Even with an ailing lead, Utah Opera’s “Marriage of Figaro” delivers a memorable Mozart evening

Mon Mar 11, 2024 at 9:38 am
Madison Leonard as Susanna and Michael Adams as the Count in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro at Utah Opera. Photo: Dana Sohm

Utah Opera offered two Figaros for the price of one Saturday night.

Adam Lau, who plays the title role in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, was unable to sing on opening night due to unspecified illness. So the cover, Zachary Nelson, sang from the side of the stage while Lau acted the part (“walked” does not do justice to Tara Faircloth’s dynamic and highly choreographed stage direction). 

Serendipitously, a delightful synergy developed between the two performers over the course of the evening. Lau seemed to draw energy from Nelson’s powerful, expertly shaded singing, while Nelson’s vocal characterization became increasingly fun and engaging in response to Lau’s physical comedy.

Madison Leonard proved masterful in the role of Susanna, the smartest person onstage. Susanna has just one big solo moment, “Deh vieni, non tardar,” which Leonard sang beguilingly. But she also has close interactions with every other major character, and Leonard navigated them all with clarity and ease: playful chemistry with Lau’s Figaro; a sisterly rapport with Katherine Whyte’s Countess, capped by a sublime “Sull’aria”; vocal and physical nimbleness in evading Michael Adams’ Count; broad comedy in her tussle with Nina Yoshida Nelsen’s Marcellina; and camaraderie mingled with exasperation in her handling of Mary Beth Nelson’s Cherubino.

More than most singers who portray Mozart’s Countess Almaviva, Whyte shows us the spunky Rosina we know from  The Barber of Seville. She confronts her husband with pluck and spark, but also reveals her emotional wounds in poignant renditions of “Porgi amor” and “Dove sono,” adding some gorgeous unexpected ornamentation to the latter aria.

Adams—last seen in Salt Lake City as Rossini’s Figaro in 2021—plays Count Almaviva as a chauvinistic, entitled aristocrat, though not completely lacking in charm and wit. His double-take at the Cherubino reveal is perfectly timed. He also walks a tricky line successfully, singing with just enough of a menacing edge to maintain dramatic tension, yet still making the penitence and remorse he shows at the opera’s conclusion credible.

Nelson is a bundle of chaotic energy as Cherubino, lighting up the stage with a flawlessly sung “Non so più” and ratcheting the energy level with her madcap antics. She also engenders sympathy with her wide-eyed “Voi che sapete.”

Utah Opera has assembled a stellar cast from top to bottom of the call list. Standouts among the supporting singers include Jasmine Rodriguez, providing a sweet pause in the zany action with Barbarina’s pin aria; Jeremiah Tyson, whose honey-colored tenor adds just the right ingredient to the ensembles in which Don Curzio appears; and Charity Cooper and Kiersten Honaker, who deliver a bell-like wedding duet. Nelson as Marcellina, Matthew Burns as Bartolo, Thomas Glenn as Basilio and Tshilidzi Ndou as Antonio all give solid performances.

In tandem with Faircloth’s expert direction, conductor Conner Gray Covington and the Utah Symphony keep the near-sellout audience engaged and make the opera’s 3 1/2-hour running time fly past. Covington’s pacing is spot-on, and his light touch in the pit allows the woodwinds, in particular, to sparkle. Carol Anderson’s harpsichord continuo contributes to the momentum and spices up the recitatives with melodic call-backs and foreshadowing.

This production teams Susan Memmott Allred’s handsome Downton Abbey-inspired costumes from the company’s 2016 production with a set designed by Cameron Porteus for Arizona Opera. The set is dominated by floor-to-ceiling panels that are meant to be mirrors, but appear to be covered with mylar instead. The awkward and distracting reflections do no favors to lighting designer Ben Rawson, who nonetheless managed to differentiate the settings effectively.

The Marriage of Figaro runs through March 17 at the Capitol Theatre. utahopera.org

Leave a Comment