Opera Review: Los Angeles Opera, light and dark

‘The Marriage of Figaro’

In Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” doors keep opening and closing, characters hide in closets and bushes, identities are exchanged. This may have the makings of a farce but there is nothing farcical about Mozart’s delicate music as he evokes the various aspects of love. With understanding and sensitivity, he deals with the awakening of love, the passion, the jealousy and the loss of love. One beautiful aria flows into another, all of them touching the heart.

The production by the Los Angeles Opera, now playing at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, offers a cast that brings out the comic flavor while caressing the music. The two servants who are out to teach the reigning count a lesson are played deliciously by singers who are perfect in their respective parts. Erwin Schrott is the new baritone on the block who makes a sexy, guileful Figaro, and Isabel Bayrakdarian is a slender, saucy Susanna. What a wonderful couple they are, whether flirting or singing. Schrott is an Argentine newcomer who shows, in the very first scene, that he could compete with the hulks in “Troy.” The youthfulness of this duo helps give the opera the zing it needs.

Another wonderful performance is turned in by mezzo-soprano Sandra Piques Eddy as the young pageboy “Cherubino.” In this trouser role, he/she is absolutely adorable. Her voice is exceptionally warm and flexible.

This “Marriage” has a count and countess who are regal and handsome. David Pittsinger, as Count Almaviva, is a tall, distinguished basso who looks great, whether in flowing robe or riding attire. He has a rich, resonant voice. His countess is Darina Takova, who is equally adept, singing her famous, wistful arias with charm. The other roles are played delightfully by Anna Steiger, Michael Gallup, Greg Fedderly and Jessica Rivera.

Although the opera was set in the 18th century, a time when the lord of the manor had first dibs on any servant bride, this aspect is played down in order to present a more modern setting. However, anachronisms are disturbing. Why is the countess talking on the telephone and why do the characters use flashlights instead of candles in the grand finale? Figaro first appears in modern slacks and later in britches. The countess wears a 1940s dress that was ugly then and is ugly now.

The sets by Tim Goodchild show signs of economic restraints and creative fatigue and there is little interesting about the costumes by Deidre Clancy. Maestro Stefan Anton Reck makes an auspicious debut here with the excellent Los Angeles Orchestra.

The singing, the acting and the music make up for any flaws. You can always count on Mozart.

‘Il Trovatore’

When “Il Trovatore” (The Troubadour) was listed on the schedule of Los Angeles Opera this season, I was hoping that this would be a new production. The last time it was presented, there were swords sticking out of the ground for no good reason. Alas, the moment the curtain parted, there were the swords. They serve as nothing but a distraction.

The heroine kneels and grabs two swords as she sings about her love. The lovers embrace among the swords and even the nuns must wend their way around the swords.

Except for Verdi’s wonderful music and the singers, who deserve better, this production was rather dreary. Of course, “Il Trovatore” is one of those operas that has a story that would turn off any newcomer to the art. A gypsy is burned at the stake and her daughter kidnaps the count’s son and mistakenly throws her own baby into the fire. The heroine takes poison to avoid the advances of a would-be lover. The troubadour is executed while the gypsy, his adoptive mother, cries out, “Vengeance is mine.”

Seasoned operagoers are used to questionable plots, but here the sets and costumes remove any hope of plausibility. The entire opera is set in darkness with black panels that move from side to side and inner panels that move up and down. It is difficult to recognize the players without a scorecard and a flashlight.

However, the cast is terrific, starting with Delora Zajack, making her heralded Los Angeles Opera debut as Azucena, the gypsy at the heart of all the misery. She is a great dramatic mezzo who sings, with ease and fluency, the difficult music. As Manrico, the troubadour, Franco Farina displays his strong tenor voice. Sondra Radvanovsky has practically made a career of playing Leonora and she well understands the role. Roberto Frontali is superb as Count de Luna, the obsessed lover. Smaller roles are performed well by James Cresswell, Margaret Thompson, Robert MacNeil and Jinyoung Jang.

I must mention that the production was designed by Benoit Dugardyn with Martin Pakledinez as the costume designer.

Stephen Lawless, who has done many fine directing assignments for Los Angeles Opera, had his hands full with this one. He had to work in the dark.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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