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MSO Opens Season with Mozart

‘Marriage of Figaro’ begins Edo de Waart’s final fling

Sep. 20, 2016
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Photo by David Altman Saturn Lounge

For the third consecutive year, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra season opened with a Mozart opera. A fresh and lively production of The Marriage of Figaro was a splendid start to Edo de Waart’s final season with MSO last Saturday evening.

These MSO Mozart productions have been major accomplishments of De Waart, a veteran opera conductor. The quality casts have been unfailingly interesting and comprised largely of astutely chosen rising talents. Though simply presented on a unit set, the performances have been fully staged. The Figaro set included a raked stage mixing natural wood with creamy sea foam blue-green and some essential furniture and props moved for each act. 

As Figaro, Douglas Williams showed remarkable talent as a singing actor, using voice, words and gesture expressively. Joélle Harvey’s Susanna emerged with the clearest, most sympathetic vocal tone as well as the charm needed for this perky, determined character. Rachel Willis-Sørensen—one of the most exciting young voices around today—lent her regal sound and elegant demeanor to Countess Almaviva. Gordon Bintner’s well-played Count came off as blustery and lusty but ultimately foggy and weak. Bintner is good in the role, though a bit young for it. Maren Favela, making her U.S. debut as Cherubino, sang with rich evenness and created sincere, touching moments in both her arias. Susanne Mentzer, once a memorable Cherubino herself, played Marcellina with delicious relish. William Ferguson was more than entertaining as the slimy gossip-monger Don Basilio. Peixin Chen’s booming, resonant sound as Don Alfonso was impressive.

Director Robin Guarino worked miracles on this minimalist set, keeping the relationships between the characters clearly drawn and bringing out the earnest moments that spell the breathless game of the plot. My only quibble: A conga line and the Macarena in the ballroom scene were cheap laughs. The contemporary street clothes didn’t always work for me. This opera asks for something more stylized.

The orchestra played well for De Waart. There was spontaneity in this performance, which is necessary in a comedy. I was surprised at how free De Waart allowed a couple of arias to be, but listened with rapt expectation.

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