- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Wolf Trap Opera Company opened and closed its brief run of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” (“Le Nozze di Figaro”) at the Filene Center this past weekend, opening on Friday to a gratifyingly large audience. Presented on a bare-bones but quite versatile set and in period costuming — all created for these performances — the company’s production sparkled with excellent singing, but it also seemed to suffer from a shortage of rehearsal time.

“Figaro’s” farcical plot centers on the machinations of the randy Count Almaviva, who has designs on Susanna, the Countess Rosina’s maidservant.

The problem is that Susanna is engaged to the count’s valet, the wily Figaro who had actually helped his master win the hand of Rosina a few years previously. The count schemes to force Figaro’s marriage to Marcellina, a devious older woman, while reserving Susanna as a tasty side dish. But Figaro and Susanna plot with the countess to stymie the count while creating a happily-ever-after outcome for all.

While Figaro is this opera’s title character, Susanna, the count and the countess get to sing the best material. Soprano Maureen McKay is a sprightly and winning Susannah. Her youthful voice, while light in texture, delivers plenty of volume. She’s a whirling dervish of energy dominating even the Filene Center’s massive outdoor stage.

As the unhappy countess, soprano Ailyn Perez’s performance is more subdued and dignified as befits this role. Her bittersweet and sophisticated interpretation of the famous aria “Dove sono i bei momenti” (“Are those wonderful moments over?”) added a cautious, Mozartian gravitas to his sometimes silly confection.

As the count, baritone Weston Hurt was remarkable, bringing a measured villainy to this often ambiguous character. He is imperious and headstrong, yet he’s frequently embarrassed by his outsized sexual appetites and hair-trigger jealousy.

Mr. Hurt’s booming voice and excellent diction were well-suited to this role, and his mature approach to his character augurs well for his future in more complex and difficult roles.

Mozart’s Figaro tends to take a back seat to the count and Susanna in this opera, but Ryan McKinney’s well-supported voice and uncanny sense of comic timing bring his Figaro compellingly into focus even when he’s not onstage.

In the trouser-role of Cherubino, mezzo-soprano Faith Sherman also exhibited a nimble comic sense, behaving every bit the maddening, frisky, hormone-driven teenager that her character is supposed to be and often is not.

Lesser roles also sparkled in this production, each brimming with quirky personality. Both tenor Chad Freeburg as a gawky, Macaroni-affected Don Basilio, and Matt Boehler in the basso-buffo role of Doctor Bartolo provided steady and occasionally foppish comic relief. Mezzo-soprano Ronnita Nicole Miller’s scheming Marcellina emerged with an uncommon sense of dignity intact — one of the more elegant interpretations of this role we have seen.

Soprano Heidi Stober was a charming Barbarina, and baritone Museop Kim was refreshingly sane in the role of the gardener Antonio, who is usually portrayed as a doddering old drunk. Tenor Javier Abreu, sensational in the title role of last month’s “Le Comte Ory,” was appropriately oleaginous in his mini-role as Don Curzio.

Unfortunately, this considerable effort by the cast fell short of the mark during Friday evening’s performance, where the parts often exceeded the whole.

Conductor Ari Pelto frequently had difficulty controlling his forces, resulting in uneven entries and ragged tempos, particularly in the ensembles and during large choral entrances. There is never enough stage rehearsal time in today’s classical music world, and perhaps this was part of the problem.

**

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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