The Princeton Festival has brought Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro to our community. It is running in the Matthews Theatre at McCarter Theatre Centre. In 1786, it debuted in Vienna, and it is still one of the world’s top 10 most performed operas. The libretto is by Lorenzo da Ponte and is based on the play by Pierre Augustin Beaumarchais. Directed by Steven LaCosse, it is a wonderful follow up to the play performed at McCarter last season.
For those who have not yet attended one of The Princeton Festival’s operas, let it be known that you will have a similar experience as being in an opera house. There is a live orchestra, it is sung in Italian with English supertitles (a simultaneous translation of the libretto shown on a small screen above the stage), plus you can purchase box and balcony seats, and no opera glasses are necessary.
The opera began with the Overture before the curtain had risen. The 36-piece orchestra in the pit, conducted by Princeton Festival Artistic Director Richard Tang Yuk, performed it. It gave me gave me goose bumps. It is always a pleasure to concentrate on exquisitely played music upfront, because at times it can take a backseat to the action on stage. During the opera Yuk set the perfect tempi for the singers’ voices to saturate the air without lingering too long, giving it a natural flow. The orchestra was never too loud as to distract from the singing, thanks to the pit, but had enough volume for the music to be enjoyed and accentuate dramatic moments. The acoustics were quite nice, but different from large opera houses, since the Matthews Theatre only seats 1,100 and is not U-shaped.
Le Nozze di Figaro takes place on a single day filled with “madness” in the palace of Count Almaviva (Sean Anderson). Dr. Bartolo (Ricardo Lugo) seeks retribution against Figaro (Jonathan Lasch) for foiling his plan to marry Rosina, who is now the Countess (Katherine Whyte). The Count was grateful to Figaro and has bestowed him employment, but the Count longs for Figaro’s bride-to-be Susanna (Haeran Hong). At one point Figaro, Susanna and the Countess plot to prank the Count by dressing his page Cherubino (Cassandra Zoé Velascco) in girl’s clothing posing as Susanna after she agrees to meet him in the garden. The Count overhears this ruse and attempts to force Figaro into marrying the very mature Marcelinna (Kathryn Krasovec). This is just a taste of the chaos that occurred all in one day. Other members of the cast included David Kellett as Don Basilio, Paul An as Antonio, Jessica Beebe as Barbarina, and Vincent DiPeri as Don Curzio.
There was some slapstick and pandemonium to create the “madness”, yet the performers all stayed brilliantly focused. They kept the comedic timing on point to ensure that the humor was well delivered. The audience’s laughter could attest to that. Needless to say, the acting was spot on, and their voices were like velvet – smooth and rich.
This production was visually stunning. The subtle tones of the amazing set design by Peter Dean Beck allowed the beautiful period costumes and wigs to shine. There was much attention to detail of this substantial set, which received part of the applause.
The lighting highlighted subtleties without washing out the cast. Facial expressions, costumes, and set design all benefited from Norman Coates expertise. It was especially important in Act IV in the garden. It was dark enough to give the appearance of night, and allowed the illusion of lurking about, which accentuated the farce. However, it was balanced with enough illumination to allow the audience to clearly distinguish the cast.
I watched this with a fan of the opera, who has never seen Le Nozze di Figaro and one who has never attended an opera. The former knew some of the music, and I could heard his faint humming of Non più andrai. The other, a total neophyte, was thrilled to have the support of supertitles. Both thoroughly enjoyed their experiences, from the acting to the music to the set and costumes. It was a wonderful introduction to opera for the novice, and the perfect opportunity to see one locally. They were pleasantly surprise to see a production of this magnitude in Princeton.
LaCosse directed this opera with precision, as he exposed the relationships of the classes, and men and women within a royal court of the time. Lust, power, revenge, and collusion are all beautifully choreographed into a comedic romp that is sure to please. This extraordinary production is truly a gift to audiences, and a must see!
The Princeton Festival offers two more performances of Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) on June 21 and 28, both on Sundays at 3:00 PM. It has a run time of approximately 3 hours with two intermissions. You can get more information or purchase tickets here or call 609-258-2787 for tickets.