by Elyse Sommer
As if two French farces weren't enough to keep doors slamming, and plots sprouting multiple misunderstandings, you now have a chance to take in another with an Italian setting that is best summed up with a shoutout of brava, bravo and stupendo. Of course what makes this farce adapted by Lorenzo da Ponte from a stage comedy by Pierre Beaumarchais so irresistible is not the plot but the music by the one and only Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
That's not to say that the rollercoaster ride through marital infidelity, mistaken identities, cross dressing and other machinations isn't funny —especially in the Berkshire Opera Company's lively, inventively staged modern take on this first of several collaborations between Mozart and da Ponte. Musical theater lovers would not be amiss to think of Mozart and da Ponte as the eighteenth century's Kander and Ebb or Rodgers and Hammerstein and their era of creating popular operas the precursor of the golden age of musical theater. Le nozze di Figaro or The Marriage of Figaro is one of their most entertaining and melodic hits, chock-a-block with gorgeous arias, duets and ensemble pieces, not to mention a spectacularly beautiful overture.
Since the three couples in different phases of their relationships around whom the plot revolves are basically ordinary people, easier to identify with than many opera characters, Figaro lends itself particularly well to updating. Director Gregory Keller has taken his cue for doing so from da Ponte's repeated use of the word "modern" (for example, the Countessa Almaviva refererence to the husband who, despite betraying her, is outraged at the idea of a tit-for-tat on her part: "modern husbands are completely jealous, naturally capricious and systematically unfaithful"). But while Charles R. Caine has outfitted the cast so they could fit right in with the Colonial's audience during intermission and their props include a cell phone and a Dell laptop, the opera is sung in that most musical of languages, the Italian in which it was written.
Sung as it is by the BOC's attractive cast, this Marriage of Figaro is a Wow! Given their zestful commitment to wresting every last laugh out of their comic dilemmas, it's a double Wow! Make that a triple Wow! for impresario Kathleen Kelly and her orchestra!
The cast is notable for outstanding voices and lively acting. Soprano Tamara Wilson and baritone Liam Bonner, though not particularly well matched physically, strike the right emotional tone as Count and Contessa Almaviva. Some of her high notes are amazing. While it's their marital problems that jump start the major plot complications, it's the two servants, the title character and his Susanna, who want to get on with their wedding, who are the main couple. Suzanne Ramo and Ryan McKinney bring youthful energy, charm and the requisite vocal power to these roles. The Berkshires' own diva, Maureen O'Flynn (last year's Mimi in LaBoheme), obviously enjoys playing the comic trouser role of Cherubino, and the audience just as obviously adores her. O'Flynn epitomizes what's so special about this opera company. What other company can offer a locally raised diva a magnificently restored theater for an annual return appearance in a beautifully staged opera, and with the Mayor and Governor and other local dignitaries on hand for the opening?
A not to be overlooked star of Gregory Keller's smoothly directed production is Dipu Gupta's wizardly scenic and lighting design. When the audience first takes its seat, the set looks rather spare and bare bones. But that simple looking set is actually quite complex, evolving into a variety of settings, including a magical Midsummer Night's Dream forest and, even more magically, leaving the stage totally bare except for the terrific cast. It leads me to end as I began: brava, bravo. stupendo!