27 February 2017

PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, K. 492 (T. Simpson, J. Cherest, D. Lombard, S. LaBrie, J. Panara, D. Hartmann, A. Anderson; North Carolina Opera, 26 February 2017)

IN PERFORMANCE: (from left to right) Baritone STEVEN LaBRIE as Conte Almaviva, bass-baritone TYLER SIMPSON as Figaro, and sopranos JENNIFER CHEREST and D'ANA LOMBARD as Susanna and Contessa Almaviva in North Carolina Opera's production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, February 2017 [Photo by Curtis Brown Photography, © by North Carolina Opera]WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756 – 1791): Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492D’Ana Lombard (La Contessa di Almaviva), Steven LaBrie (Il Conte di Almaviva), Jennifer Cherest (Susanna), Tyler Simpson (Figaro), Jennifer Panara (Cherubino), Donald Hartmann (Dottor Bartolo), Alissa Anderson (Marcellina), Wade Henderson (Don Basilio), Derek Jackenheimer (Don Curzio), Kathleen Jasinskas (Barbarina), Eugene Galvin (Antonio), Gretchen Bruesehoff (Una contadina), Rachel Stenbuck (Una contadina); North Carolina Opera Chorus and Orchestra; Steven Jarvi, conductor [Laurie Rogers, harpsichord continuo; Scott MacLeod, Chorus Master; Matthew Ozawa, Director; Caite Hevner Kemp, Scenic Designer; Glenn Avery Breed, Costume Designer; Ross Kolman, Lighting Designer; North Carolina Opera, A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Sunday, 26 February 2017]

The city’s status as the capital of the far-reaching Habsburg empire and an artistic center rivaled in the Western world only by London and Paris notwithstanding, there can have been very few people in Vienna in 1786 more widely traveled, experienced, and exposed to cultural currents than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Accustomed to the company of princes of church and state since his childhood, during which his ambitious father paraded him before the crowned heads of Europe as a child prodigy impeccably trained for their amusement, Mozart was among the few men of his age who could boast of having been privy to the sometimes complicated dynamics of Europe’s most powerful ruling families. What Freud might have concluded about the psychological effects of such an upbringing can only be imagined, but the benefits to Mozart as a mature composer are undeniable. By the time that he abandoned the oppressive atmosphere of his native Salzburg and established himself in Vienna in 1781, Mozart was personally acquainted with Johann Christian Bach, Franz Joseph Haydn, and Josef Mysliveček and knew the music and stylistic tendencies of many of the leading composers of his time. One of the most perfect syntheses of these influences and his own singular genius sprang to life on the stage of Vienna’s Theater an der Burg on 1 May 1786. With the première of Le nozze di Figaro, a setting of a controversial and oft-banned 1778 play by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais and the first of Mozart’s three momentous collaborations with Lorenzo Da Ponte, the composer’s mature operatic voice enchanted first Vienna and then, via Prague, all of Europe. It is a voice that resounded enchantingly in North Carolina Opera’s visually appealing, engrossingly musical production of the opera; a voice still as potent in 2017 as it was in 1786.

It was in the turbulent milieu of pre-Revolution France that Beaumarchais’s La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro finally reached the stage of the Théâtre Français in 1784, six years after its completion and three years after the venerable Comédie Française accepted the play into its repertoire. Censorial objections prevented the play’s public première until intervention by Louis XVI paved the way for performance of a revised version of the script. Presented by London’s Theatre Royal, Covent Garden later in 1784, La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro was ultimately the most fiscally successful French play of the Eighteenth Century. Perpetuating the difficulties suffered by the play in France, an imperial ban prohibited productions of the German translation of La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro. Royal prerogative again prevailed, however: Joseph II authorized Mozart’s setting of Da Ponte’s prickly but depoliticized libretto from its inception. From a modern perspective, it seems that either Joseph II was a magnanimously tolerant monarch or his appointed guardians of propriety could have benefited from Italian lessons. The social satire and class disparities that lurk within the jocular lines of Da Ponte’s poetry are unmistakable. Perhaps the Emperor merely trusted Mozart to create an opera focused on people and their emotions rather than on social stereotypes and their sardonic implications. This theoretical trust was not misplaced: Da Ponte’s caustic barbs are present in the opera, but Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro is predominantly a study of the connections among people, not the contrasts among their social statuses.

