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Photo from the Opera Lyra Ottawa Facebook page.

Figaro holds you rapt from start to finish

By Chrissy Steinbock on March 23, 2015

The NAC was teeming with excitement Saturday night as throngs gathered, dressed to the nines for a night at the opera. And what a night it turned out to be! Opera Lyra’s production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro pulls you into Figaro’s world under the spell of great music and sumptuous setting then holds you rapt from start to finish.

The Marriage of Figaro is a comedic opera or opera buffa in Italian and this production really embodies the true spirit of this operatic style, opera for the people, both high art and readily entertaining. The production team has done several things in this show to make it accessible and relevant. Director Tom Diamond and conductor Kevin Mallon have set the story in Edwardian England, so everything has the feel of Downtown Abbey.

The change of scene is a great fit for this opera that similarly plays on tensions between servants and their masters. Whether you’re a fan of the show or not you’re probably a lot more familiar with the time period than the opera’s original setting of 18th Century Spain. There are also subtitles in English and French above the stage to ensure you don’t miss a joke or clever turn of phrase in Da Ponte’s brilliant libretto (opera speak for script).

On opening night, the cast seemed fuelled by an electric energy and rather than just keep up with the fast pace they seemed to eagerly spur it forward through the show. Even with all the running and hiding, not to mention demanding solo, duet, trio and ensemble musical pieces, the actors stayed on top of their game. The interactions between characters come off very naturally and the timing is sharp throughout, thanks to Tom Diamon’s sure handed direction. This is especially important in the many comedic moments which brought lots of laughs opening night.

There are many fine vocal pieces for the individual singers but it is the duets, trios and ensembles that are especially gorgeous, a combination of Mozart’s fine writing and the singers’ performance. The best of these has to be in the finale to act two where at its peak there are six voices all together and everything gets so heated the actors seem to transcend into a storm of passionate fury.

Sasha Dhijanian brings sweetness and spunk to her role as Susanna and her voice’s clean, glossy tone is well suited to the role of the young maid. Let’s hope there are many more Susannas in her future. John Brancy’s Figaro is a delight with his velvety baritone, and magnetic charm though he also stands out for his impressive ease on stage. James Westman is exceptional in the role of the Count, walking the fine line between master and fool, full of pomposity in both cases.  Meanwhile, Wallis Giunta plays the gangly teen boy, Cherubino to hilarious effect. Her aria in act two, “Voi che sapete” had audiences applauding before her last note rang out.

The NAC orchestra under the baton of Kevin Mallon was in fine form opening night, percolating strings and shimmering woodwinds adding muscular support for the vocalists, sometimes too muscular though, as in the few moments when the orchestra overpowered the singers. Shout out to the set, lighting and costume designers for the lavish staging and finely detailed period costumes that envelop the audience in the world of the opera. The costumes especially are a feast for the eyes even though the action is often moving too fast to fully appreciate them.

All in all, the Opera Lyra’s Figaro is a grand spectacle with fine music, fast action and lots of laughs. It’s sure to be a treat for first-time opera goers and aficionados alike. Bravo Opera Lyra!

Three performances of The Marriage of Figaro remain: Monday March 23, Wednesday March 25 and Saturday March 28, 2015 at the National Arts Centre. All shows start at 8pm. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased online.