of opera enthusiasts and professionals, who not only seek to nurture their own love of opera, but also to share it with the world. Armed with only a piano and few props in the intimate Scorca Hall, they created a new Nozze—a daunting feat considering the opera’s long history and audiences’ familiarity with the production. The director’s note in the program cites eccentric attempts to liven up the opera with novelty settings and concepts, but OperaRox had a different approach:
This space, and frankly, our budget as a fledgling DIY company, dictated another approach. There are no wigs, corsets, topiaries, or pyrotechnics in our Nozze; just a small stage with a piano, a few chairs, and a brave young cast you don’t have to squint at through binoculars. (Amber Treadway, “A Note from the Director”)
This necessary minimalism of the production serves as its heart and the young and talented cast is its voice. 

Scorca Hall immediately gave me fond memories of my university recital hall—that place where you go to share your love of music with friends and also a place where you can be a little experimental. It’s obvious that OperaRox’s Nozze used the space to do both of these things. Friends and family of the performers composed the majority of the audience, made clear by knowing hoots and hollers corresponding to entrances and exits of various performers. But, the most exciting thing about the performance was the sense of accidental experimentation throughout the production. 

Thanks to director Amber Treadway, by stripping down the performance to a stage, a piano, modern clothing, and a couple of simple set pieces, I was able to really absorb and experience the music itself. It seems like that would be counterintuitive to experimentation, but with Nozze (a production with an extravagant, and many-layered history) the simplicity seems a revelation. Throughout the performance I was able to really luxuriate in Mozart’s magical score interpreted by pianist and music director Dmitry Glivinsky and let myself wonder how he could possibly have made four lines of text sound distinct from one another. (Also, his transitions…I could write an ode to Mozart’s transitions.) Normally in productions of Nozze, I’m too busy being distracted by ornate costumes and scenery to truly appreciate the score. 

The mad day's conclusion: Hofmann asks pardon of Appleton
The other half of this Nozze is its young cast of singers. Led by the up and coming Michael Maliakel and Devony Smith as Figaro and Susanna, this quirky cast really deserves an enthusiastic bravo! Smith in particular had an outstanding afternoon. Her clear bright soprano was a lovely contrast to Maliakel’s rich baritone. Kimberly Feltkamp’s perfectly petulant Cherubino was also a delight and always a laugh. Michael Hofmann and Jaimie Appleton as the Count and his Countess were well matched. I particularly enjoyed the moment at the end when the Count is making his amends and Appleton’s Countess never really looks like she buys his apology, even after she accepts it. Kevin Miller, Maayan Voss de Bettancourt, and Eric Alexieff as Bartolo, Marcellina, and Basilio served as quite exciting comedic surprises and always arrived when a scene needed a laugh.

As can be expected, at this young professional level, there were stumbles here and there (a note that was a little too loud or a range that was just not quite there yet), but all-in-all I was very impressed with the collection of talent in this little production. I look forward to what is in store for this little company and wish them good luck for the future!

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