Festooning the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater stage with a colorful production shared with Opera Saratoga, where it premièred in June 2016, North Carolina Opera’s Le nozze di Figaro placed Beaumarchais’s, Da Ponte’s, and Mozart’s comedy of conflicting social and amorous ambitions in a deceptively posh environment in which appearances of affluence and propriety were more important than actual wealth and status–unless, of course, even that impression was yet another ruse. Dominated by a black and white checkered floor reminiscent of Notting Hill entrance halls and Graham Vick’s ill-fated 2000 Metropolitan Opera production of Verdi’s Il trovatore, Caite Hevner Kemp’s scenic designs were evocative more of South Kensington than of Spain but were notably successful at focusing the observer’s attention where Mozart intended it to be. The symmetry of the staging, reflected in Matthew Ozawa’s witty but sensible direction, suited the painstakingly-crafted equilibrium of Mozart’s score, the balance of frivolity and frankness maintained even in the opera’s most madcap moments. In Glenn Avery Breed’s mostly flattering costumes, created by Wardrobe Witchery, the uniformly attractive singers looked as though they emerged from a performance of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at the Old Vic, dressed to the nines and ready for dinner at Simpson’s in the Strand. Ross Kolman’s well-considered lighting complemented Sondra Nottingham’s wig and makeup designs, as ever models of the elusive art of highlighting singers’ best features without impeding the physical requirements of singing. Producing any of Mozart’s Da Ponte operas in a manner that both honors the composer’s and librettist’s intentions and lures a modern audience into the drama is itself an elusive art, but it is one that North Carolina Opera’s production largely mastered.

In recent seasons, the North Carolina Opera Orchestra has gone from strength to strength, and the musicians’ playing of Le nozze di Figaro continued this trend. From the start of the sparkling Overture, all sections of the orchestra delivered their parts with spirited virtuosity throughout the performance, every trill crisply articulated and triplet perfectly in rhythm. Prepared by Scott MacLeod, the voices of the North Carolina Opera Chorus equaled the exemplary work done by their colleagues in the orchestra pit. In Act One, their singing of ‘Giovani liete, fiori spargete davanti al nobile nostro Signor’ charmingly brought the denizens of Almaviva’s court to life, injecting them into the production as participants in the drama rather than a decorative ensemble with pretty music to sing. The ladies made ‘Ricevete, o padroncina, queste rose e questi fior’ in Act Three a truly affectionate serenade to the Contessa, and ‘Cantiamo, lodiamo sì saggio Signor’ pointedly expressed his subjects’ desire for the Conte to acquiesce to pleas for the abolishment of the loathed droit du seigneur.

Leading his first production for North Carolina Opera, Steven Jarvi conducted with aptly youthful exuberance—Le nozze di Figaro is an opera about people in the primes of their lives, after all—and an abiding concentration that brought the emotional sincerity of the score’s serious passages to the surface without seeming coy or affected. He was aided in this by Laurie Rogers’s mercurial harpsichord playing, an inexhaustible source of inventive harmonic byways that guided secco recitatives with delightful expediency. ​​Only a momentary lapse in coordination between the keyboard, positioned in an orchestra-tier box, stage right, and the principal cellist in the pit disturbed the seamless flow that Rogers achieved. There is considerable debate in the musicological community about the true meanings of Mozart’s tempo markings in relation to modern notions of Eighteenth-Century pacing, but Jarvi’s choices invariably sounded right for the music and the personnel performing it. Combining something of Bruno Walter’s authority in Mozart repertory with dashes of Karl Böhm’s innate dignity and Sir Neville Marriner’s congeniality, Jarvi made a wonderful first impression on the North Carolina Opera podium. More significantly, he identified himself as a young conductor for whom Mozart operas are not a stepping stone along the path to ‘bigger’ repertory but a cherished destination of their own accord.

