It is unusual to mount an opera without an orchestra, but for Kentucky Opera, the unresolved dispute between the Louisville Orchestra and its players resulted in a creative workaround that is interesting in its simplicity. Luckily, the substitution of piano and harpsichord to accompany the singers actually works for this light, comic opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. (But you might not want to try it with Aida!)
The chamber music feeling of piano and harpsichord lent a quaint, period-appropriate air to the 18th-century setting of The Marriage of Figaro and the romantic silliness of the plot, which finds the shiftily clever Figaro trying to outwit his master, Count Almaviva as the philandering nobleman seeks to deflower Figaro's bride-to-be Susanna. Meanwhile the betrayed Countess and the lovelorn page Cherubino, along with scheming old Dr. Bartolo and Marcellina, throw further difficulties into the plot. In classic buffa style, there are madcap antics of characters hiding under beds and jumping off balconies, reveals of long-lost parents, men dressing as women, and all sorts of subterfuge hinging on antique methods of letters, seals, and pins, but in the end the Count and Countess are reunited, Figaro gets his girl, and everyone is paired off very neatly. But, of course the plot is a mere confection that exists to showcase Mozart's bewitching music.
While the performers were mostly solid, it seemed to me that Yunah Lee's Countess was just that one step beyond everyone else, both in the strength and beauty of her voice and her presence on stage. I remember vividly the grace and delicacy with which she portrayed Madame Butterfly in last year's Kentucky Opera production. She and Anya Matanovic's sassy Susanna were the standouts of the show, particularly in the lovely Letter duet of Act III. I sometimes couldn't hear very distinctly either Kelly Markgraf's Count or Carlos Monzon's Figaro -- but maybe my ear just isn't as sensitive to the lower range of the bass.
The frothy costumes of Howard Kaplan were pleasing to the eye and helped sustain the mood of romantic tomfoolery with the befeathered hats, falls of lace, and sweeping skirts. My nits to pick are with some of the stage business when characters were singing in soliloquy. There seemed to be far too much unnecessary movement, playing with props and drooping over desks and chairs. Especially when alone, I'd rather see performers direct their arias to the audience with a little more expression and less distraction. There's more than enough movement in scenes where physical comedy is called for.
All in all, I think the night was a success -- and something of an experiment for both artists and audience. It paid off this time, but it's probably not a gambit that anyone wants to repeat. I hope we have an orchestra for the season-ender, The Merry Widow.
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