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Seeing “Figaro” again: after Thursday’s performance, more random other thoughts about LA Phil’s latest gem

Basilio and Susanna (Act 1)

I was so enthralled by the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s production of The Marriage of Figaro that I wanted — needed — to see it again.  So last night, I decided to Tivo the King’s playoff game and head back to Walt Disney Concert Hall for another go at it.  Turned out to be the right decision:  this “Figaro” is still awesome, and the Kings won 3-0.  All is yar, indeed . . .

On opening night, I sat in the Orchestra East section, but far enough in front of the stage to still be able to see most of the action.  This time around, I sat in one of the “orchestra boat” sections directly facing the stage.  The different perspective combined with having seen the production before allowed me to appreciate some different aspects of the performance than I did last Friday night.

Since the extremely positive impressions I expressed in my original review still hold, I’ll focus on things unique to this particular night.  In addition, I thought I’d also share various impressions and observations that I noticed before but hadn’t include previously due to time or space constraints.  (SPOILER ALERT:  some of the specific comedic bits I avoided mentioning originally are discussed in some detail this time.)  So, for your reading pleasure, please enjoy . . .

Random Other Thoughts (the long extended dance-remix Figaro edition)

General observations about the cast

    • All of these men and women can sing AND act really well.  So many little details to appreciate and enjoy in their respective portrayals.  All their facial expressions and movement integrated quite nicely into those technically difficult recitatives and aria/duets/trios/etc.  Bravissimi!
    • Fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa’s first half costume for Malin Christensson (Susanna) looks very ballerina like, right down to the shoes.  She does a very nice job posing and moving like a ballerina, too.  I’d be rather surprised if she didn’t have some real dance training.
    • Speaking of Ms. Christensson:  she still had the lightest voice in the cast, but I had less trouble hearing her this time around.  Perhaps it was the difference in my seat placement, perhaps she was singing out more, perhaps it was a combination of both.  Regardless of the size of her voice, I still like her singing.  Her “Deh vieni” was absolutely lovely. On top of it all, she’s a cutie.
    • Edwin Crossley-Mercer (Figaro) and Christopher Maltman (Count) are ideally paired adversaries:  both are young and hunky, strong and technically skilled vocalists, and just plain smooth.  Their interactions at the end of Acts 1 and 2 are particularly good.
    • Cherubino dressed as a girl (Act 3)

      Cherubino (Rachel Frenkel) dressed as a girl (Act 3)*

      I have a growing crush on Rachel Frenkel (Cherubino).  She did such beautiful work on her big arias, “Non so piu” and “Voi che sapete,” to go along with everything else she sang. . . . Okay, I’ll admit, perhaps contributing a little bit is the fact that she’s quite attractive in general, looked really hot in that pink dress, and fondled more women on stage than even Count Almaviva. (To see and hear her in action singing “Non so piu” in a different production, click HERE; BTW, the Susanna is Hélène Guilmette)

    • Dorothea Röschmann . . . Wow.  Just, wow.  She totally kicked ass last Friday night.  I don’t remember being that blown away by her in the BluRay we have of the Figaro production with her singing Countess in Salzburg (with Anna Netrebko as Susanna, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as Figaro, and Bo Skovhus as the Count), so a day or so later, I watched it again; she’s good in it, but not nearly as impressive as she was in person at Disney Hall (though in all fairness, Claus Guth’s leaden stage direction and Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s lethargic tempos don’t do her any favors in Salzburg).  Any thoughts that I was just imagining things Friday night disappeared after once again experiencing her star turn Thursday night.  It’s tough to imagine the role of Countess being performed any better.
    • John Del Carlo is one BIG dude.  He seemed to look much bigger than everyone else on stage, and after having the chance to shake his hand backstage last night, I can confirm that it’s not just an optical illusion.
Dudamel and Figaro (Act 1)

Dudamel and Figaro (Edwin Crossley-Mercer) (Act 1)*

Act 1 stream of consciousness

  • The entrance of the entire cast during the overture is done really well.  It certainly isn’t the first time it’s been done, but director Christopher Alden uses the opportunity perfectly to show off every character’s personality without anyone even saying a word.  A few examples:  Antonio drags around a reluctant Barberina; the Count has his arm draped around the Countess, but spends most of him time eyeing all the other women on stage; Cherubino sits at the front of the stage, bouncing and conducting along with the music, and writes the song he later gives to Susanna.
  • I love that Countess is still on stage long enough to ring the bell herself when Susanna mentions it.  The assist goes to Principal Timpanist Joe Pereira.
  • The orchestra pit entrance Mr. Alden devised  for William Feguson (Don Basilio) is just brilliant.  I remember thinking on opening night, “Oh, who’s playing 3rd clarinet?  I don’t recognize him, and I didn’t know there was a 3rd clarinet in the score.”  Since I knew it was coming this time around, I made a point of watching him earlier in Act 1 and noticed he made a pretended to play along whenever the other two clarinets (Michele Zukovsky and Monica Kaenzig) played.  Nice touch to help disguise his true identity.
  • When Basilio hands Susanna his clarinet in the midst of making advances on her, I was immediately  reminded of the episode of The Big Bang Theory where we learn that Raj has a secret crush on Bernadette and has been writing her poems loaded with double entendres, including, “Oh, Bernadette, please play my clarinet.”
  • One gag I missed the first time around:  during “Cosa Sento,” Basilio pulls one of the Countess’s fancy Alaïa gowns out of the closet and holds it up to himself admiringly.
  • Another gag I missed previously:  Cherubino and Barbarina dancing like they’re in a present-day club.  Cute.
  • One nicely executed moment:  after other cast members symbolically make up Figaro and Susanna’s wedding bed, the Count undoes it in one twisty whip-like flourish.