IN PERFORMANCE: Bass-baritone TYLER SIMPSON as Figaro (left, behind hedge) and soprano JENNIFER CHEREST as Susanna (right) in North Carolina Opera's production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, February 2017 [Photo by Curtis Brown Photography, © by North Carolina Opera]Pensieri sospetti: Bass-baritone Tyler Simpson as Figaro (left, behind hedge) and soprano Jennifer Cherest as Susanna (right) in North Carolina Opera’s production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, February 2017
[Photo by Curtis Brown Photography, © by North Carolina Opera]

The talent-laden depths of the pool of artists into which North Carolina’s musical institutions can dive when casting performances yielded an ensemble of singers whose work escorted this Nozze di Figaro into the company of the best productions of the opera to be seen and heard anywhere in the world. As the pair of blushing ‘contadine’ who extol the virtues of faithful lovers in Act Three, soprano Gretchen Bruesehoff and mezzo-soprano Rachel Stenbuck intoned ‘Amanti costanti, seguaci d’onor cantate, lodate sì saggio signor’ with sounds of blissful innocence. Coloratura soprano ​Kathleen Jasinskas was a girlish but surprisingly strong-willed ​Barbarina ​who was a perfect partner in mischief for Cherubino and whose melodiously melancholic andante cavatina in Act Four, ‘L’ho perduta, me meschina,’ was stylishly sung. The Antonio of bass-baritone Eugene Galvin was a grumbling grump who hurled out ‘Ah Signor! Signor!’ in the Act Two finale with such fervor that it seemed that he would have been content to see the unwitting destroyer of his beloved blooms hanged for his crime. ​One of the region’s most gifted young singers, tenor Derek Jackenheimer was similarly effective as the meddling stutterer Don Curzio, enunciating ‘Ei suo padre? ella sua madre?’ in the Act Three sextet with exasperated bewilderment and sonorous tone.

Hearing a voice of the caliber of ​tenor Wade Henderson’s instrument in a rôle like Don ​Basilio is like hearing Heddle Nash or Stuart Burrows sing Monostatos in Die Zauberflöte. The casting of Henderson as Basilio could be cited as the operatic definition of an embarrassment of riches, but the presence of such a singer is a vital component of North Carolina Opera’s success. In the Act One trio with the Conte and Susanna, Henderson sang ‘In mal punto son qui giunto’ with boundless charisma, the words spilling out with the irrepressible banter of a gurgling spring. Henderson’s account of ‘Voi Signor! che giusto siete’ in the Act Two finale was the work of a collaborative artist of exceptional finesse. With so capable a Basilio on hand, the omission of the character’s Act Four aria ‘In quegli anni in cui val poco la mal pratica ragion,’ still common practice, was particularly lamentable. Basilio was created in Nozze di Figaro’s première by Irish tenor Michael Kelly, who also sang Conte Almaviva in the first Viennese production of Paisiello’s Il barbiere di Siviglia (and who created Curzio in Le nozze di Figaro, as well). Few modern stagings of Mozart’s opera uphold Kelly’s legacy as worthily as North Carolina Opera did by casting Henderson as Basilio.

​​Contralto Alissa Anderson was the rare ​Marcellina who was in no danger of retiring—or who sounded as though she should retire—before the end of the performance. In the hilarious Act One duet with Susanna, Anderson sang ‘Via, resti servita, madama brillante’ splendidly, the voice firm, focused, and filling the theatre with golden sound. Later, her entry with Bartolo and Basilio into the raucous ensemble of the Act Two finale had the force of a sudden tempest, her voicing of ‘Voi Signor! che giusto siete’ bursting forth like a thunderclap. Not even on the most acclaimed recordings of Le nozze di Figaro is Marcellina’s ‘Riconosci in questo amplesso una madre, amato figlio’ in the Act Three sextet sung as well as Anderson sang it in Raleigh. Like Henderson’s Basilio, Anderson’s Marcellina was unfortunately deprived of her Act Four aria, ‘Il capro e la capretta son sempre in amistà,’ but the singer garnered a spontaneous ovation with her adrenalized vow to defend her sex by warning Susanna of looming peril. Even without the aria, Anderson was an extraordinarily enjoyable Marcellina, one who truly sang the rôle. Without a singer of Anderson’s abilities in the part, how many audiences never fully appreciate how enchanting Marcellina’s music can be?

