PORT’S Proof: Mozart’s Magic Undiminished

By Christopher Hyde, Portland Press Herald

Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro," which the Portland Opera Repertory Theater opened Thursday night at Merrill Auditorium, is an equal opportunity employer.

The servants, as always, get the best of their masters, but more importantly, there are none of the star vehicles that characterized Italian opera before Mozart. There are beautiful arias, but they are distributed among the characters, and much of the musical emphasis is on part singing in groups ranging from duets to octets and more, often at cross purposes in the plot.

The result is that the opera cannot be carried by a single diva. There can be no weak links, or the whole thing falls apart. The production Thursday night held together perfectly, and held the interest of a large audience for three magical hours.

How the opera does this is one of the mysteries of art. No one should be interested in a bedroom farce that is almost too complex to follow and window, but we are.

Part of the appeal is character development - the players become real enough to care about. Part of it is pacing. DaPonte never lets a single mood predominate for too long. Slap-stick follows real wit, which precedes pathos. Part of it is balance among four couples, as in "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

But the greatest appeal of all is Mozart's music, which would entrance without any plot at all. The singers and orchestra under Bruce Hangen did it full justice.

Stephano de Peppo is delightful as the resourceful Figaro, with a strong bass-baritone, stage presence and acting ability to match. Some of his tounge-twisting arias seem to presage the "Largo al Factotum" of Rossini's "Barber of Seville." Michael Chioldi is equally good as the lecherous but intermittently repentant Count Almaviva, alternately radiating authority and embarrassment.

They are matched at every turn by the female pair of Susanna, by soprano Ying Huang, and the Countess Almaviva, sung by Alexandra Deshorties. Their selection was either genius or serendipity because the voices are so readily distinguishable - which helps the plot - yet sound so well together. The duet in Act III, when they are arranging the assignation in the garden, is one of the high points of the new production.

The secondary characters were also uniformly excellent and perfectly differentiated. There is a wonderful piece of stage business when the foppish music master, Don Basilio, sung by Matthew Surapine, conducts a chorus of servants while continually looking over his shoulder at Hangen in the orchestra pit.

Carolyne Eberhardt is an innocentlv seductive Barbarina. But Marguerite Krull as Cherubino deserves special mention for her mercurial and irrepressible spirit Cherubino not only advances the plot and enlivens the stage, but also serves as a more lovable and amorous counterpart to Almaviva, who would otherwise be too "heavy" for a comedy. The sets, by Boyd Ostroff, were quite good, and more rapidly interchangeable than in some previous PORT productions. The garden setting in Act IV was magical, but we could have done without the fireworks on the backdrop during the finale.

Christopher Hyde's Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram.

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