By Lawrence Budmen

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) is one of the true masterpieces of the operatic repertoire. Working with his greatest librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, Mozart concocted an effervescent musical farce, combining the amorous adventures of royalty and servants in a palatial setting with elements of class, sexual conflict and the early fires of revolution hovering beneath the comedic surface.

Florida Grand Opera's production was a singular triumph on opening night (March 21) at the Arsht Center's Ziff Opera House. British director Stephen Lawless' inventive production manages to capture the play's Upstairs-Downstairs adventures without falling back on over worked comedic clichés An intensely physical romp, this staging recreates the fast paced, bubbly élan of French farce while doing justice to Mozart's sublime music. Designer Benoit Dugardyn has created eye catching yet utilitarian sets that allow the busy stage action to unfold briskly without the cluttered effect that afflicts many productions of this opera. John Stegmeir's stylish costumes enhance the mise-en-scene while the powerful, mood setting bursts of brightness and shadow in Pat Collins' artful lighting dovetail the ever shifting patina of Mozart's score.

Conductor Stewart Robertson's spacious yet incisive approach fully illuminates the dramatic pulse and instrumental felicities that abound in this masterwork. Bright, idiomatic string playing and a glowing wind contingent highlight an outstanding orchestral performance.

Soprano Kelly Kaduce takes the vocal honors as the Countess Almaviva. Well remembered for her soaring performances in FGO productions of Puccini's La Boheme and the world premiere of David Carlson's Anna Karenina, Kaduce produces the kind of gorgeous, creamy vocalism of which legends are made. Her limpid, flowing account of Dove sono was capped with vibrant ornamentation that captured period practice while bringing new life to Mozart's vocal line. At once dignified and gutsy, Kaduce held stage center in every scene.

Andrew Oakden was a youthful , agile Figaro with a commanding bass-baritone. Lauren Skuce enchanted as his bride Susanna, a vivacious, scintillating soubrette to the theater borne. Despite a passing memory lapse in the Letter Duet, Skuce was a vivacious presence, spinning out gossamer vocalism in Deh vieni non tardar. Canadian baritone Phillip Addis offered a young, virile Count Almaviva with a manly baritone to match. Amanda Crider's plangent mezzo voice and handsome bearing were a delight as the page Cherubino.

James Maddalena, the original Richard Nixon in John Adams' opera Nixon in China, did a scene stealing cameo as Dr. Bartolo. Although Maddalena's baritone lacks the low bass notes for La Vendetta, this veteran was a buffo delight. Dorothy Byrne's plumy mezzo and comic timing made the most of Marcellina's scenes. Veteran character tenor Douglas Perry was a solid Don Basilio although he lacked the vocal and theatrical elegance that Michel Senechal brought to this conniving character. Katrina Thurman's light soprano and dizzy stage presence made the most of Barbarina's limited opportunities.

With a youthful cast and authoritative musical direction combined with an intelligently conceived production, Florida Grand Opera's Marriage of Figaro is a real winner.

Florida Grand Opera repeats Le Nozze di Figaro on March 24, 25, 27 and 28 at the Arsht Center in Miami and April 2 and 4 at the Broward Center in Ft. Lauderdale.


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