Fresh from boosting the sheer fun of Greensboro Opera’s production of Bizet’s Carmen with a fabulously flirtatious Zuniga, bass-baritone ​Donald Hartmann added decibels to the Raleigh audience’s laughter with a lovably ludicrous Dottor Bartolo in North Carolina Opera’s Le nozze di Figaro. Bartolo’s best-known music, the aria ‘La vendetta, oh! la vendetta,’ occurs in Act One, just after his first entrance, and as Hartmann sang it in this performance it was one of the afternoon’s musical and comedic peaks. His utterances of both ‘Voi Signor! che giusto siete’ in the Act Two finale and ‘Resistenza la coscienza far non lascia al tuo desir’ in the Act Three sextet generated sparks that ignited the ensembles. Despite the successful but unexpected outcome of his ‘case’ against Figaro, Hartmann’s Bartolo was neither a doctor nor a lawyer that any sane client would entrust with tasks of a life-altering nature, but North Carolina Opera could not have entrusted the task of portraying Bartolo to a better-qualified singing actor.

In his quirky way, Cherubino is as difficult a rôle to cast as any in the Mozart repertory. Clearly-categorized distinctions among soprano and mezzo-soprano and their various sub-Fächer were products of the Nineteenth Century, making Mozart’s designation of Cherubino as a rôle for soprano difficult to decipher in the context of today’s understanding—and, in some instances, misunderstanding—of voice types. More critical than basic tessitura in a singer’s deliberation about whether or not to sing Cherubino should be the question of comfort: does the music fit comfortably in the voice? For mezzo-soprano ​Jennifer Panara, North Carolina Opera’s Cherubino, the answer to that question was indisputably affirmative. Seeming to quicken the pace of the action whenever he was a part of it, this Cherubino was a predictably hot-blooded but disarmingly sweet-natured youth. The breathless Act One aria ‘Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio or di fuoco,’ Jarvi’s tempo for which was brisk but manageable for singer and orchestra, was superlatively sung, the range posing no difficulties for Panara. In Act Two, the nervousness that seized Panara’s Cherubino as he performed the canzone ‘Voi che sapete, che cosa è amor’ for his adored godmother, the Contessa, was at once genuinely funny and touching. The repeated Fs at the top of the stave were projected with absolute ease. The hapless lad in danger of being discovered in the Contessa’s quarters by the raging Conte, the mezzo-soprano’s brightly-hued vocalism exuded anxiety in the duet with Susanna, her cry of ‘Ahimè, che scena orribile’ amusingly anticipating life-threatening calamity. Similar apprehension shone in Panara’s singing of ‘Pian, pianin! le andrò più presso’ in the Act Four finale. Some Cherubinos are so annoying that audiences can be tricked into wondering whether Mozart’s genius failed him to a degree as he wrote the character’s music. Across the full range of the music, Panara’s singing was hearteningly confident, and she was a Cherubino who toyed with the affections, not the nerves.

IN PERFORMANCE: Baritone STEVE LaBRIE as Conte Almaviva (left) and soprano D'ANA LOMBARD as Contessa Almaviva in North Carolina Opera's production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, February 2017 [Photo by Curtis Brown Photography, © by North Carolina Opera]Il conte e la sua contessa: Baritone Steven LaBrie as Conte Almaviva (left) and soprano D’Ana Lombard as Contessa Almaviva (right) in North Carolina Opera’s production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, February 2017
[Photo by Curtis Brown Photography, © by North Carolina Opera]

