Saturday, July 01, 2006

Marriage of Figaro at SFO

Thursday night I went to a performance of the Marriage of Figaro. At first I was going to pass on it, but it really is my favorite opera, so I paid for an expensive side orchestra ticket at the last minute.

I heard the conductor Roy Goodman lead Rodelinda last year, & I remember really liking his conducting, but every time the orchestra started up my first thought was always that it was too fast. He also had the orchestra doing these original instrument things, like having the strings play straight tones without vibrato & doing terraced dynamics. A flute line or horn line would stick out more. I suppose this made details of the orchestration clear, but it often sounded unblended.

I don't know why, but oddly the last moments of the 2nd act finale were not together. Is Goodman's beat not clear? I couldn't tell why he was having coordination problems. I think the tempos were a problem, though. Not enough room to be expressive with the music.

The cast was very even, & they were all good actors. The Figaro was John Relyea, who is tall, lanky & has an athletic stage presence. He seemed to enjoy hopping over benches or steps on stage. & he has a very big voice. Ruth Ann Swenson as the Countess gave the most musically mature & controlled performance of the evening.

But this was very much an ensemble cast. No one performer or character dominated. The secondary roles were especially good. Dr. Bartolo hammed it up, flirting with the audience at the end of the 3rd act sextet, & Marcellina got applause doing her 4th act recitative about women having to stick together against the tyranny of men. For sure everyone was having fun on stage, & so the audience laughed a lot too, even though the staging wasn't especially clever or funny.

I want to know, why is it that characters always run offstage as soon as they finish their arias? Is this a convention? It seems strange, because it always leaves the audience applauding an empty stage. It robs the audience of a chance to interact with the performer

There is always too much to admire about this opera. On this hearing, I was thinking about the character of the Count. He's not a nice guy. He's predatory, smug & unreasonably possessive. Yet in the last act we see Figaro falling prey to that same kind of jealousy. Figaro, whom we like so much, could just as easily be the Count.

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