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A captivating “Marriage of Figaro’’ opened last week, superbly sung and dressed up in a bright new production by San Francisco Opera that serves Mozart’s sense of fun minute by minute.
The Beaumarchais play on which “Marriage’’ is based had such serious issues about the spoiled aristocracy in 18th century Europe that it was almost universally banned for a time, but the music Mozart wrote for it is all about love and what human beings have to go through to achieve it.
Mozart doesn’t skirt the issue; the Count who plans to have his way with Figaro’s bride-to-be Susanna is royally spurned by everyone onstage.
Henrik Nánási led a vibrant performance, lavishing attention on the singers, and the entire cast was splendid, with top honors going to the women, all making company debuts.
Trinidadian soprano Jeanine De Bique was a breathless Susanna, with a silvery voice that dazzles. She literally danced her way through the performance; her sprint before the Count underscoring her hands-off-message.
Italian mezzo Serena Malfi delivered the sex-starved page boy Cherubino with a perfectly exaggerated vocal and physical display, and the Countess of Nicole Heaston was ethereal. Heaston, a late replacement in the production, sang “Dove sono’’ (What’s gone wrong with love?) with melting intensity, the initial phrases soft and warm, the final notes sumptuous and stirring, a heartbreaking performance in all.
On the male register, bass-baritone Michael Sumuel’s Figaro was both sweet and powerful, his love for Susanna ever obvious, and Hungarian baritone Levente Molnár made a blustery no-count Count Almaviva.
Catherine Cook and James Cresswell were hilarious as Marcellina and Doctor Bartolo, the couple who complicate the plot and have a secret to tell, and Greg Fedderly as Don Basilio was a suitably dandyish music teacher.
This “Marriage of Figaro,’’ placed in post-Revolutionary America, will be followed by San Francisco Opera productions of the other Mozart-Da Ponte collaborations, “Don Giovanni’’ and “Così fan tutte,’’ all staged by Michael Cavanagh and designed by Erhard Rom.
The opera is set in a mid-Atlantic manor/plantation house, which is being built for the Count. The furnishings and facade strongly resemble a typical private palace in Mozart’s Salzburg, but elegance is elegance, and Cavanagh’s direction is unleashed and fresh and serves the score handsomely.
The operas will be shown in three different seasons — a roll-out something like a Wagner Ring, and all set in the same house.
The Count’s manor turns into a 1930s country club for “Così,’’ and we can only imagine what might be in store for a 2080 “Don Giovanni.’’ It’s an adventurous concept, and its future, based on this brilliant production of what many consider the perfect opera, looks promising.
There are several more performances of “The Marriage of Figaro’’ at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House through Nov. 1.