In generations past, America was a bastion of great baritone singing—the land of the free upper registers of singers like Leonard Warren and Sherrill Milnes and the home of the brave dramatic instincts of men like Lawrence Tibbett and Robert Merrill. More dashing than the young Clark Gable, as fit as Johnny Weissmuller, and as debonair as Rudolph Valentino, baritone Steven LaBrie upheld that tradition as a Conte Almaviva who was entirely credible as the man who so handily wins Rosina’s heart in the previous installment in Beaumarchais’s—and, on the operatic stage, Paisiello’s and, later, Rossini’s—continuing saga of amorous intrigue chez Almaviva. A vivid presence in recitative throughout the performance, the dramatic temperature soared whenever LaBrie was on stage. To the Act One trio with Susanna and Basilio he brought a reading of ‘Cosa sento! Tosto andate, e scacciate il seduttor’ that sizzled with erotic tension, and this was handily transformed into jealous aggression in the Act Two trio with the Contessa and Susanna, the baritone​’s exclamation of ‘Susanna, or via, sortite’ fired at the ladies like a shot from the hunting rifle he wielded. With a statement of ‘Esci omai, garzon malnato’ that trembled with testosterone-fueled frustration, LaBrie launched the magnificent Act Two finale, Mozart’s most extended through-composed movement and one of the Eighteenth Century’s greatest works of art. The raw strength of the baritone’s performance never overcame his unerring grasp of Mozart’s style: his most ferocious anger was suave.

At the start of Act Three, LaBrie’s clear diction lent the recitative ‘Che imbarazzo è mai questo!’ uncommon urgency. Allowing vulnerability to dim the sheen of his pride in the duet with Susanna, this Conte revealed a suggestion of loneliness that paralleled his wife’s isolation. The expressivity with which LaBrie phrased ‘Crudel! perchè finora farmi languir così’ was all the more absorbing for being unexpected: there, in those few moments, he was only a man, not a nobleman. With his enunciation of the recitative ‘Hai già vinta la causa’ he reclaimed his thorny insouciance, and his performance of the allegro maestoso aria ‘Vedrò mentr’io sospiro, felice un servo mio’ proved to be one of the afternoon’s musical and dramatic peaks. Neither the trills nor the top F♯ troubled LaBrie, and he delivered ‘Son smarrito, son stordito, meglio è assai di quà partir’ in the sextet with the desperation of a man at the end of his tether. LaBrie’s Conte prowled the garden in pursuit of his intended assignation with Susanna like a boy on the trail of a new toy, and in the opera’s finale he sang first ‘Partito è al fin l’audace’ and then ‘Gente! gente! all’armi! all’armi!’ with explosive excitement. Beaten at his own game, however, the Conte’s andante ‘Contessa, perdono’ was​, as voiced by LaBrie, astonishingly sincere, even heartbreaking. Beyond the licentiousness, the integrity that won Rosina’s love remained. LaBrie was not a Conte content to pose and croon: every note and word of the rôle received his undivided attention, and the audience received from the baritone as intriguing and sympathetic a portrayal of the Conte as has been seen in the years since Hermann Prey relinquished the rôle.

The music that he wrote for her leaves no doubt that Mozart was profoundly affected by Contessa Almaviva’s humiliation, loneliness, and sadness. Betrayed and ignored by her lecherous husband, the man who once wooed her so passionately, she suffers the shame of watching the man she still adores unapologetically romancing other women. Cool-headed even when the drama was at its most feverish, the Contessa of soprano D’Ana Lombard was the serene eye in this operatic hurricane. The Contessa’s entrance aria in Act Two, the larghetto cavatina ‘Porgi, amor, qualche ristoro al mio duolo, a’ miei sospir,’ is one of the most difficult pieces in the soprano repertory. Lombard sang it with excellent breath control and a lovely top A♭. She began to disclose the more volatile elements of her Contessa’s personality with her voicing of ‘Fermatevi! sentite! sortire ella non può’ in the trio with Susanna and the Conte. Interestingly, she rather than Susanna here sang the pair of ascending phrases cresting on top C. Then, in the Act Two finale, the soprano sang ‘Ah Signore, quel furore per lui fammi il cor tremar’ with a surge of defiance that seemed to surprise no one more than herself.

