By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Presented by San Francisco Opera
At the War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, CA
Conducted by Roy Goodman
Directed by John Copley

Reviewed by Judy Richter

The San Francisco Opera is giving soprano Ruth Ann Swenson top billing for its production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro," part of its three-opera summer season featuring divas who are former Adler Fellows in the company's prestigious Merola Opera training program. However, Swenson, a longtime favorite with SFO audiences, as Countess Almaviva is only one of the vocal delights in this well-cast, well-balanced ensemble production. Still, hers is perhaps the most elegant voice, especially in "Dove sono," in which she displays not only her crystalline high notes and vocal control but also her ability to spin out beautiful pianissimo phrases.

Directed by John Copley, who inserts plenty of amusing stage business without going overboard, this "Figaro" is populated by vivacious singers who seem both vocally and chronologically suited to their roles. Bass-baritone John Relyea is a handsome, youthful Figaro with a rich, powerful voice and topnotch acting skills. He's well-paired with soprano Camilla Tilling as Susanna, his bride-to-be. She has a light, sparkling voice that blends beautifully with Swenson's in the Letter Duet. Swenson, Tilling and Relyea make a good team as they try to outwit the lecherous Count Almaviva, played with vocal and dramatic authority by baritone Peter Mattei. Also trying to elude the Count's jealousy is the hormone-driven Cherubino, played to good effect by mezzo soprano Claudia Mahnke.

Strong support comes from bass-baritone Dale Travis as Dr. Bartolo, mezzo soprano Catherine Cook as Marcellina, tenor Greg Fedderly as Don Basilio and soprano Nikki Einfeld as Barbarina. Relyea, Travis, Cook and Einfeld are all former Adler Fellows. The entire cast shines in individual moments as well as the intricate ensembles that add so much to the pleasure of this opera.

Ian Robertson's SFO Chorus also adds to the pleasure. The SFO Orchestra does well, but it's not at its very best under the baton of Roy Goodman, who sets a too-speedy tempo for the overture, then drags out some of the arias, taxing the singers. The handsome production, based on Francisco Goya's paintings, was originally designed by Zack Brown in 1982. Lighting is by Robert Hill.

With such outstanding singing, especially by Swenson and Relyea, this is a "Figaro" to savor.

For more information, see the San Francisco Opera home page.

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17 Jun 2006