Love and Opera, again and again
There are not too many operas, I’ve found, that I really want to see more than once or twice, even though opera productions are usually vastly different, especially vocally. That being said, I’d go to any “Le nozze di Figaro.” Its good humor, dazzlingly complicated plot, gorgeous and transformative music, and plain humanity make it a diamond among operas.
Then again, I’d also go to any Merola Opera Program’s production of any thing. The program’s pared-down visual productions allow for the essential virtues of opera to emerge on stage. And Merola’s singers are always exceptionally talented, fresh voiced, and energetically youthful actors. They are a pleasure to listen to and to watch.
So it was thoroughly enjoyable operatic evening on August 1 when — held in the unlikely setting of Everett Middle School auditorium, a venue with has, for the most part, excellent acoustics (though the overhang at the back of the orchestra tends to muddy the sound)— the Merola Opera Program presented the second of its summer opera, Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro.” This is the program’s 56th Anniversary season.
Cavorting in and out of the five cupboards that constituted the sets, the Merolini caught the essentially silly and poignant qualities of innocent love in combat with covert infidelity. A battle that in Mozart’s time also embodied the inequalities of class and power in 18th-century Europe. Baritone John Arnold and soprano Maria Valdes sang the roles of Figaro and Susanna, both had beautiful tone— Valdes’ strikingly so— but with voices lighter than the rest of the cast. Not necessarily a fault at this point in their development. The two soon-to-be-married lovers anchored the play’s action with their characters’ sincerity of intent, in contrast to the unruly and silly behavior of the other characters.
Both Jacqueline Piccolino, who invested the Countess’ character with graciousness, and baritone Joseph Lattanzi, who gave Almaviva a dignity despite his clearly roguish machinations, are blessed with strong and rich tonal quality and stage charisma that allowed them to hold the audience’s attention while some truly vivacious comic acting and singing flowed around them.
Yes, even the smaller roles were performed with gusto. Bass-baritone Thomas Richards sang the pompous revenge-seeking Dr. Bartolo, mezzo-soprano Daryl Freedman was the conniving Marcellina, Rihab Chaieb the splendidly mischevious Cherubino, and Casey Finnigan was a red-bewigged Don Basilio. All of these young singers had big splendid voices and were obviously having a great time cavorting around in roles that required broad humor, ironic timing and physical comedy.
Petite Xian Zhang was the fiery force conducting the ever-wonderful band, moving singers and musicians along through the intricacies of Mozart’s score. The chorus was lovely.
Any complaints? Well, I could have used a bit more greenery in the final garden scene, where lovers and would-be adulterers gathered to tease and reveal their desires in a warm summer night under the pine trees. Those wooden pyramids just didn’t do the illusory trick. But never mind … the voices did.
Photo: The cast of the Merola’s production of Mozart’s “Nozze di Figaro”: ( front left to right) Casey Finnigan (Don Basilio), Joseph Lattanzi (Count Almaviva), John Arnold (Figaro), Maria Valdes (Susanna) and Rihab Chaieb (Cherubino). Photo by Kristen Loken.