The Contessa’s scene in Act Three is one of Mozart’s most perfect creations, a tableau in which all artifice is stripped away and the audience is left alone with a lady and her purest emotions. Lombard sang the recitative ‘E Susanna non vien?’ timidly, almost tentatively, this Contessa hesitant to grapple with her truest feelings. The sublime andantino aria ‘Dove sono i bei momenti di dolcezza e di piacer’ received from Lombard a traversal distinguished by rounded tones and expertly-managed phrasing. The aria’s allegro second part, ‘Ah se almen la mia costanza nel languire amando ognor,’ was dispatched with growing commitment to rescuing her marriage, asserted with exhilarating top As. It is not without reason that the Contessa’s letter-writing duet with Susanna, ‘Che soave zeffiretto,’ is one of Le nozze di Figaro’s most popular numbers, and Lombard’s attractive singing wholly realized the hypnotic potential of the music. Reveling in the Contessa’s conspiratorial plotting in Act Four, Lombard deployed one of the most dangerous weapons in her arsenal: her smile. At last hearing from the Conte words of contrition, more precious to her than those of affection, Lombard gave voice to the Contessa’s magnanimity with a dulcet ‘Più docile sono, e dico di sì.’ Lombard’s voice was often stronger in the upper octave than in its lower reaches, but she was always audible and unfailingly musical. Dramatically, she was an intelligent, insightful woman who matured before the audience’s eyes from a pouting, self-pitying wife into a self-possessed, gracious, beguiling lady worthy of the title bestowed upon her by marriage.

IN PERFORMANCE: Bass-baritone TYLER SIMPSON as Figaro (left) and soprano JENNIFER CHEREST as Susanna (right) in North Carolina Opera's production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, February 2017 [Photo by Curtis Brown Photography, © by North Carolina Opera]Lo sposo e la sua sposa: Bass-baritone Tyler Simpson as Figaro (left) and soprano Jennifer Cherest (right) in North Carolina Opera’s production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, February 2017
[Photo by Curtis Brown Photography, © by North Carolina Opera]

​Details of her spirited portrayal of Zerlina in North Carolina Opera’s 2015 production of Don Giovanni​ lingering in the memory, soprano Jennifer Cherest expanded her Mozartian credentials with a dazzling portrayal of Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro. Susanna is one of Mozart’s most multidimensional characters, principled and minxish in equal measures, and she is a feast for artists hungry for opportunities to flex their musical and interpretive muscles. Joyously sparring with her groom-to-be, Cherest’s Susanna exercised her well-toned artistic physique in the Act One duet with Figaro with an elated ‘Ora sì ch’io son contenta,’ the sun-kissed sound of the voice communicating the meaning of the words. Debating the wisdom and practicality of a bridal chamber in such proximity to their employers’ respective quarters, Cherest’s Susanna countered Figaro’s arguments with a playful but forceful ‘Così se il mattino il caro Contino.’ The soprano riotously battled with Anderson’s Marcellina in their duet, Cherest making the venomous irony of ‘Non sono sì ardita, madama piccante’ unmistakable. The trio with the Conte and Basilio found her scrambling to regain the upper hand, her ‘Che ruina, me meschina!’ ringing with apprehension, but her victory was crowned with a glorious top A♭.

In the opera’s second act, Cherest sang the first of Susanna’s arias, ‘Venite, inginocchiatevi, restate fermo lì,’ with technical aplomb and consummate understanding of the character’s motivations. The boldness of her singing of ‘Cos’è codesta lite’ in the trio with the Contessa and Conte was terrific, and her vocalism in the duet with Cherubino, ‘Aprite, presto, aprite,’ twinkled with tonal beauty and perfect comedic timing. When Cherest verbalized ‘Signore! Cos’è quel stupore’ in the Act Two finale, the high stakes of the confused tangle of competing interests became startlingly apparent. She reacted to LaBrie’s ardor in their Act Three duet with an insinuating account of ‘Signor, la donna ognora tempo ha di dir di sì,’ and her incendiary ‘Alto, alto, Signor Conte! mille doppie son qui pronte’ in the sextet was phenomenal. The reluctance that shaded Cherest’s vocal acting in the Letter Duet was quickly swept aside by the Contessa’s confidence in the solidity of her plan, her perfectly-tuned singing in thirds with Lombard leading to an easy top B♭. The singer’s emotional engagement in the Act Four recitative ‘Giunse alfin il momento’ was palpable. The performance of the aria ‘Deh vieni, non tardar, o gioia bella’ that followed was mesmerizing, her unforced command of the music’s two-octave range, from A3 to A5, compelling admiration. In the aria’s final phrases, the silence that fell over the theatre was evidence of the expressive power of Cherest’s singing. Her voice glided through the opera’s finale, uniting with Lombard’s in a stirringly cathartic paean to forgiveness. Encountering a full, evenly-produced lyric voice with no weaknesses in any portion of the range of Susanna’s music was a sensational pleasure. Had Cherest’s virtues been solely vocal, she would have been a noteworthy Susanna, but the imagination and sensitivity of her performance made a distinctive Susanna an unforgettable one.

