–It was a Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart matinee at Northwestern Illinois University as its Opera Theater of the School of Music presented “The Marriage of Figaro.” The program was in collaboration with the NIU Philharmonic and NIU Concert Choir.
–This 18th century work that began as a play by Pierrie Beaumarchais was initially banned in Vienna and deemed dangerous because of its spoof on aristocracy. When Mozart collaborated with Lorenzo Da Ponte for libretto, however, it became thereon an enormously successful opera buffa.
–Opera buffa, or comic opera, relates to the commoners with much drama and pathos using lower voices than opera seria of the aristocracy that used higher ranges. But sometimes you work with available talent, as conductor/music director Lucia Matos commented, “we seem to have a lot of baritones.”
–The program noted that the four acts of ‘Figaro’ might well be lavishly produced with ornate trappings commonly associated with this masterpiece. The Opera Theater made no apology, however, to have chosen a “semi-staged” version using few set pieces and contemporary costumes. What remained was a well cast and musically adept creation that Mozart himself could have envisioned.
–The essential sauce of intrigue, jealousy, mistaken identities and all else that makes a mockery of human fidelity was clearly present. There were some dozen characters before some 30 orchestral members to make the creation a humorous combat between high life, low life and everyone in between. The flavor of occasional chords provided by harpsichordist William Koehler of the School of Music faculty was delightful as an ominous effect to further the story.
–Special guest soprano Sarah Sipll was most skillful in her role as a sometimes emotional and sometimes uppity Countess. Her second act aria, “Porgi, amor, qualche ristoro” – “Grant, love, some comfort” – was especially moving. She sang unquestioned power at every entrance bringing her performance experience as soloist and music educator in the Chicago area. She overrode a sometimes intrusive orchestra with ease.
–All voices were remarkable in their own way. Most notable with her spitfire presence was Marybeth Kurnat as the Cherubino, the Count’s page. Her theatrical abilities and vocal passages seemed to light the stage at every turn. Out of her small stature came large versatility and simply pure talent.
–Drayton Eggleson as Figaro was fit and commanding as was a feminine Victoria Watts, his betrothed Susanna. Aaron Bolden as Doctor Bartolo provided a rich blend as did Johnny Boehlefeld as the Count. His solos seem to strengthen with each act.
–A special note goes to tenor Sean DelGrosso as music master Don Basilio. His range and acting fit so neatly the flavor of buffa. Jennifer Griffin as Marcellina carried well as did Catherine Taylor, Liz Camerano and Michael Dhesse.