It’s an unexpectedly pleasant thing that I have come to expect good things from Kansas City’s Lyric Opera. Rarely have I felt like this company has delivered the best operatic performances, but it seldom rates as the worst either.
This weekend I was lucky enough to be taken to see the latest production of this opera by my wife and son for a birthday present (amazingly, Figaro has come on or near my birthday many years now). I don’t think I’ve properly thanked them for this gift, but I very much appreciate it and had a great time.
My favorite part of the Lyric’s production this year was the return to a traditional setting but with a spectacular set design that suggested the change in aristocracy occurring at the time while still delivering on a class-stratified society complete with the trappings of a legacy of what we now call old money. The co-production with Opera Philadelphia, San Diego Opera and Palm Beach Opera truly delivered in this respect.
Unfortunately, the performance, while uniformly good, failed to achieve greatness at any point. On the ride home, we all agreed that it was a perplexing combination of all members of the cast ‘delivering’ but still missing the mark. I personally believe that Figaro is one of the more laugh-out-loud funny operas you can see. But where the comedy of Cheribino’s near-capture and incredible escape and coverup should have brought down the house, I think I merely smiled.
Figaro is written for show-stealing performances. In its original production – in contrast to the portrayal in Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus, there were so many encores in its premier showings that Emporer Joseph insisted that these be limited due to the already long running time of the performance. Cheribino, a soprano en travesti, is almost uniformly the most beloved character in the Opera delivering two perfect arias, Non so più cosa son and Voi che sapete che cosa è amor voicing his struggle to keep up with his wildly raging hormones. Samantha Gossard gave a lovely performance that was well done, but oddly unextraordinary.
Bartolo and Marcellina are two other characters who almost uniformly steal the show for their comedic performances. In last evening’s performance, the two were delightful, but also failed to win the night. One exception to all the ‘merely solid’ performances was the scene in which it is revealed that Figaro is Rafaello, the long-lost illegitimate son of Bartolo and Marcellina. Amazingly, it wasn’t the two older players who made the scene work, but the Count who brought everything together in his whole-hearted display of despair in ever figuring out what the hell was going on around him. In fact, I would say that it was Baritone Edward Parks’ Count Almaviva who rose above all others to make the night a success.
Overall, I’d say the Lyric’s Figaro was a musical success surrounded by beautiful sets, but inhabited by mundane performances.
ps – bring back the chair.