None of Mozart’s other eponymous operatic protagonists is blessed with music that rivals the unadulterated melodic fecundity that the composer lavished on his writing for Figaro. It is possible to pinpoint in the situations faced by the dutiful but disgruntled servant aspects of Mozart’s own unhappy relationship with the intractable Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, his dismissal from whose service precipitated the composer’s relocation to Vienna, but Mozart was too shrewd an artist to undermine his characterizations with anything but the most universal of sentiments. It was therefore wholly appropriate that bass-baritone Tyler Simpson depicted Figaro as a man recognized by every person on stage and in the audience as a familiar figure—the quintessential ‘factotum della città,’ to borrow Rossini’s description. Having contributed an affably scheming Bartolo to North Carolina Opera’s 2016 production of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia​, Simpson was a Figaro whose expectation of conjugal bliss gleamed in the Act One duet with Susanna, his measurements of ‘Cinque, dieci, venti, trenta’ cited with glee. Subsequently, more troubling prospects crept into his singing of ‘Se a caso madama la notte ti chiama.’ The jaunty melody of the cavatina ‘Se vuol ballare, signor Contino’ was delivered with robust machismo and resonant top Fs. Establishing his Figaro as the lynchpin of the opera’s action, Simpson brought the curtain down on Act One with a performance of the aria ‘Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso’ that exuded the character’s innate goodness and joie de vivre.

Inserting himself into the fray in the Act Two finale, Simpson’s Figaro painted his proclamation of ‘Signori! di fuori son già i suonatori’ in primary colors that heightened the dramatic significance of the softer pastels of the sotto voce passage with the Contessa and Susanna, ‘Deh Signor, nol contrastate, consolate i miei desir.’ The broad humor with which Simpson limned Figaro’s reunion with his long-lost parents in the Act Three sextet was embodied by the bass-baritone’s delectably droll delivery of ‘Padre mio! fate lo stesso, non mi fate più arrossir.’ Here and in the animated tempo di marcia, ‘Ecco la marcia! andiamo! ai vostri posti,’ however, comedy did not preclude an underlying sobriety from emerging. His Act Four recitative ‘Tutto è disposto’ was phrased with honest feeling, and Simpson sang the aria ‘Aprite un po’ quegli occhi uomini incauti e sciocchi’ not as a hard-hearted indictment of feminine caprices but as an expression of his own wounded pride, the repeated top E♭s mimicking the blows to his love for Susanna. Simpson voiced the larghetto ‘Tutto è tranquillo e placido’ in the opera’s finale with growing anguish, and the relief that his singing of the andante ‘Pace! pace! mio dolce tesoro’ evinced when he realized that he was fooled into thinking Susanna unfaithful was therefore all the more effective. Simpson’s cunning but courteous Figaro was an ideally doting husband for Susanna, a shrewd ally for the Contessa, and a servant from whom the Conte might learn to be a better master of his own life. For the audience, Simpson was a Figaro who made his marriage an event of lasting felicity. Surrounded by colleagues on stage, in the orchestra pit, and behind the scenes whose love and respect for the score were apparent in every second of the performance, he was a Figaro whose nozze was a privilege to witness.