Marriage at Lowell House

The Marriage of Figaro

By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Libretto by Lorenzo de Ponte

Directed by Allison Charney

Music Direction by Benjamin Loeb


At the Lowell House Dining Hall

Tonight and Sunday at 8:00

We opera lovers are a passionate lot.

We'll stand in line in sub-zero weather for opera tickets. We'd rather go out and buy that new Kiri Te Kanawa CD than open up this month's phone bill. We'll stay home to watch a Live from the Met broadcast instead of taking our chances on the new Arnold Schwarzenegger film. And even our beloved Mozart, Wagner and Puccini LP's are showing severe wear and tear.

But Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, bar none, remains one of the most beloved operas of any composer. This comedy of mismatched lovers and mistaken identities contains some of the most uplifting and well-crafted of Mozart's music. And, thanks to some superb singing and character acting, along with a solid orchestra performance under the direction of Music Director Benjamin Loeb, the Lowell House Opera's Marriage of Figaro more than lives up to the ambitious musical challenge of putting on a full-scale opera in a house dining hall.

Granted, this is Harvard, not La Scala. I walked into the Lowell House dining hall expecting to be only pleasantly surprised. I remembered the Lowell House Opera productions of the past, with competent singers having to double-project over a multitudinous orchestra placed in front of the stage, keeping audience members from having a clear view.

But Lowell House Opera Director Allison Charney, who doubled quite beautifully as Cherubino in the performance, seems to have discovered how to get singers heard over the strains of the orchestra. The orchestra plays behind a scrim with an intricate television camera hook-up between conductor and cast, leaving the singers room to really project their voices and have a fun time doing it.

Leading the cast, made up of various professionals from the Boston area as well as some Harvard students, is Rod Nelman as Figaro, a servant to the Count and Countess Almaviva. Ilana Davidson stars as his future bride, Susanna. In roles commonly given to 50-ish opera stars, it is refreshing to see two young leading singers play the parts of lovers who just can't quite seem to get married, no matter how hard they try.

Susanna, in cahoots with the Countess (Martha Warren) launches a plot against the Count (David Kravitz) who wants Susanna and doesn't return the Countess' love as he should. Basically, Susanna wants Figaro, the Count wants Susanna and the Countess wants the Count. Throw in a case of a lovesick teenager (Cherubino), recruited to aid in the scheme by the women, and a subplot where the orphaned Figaro learns the identities of his real parents, and you get some really dangerous liaisons.

Davidson, a talented actress and singer, brings to the role of Susanna a playful, crafty and subtle sexuality Although not an overly powerful soprano, the beauty of Davidson's tone as well as her careful musical phrasing was more than able to compensate for her occasional lack of projection Susanna's most memorable aria, coming late in the fourth act ("Giunse alfin il momento che godro senza affanno"--"At last the moment is near when carefree I shall exult") was quite beautiful and an exercise in difficult stage acting as well. Nelman's Figaro was an equally dashing figure with a formidable presence.

Warren, as the lovestruck Countess, lyrically opens the second act with her sorrowful "Porgi, amor, qualche ristoro al mio duolo, a mieis sospiri" aria ("Grant, love, that relief to my sorrow, to my sighing"). Aided by a dramatic blood-red backdrop, she expresses her grief over her unrequieted love for the Count. Although wooden at first, Warren's Countess warmed up as the action heated up. She does, however, keep a cool distance from the audience as well as from the Count, who is well-played by Kravitz.

As the pixieish Cherubino (always played by a woman), Charney has held her own alongside her more mature counterparts. Credited with the fluid stage choreography, Charney lent her comic side to the oftentimes befuddled (and well-named) Cherubino, who loves all women of all types.

Although Lowell's production seemed to lose a bit of its momentum in the third act, it picked up speed as the characters headed into the famous fourth-act "Garden" scene. Throughout, there were some truly hilarious bits by Tim Alexander, as the oh-so-proper Basilio (also doubling as Don Curzio) and Paul Lincoln, who plays the bumbling drunk Antonio. And, rounding out the cast, Karen Thompson was quite charming as Barbarina, while Laura Schall Gouillard and Al Cameron gave competent performances as Marcellina and Bartolo, Figaro's long lost parents.

Impeded at times by a fairly lame English translation of Da Ponto's libretto by Andrew Porter (I mean, would Susanna really call Figaro a "blockhead" in the eighteenth century?), it is Mozart in the end who gives us the most aural pleasure. Who can resist the remarkable closing scene of The Marriage of Figaro, in which Figaro and Susanna, the Count and Countess Almaviva, Marcellina and Bartolo and all other cast members join together in praise of love and happiness? It's a scene not to be missed, confirming Mozart's brilliance in choral writing and the Lowell House Opera's commendability in bringing it all off.

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