Manhattan never ceases to amaze with its wealth of talent found off the beaten path and Amore Opera’s American Premiere of I DUE FIGARO, part of Amore’s “Fall Figaro Fest,” is no exception. The stellar cast and chorus is truly vibrant under the direction of the company’s president Nathan Hull. The delightfully intimate venue of the 99-seat Connelly Opera House proved to be the perfect backdrop in which to become reacquainted with the characters of the Figaro story. The venue also afforded the opportunity to enjoy a close-up look at the very capable Maestro Gregory Buchalter, who is currently the cover conductor of the MET’s Barber of Seville. Maestro Buchalter didn’t disappoint and successfully forged precision and expressiveness from his orchestra throughout.
I DUE FIGARO, a lost 1826 masterpiece, composed originally in Spain by the Italian composer Saverio Mercadante to the Felici Romani libretto was buried for political reasons only to be recently rediscovered to critical acclaim in Salzburg. The story, taking place 15 years after “The Marriage of Figaro,” finds Susanna (Iris Karlin) and Figaro (Daniel Quintana), still servants to Count Almaviva (Shawn Thuris) and Countess Ronisa (Elena McEntire), in the midst of wedding preparations for their daughter Inez (Sheena Ramirez). Figaro, up to his old tricks, plans to marry Inez to Toribio (Edwin Vega), a servant disguised as Don Alvaro, a member of the nobility. However, Cherubino (Abigail Fischer), having just returned from military service is in love with Inez and plans to marry her. In order to gain access to the Count’s home, Cherubino states that his name is “Figaro” and works to discredit the real Figaro and gain the Count’s trust. What ensues are the signature plot twists and turns tinged with comedic situations worthy of a Figaro story.
I was immediately astounded by the wealth of talent displayed across the entire ensemble. The chorus, sounding much fuller and stronger than its 14-member number would suggest, held their own as strong glue for the unfolding story and a foundation from which the cast would flourish.
Standout ensemble moments included a trio in Act I (“Ben Venute…”) between Inez, Susanna, and the Countessa, a fantastically woven Sextet (“Un momento!”) in Act 2, and a musically and vocally acrobatic Act 2 Finale.
Shawn Thuris managed well with the demands of the score, producing a strong and ringing tenor, but it was during the Count’s duet with Susanna in Act 2 (“Tu lo volesti, igrata,”) where we hear a different and beautifully expressive side to the voice, singing high notes well at a piano dynamic. Vocal control in areas of subtlety is highly impactful.
Elena McEntire handled the refined character of the Countess well but without losing the expressiveness of the voice. Her aria (“Prender che val marito”) was beautifully done and I was left wanting more.
Sheena Ramirez did a fine job of portraying the innocent yet spunky Inez and reflected that well with a voice that was clear and delicate one minute and then powerful the next (“Oh! Come in un momento…”). I was impressed with how the physical demands of the character didn’t impede on her ability to maintain a strong vocal technique.
Daniel Quintana did not disappoint with his ever-scheming, yet ever charming Figaro and was able to portray him with underpinnings of vulnerability and substance, making for a multi-dimensional character that you can’t help wanting to root for despite misgivings. Although his voice was the beautiful and deeply resonant baritone that I expected given his past engagements, his strongest quality on the stage was in his character portrayal.
Iris Karlin was an absolutely delightful Susanna whom I loved from the moment she opened her mouth. Karlin handled the vocal acrobatics with ease and resonated high notes powerful enough to hit the back wall. She was a fitting counter to Quintana’s Figaro as she, too, showed her acting chops through her character’s emotional underpinnings.
One of the highlights of the evening was Abigail Fischer, whose Cherubino was nothing short of stunning. She commandeered a perfect balance of ornamental ease and velvety legato that made me want to listen for hours. Although her Act 1 aria “Io Respiro” was beautiful, her aria in the second act (“Gia per le vie del cielo”) is one that will leave you breathless. One particular note of longing (for Inez) was so powerful that it reverberated in my sternum. Fisher has given us a heartfelt and mature Cherubino, a far cry from the boy we knew before. Her performance was outstanding.
Rounding out the cast are Hans Tashjian playing Plagio, Figaro’s pupil and playwright and Edwin Vega as Don Alvaro (the disguised Toribio) who both held their own as important supporting members of the tapestry.
If you are an opera fan or a fan of the Figaro trilogy, this vibrant, fast-paced production is a must-see and shouldn’t be missed.
Please note that some roles are multi-cast with additionally, Elizabeth Treat and Julia Lima (Susanna), Gilad Paz and Joseph da Fonseca (Count), Nicole McQuade (Countess), Hayden DeWitt (Cherubino), Alea Vorillas and Megan Candio (Inez), Charles Gray and Bill Remmers (Plagio) and Christopher Sierra (Don Alvaro).
Performances are at the Connelly Theatre (220 East 4th Street). Tickets are $40.00 for general admission and $30.00 for Students and Seniors. Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.amoreopera.org or by calling 1-888-811-4111.
I DUE FIGARO
by Saverio Mercadante
Directed by Nathan Hull
thru October 28, 2011
at Connelly Theatre
220 East 4th St
New York, NY