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Scott Cantrell in Sante Fe

July 30, 2008

By Scott Cantrell, The Dallas Morning News

Jul. 30–SANTA FE, N.M. — One of those only-in-Santa Fe vistas greeted the audience for Monday’s performance of The Marriage of Figaro. Behind row upon row of faux flowers on the stage of the Crosby Theatre, the open upstage gave a view of real purple mountains and streaks of clouds in a yellowish sunset. The best set painter couldn’t have matched the magic.

Santa Fe Opera’s new production of Mozart’s evergreen is certainly lively and splendidly sung. Paul Brown’s sets, a succession of walls drawn across the flowery field, and costumes placed the opera in the 18th century. But director Jonathan Kent and a keen cast give the drama a modern immediacy and physicality.

Tall, handsome and intense, Luca Pisaroni is a Figaro with a bass- baritone firm, bright and flexible allied to vivid declamation. Occasionally one wants a little more volume from Elizabeth Watts’ Susanna, but she sings lovingly and acts as spunky as you’d expect for a character who, after all, is a passionate young Spaniard.

Susanna Phillips is the rare Countess who actually looks as young as Mozart and his librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte, imagined the put-upon wife. That she isn’t so worldly-wise as the usually mature singer in the role lends a welcome freshness; how she will react to any situation is anyone’s guess.

Mariusz Kwiecien, reprising the role he sang in the 2002 Dallas Opera Figaro, is certainly a virile Almaviva, with a dapper baritone to match. But here’s where I part company with Mr. Kent, estimable theater director though he is. Almaviva might be a “mere” count, but surely he would express his randiness more subtly than in these crude gropings of naughty parts.

Isabel Leonard is a fabulous Cherubino, and one who actually looks like an adolescent boy. Her mezzo has the dream balance of clarity and substance, and she sings as if she means every word.

There’s not a weak link in the rest of the cast: Gwynne Howell as Dr. Bartolo, Michaela Martens as Marcellina, Aaron Pegram as Don Basilio, Kyle Albertson as Antonio, Alex Mansoori as Don Curzio and Jamie-Rose Guarrine as Barbarina.

Conductor Kenneth Montgomery keeps tempos quite lively, and he gets vivid, stylish — and just occasionally too loud — playing from the orchestra. Recitative accompaniments are shaped with amazing eloquence. Plan your life

The Marriage of Figaro repeats Tuesday, Aug. 9, 13, 18 and 22 at the Crosby Theatre, Santa Fe, N.M. $28 to $180. 1-800-280-4654.

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