Act 2 stream of consciousness

  • Countess makes her entrance, walks by Susanna’s wedding veil, picks it up for a moment and looks at it with some sadness, then drops it and continues on her way before finally singing “Porgi amor.”  Nice touch.
  • When the Count is looking for a tool to help break down the locked closet door, he is handed a large percussion mallet by Mr. Pereira and acknowledges it with a polite, “Grazie” (pretty sure it’s not in DaPonte’s libretto).  For those keeping score, that’s two assists by Mr. Pereira.
  • Instead of jumping out a window, Cherubino makes his/her escape by victoriously sauntering off via the front of the stage, taking a moment to grab a cigarette and get it lit by the harpsichordist.  He/she even offers a smoke to Mr. Dudamel, who politely turns it down.  Cherubino takes a few more puffs before casually making an exit. . . . I’m shocked that a singer would smoke mid-opera, only because that has got to be hell on the throat and vocal chords.  Not sure how Ms. Frenkel handles it.
  • Supertitles start to fritz out, blinding on and off for a few minutes before they are turned off for the duration of Act 2.  Looks like the crew tries fixing it by  turning them on and off or doing some kind of hard reset, but it doesn’t work. Incidentally, supertitles for this production aren’t projected onto a screen or the front of the Terrace View balcony; that won’t work this time around since projector would be blocked by some of Jean Nouvel’s scenery hanging from the ceiling, so instead, two LED screens hanging down from the back of the hall are used.
  • Not sure how much the cast compensates for the loss of supertitles if at all, but there is plenty of nuance to their acting to help convey what’s going on for those not familiar with the details of the plot.
Count (Christopher Maltman) and Susanna (Malin Christensson) (Act 3)

Count and Susanna (Act 3)

Act 3 stream of consciousness

  • After Mr. Dudamel makes way to the podium, he grabs a microphone and says something to the effect of, “Usually when someone speaks at the opera, that means that someone is sick.  Thank God, that isn’t the case.  All of our singers are fine.  It is the supertitles that got sick.  They caught whatever flu is going around.  They apologize, and are better now.”  He admits that the action in Act 2 is difficult to describe, but charmingly tries to do it anyway — before giving up about two-thirds of the way through and saying, “Well, you all know the rest.”  Laughs and cheers from the audience.
  • Before Mr. Dudamel begins speaking, the cast comes on stage and takes their initial places.  Simone Osborne (Barbarina) positions herself lying down in front of the stage — and doesn’t move for quite some time.  How in the world does she keep from falling asleep?
  • Ms. Osborne’s very sexy “meow” gets big laughs from the audience.  I wonder if that was her idea or Mr. Alden’s?
  • Appearently, Mr. Nouvel designed the “trees” used in Acts 3 and 4 to look like the Paris subway map.  I’m no expert, but after looking the map up on Google, I believe it.

Act 4 stream of consciousness

  • William Ferguson gets to sing Basilio’s often cut aria, “In quegli anni,” and does a very nice job with it.  Glad Mr. Dudamel decided to keep it in.
  • At the end of the aria, Mr. Ferguson wraps himself up in the carpet he’s been standing and sitting on.  He stays wrapped up in there for quite some time.  Again, how does he keep from falling asleep?
  • Cherubino makes his/her entrance humming “Finch’han dal vino” from Don Giovanni.  I didn’t notice it the first time around.  A very nice touch, especially considering Mozart famously wrote Figaro’s Act 1 aria “Non piu andrai” into the climax of Don Giovanni.
  • Kudos to Mr. Crossley-Mercer for his rendition of “Aprite un po’ quegli occhi.”  I never really cared for the aria that much before, but I really liked what he did with it.

Other observations

  • From the get-go, the opening night crowd seemed very comfortable applauding at the end of arias.  Thursday night, they weren’t so sure at first, with more people seeming to want to follow typical orchestral protocol of not clapping in the midst of the performance. By the end, everyone was applauding whenever there was a natural break.
  • There were many more late-comers on Thursday than on opening night.  Given that these performance began at 7:30pm whereas the typical LA Phil concert starts at 8pm, I’m surprised there weren’t more.
  • On both nights, most of the crowd stayed for the duration, as opposed to last year’s Don Giovanni, when a noticeable chunk of the crowd left at intermission.

RELATED POSTS:

Ensemble and orchestra (Act 4)

Ensemble and orchestra (Act 4)

Photo credits:

  • * – Lawrence K. Ho for the Los Angeles Times
  • All others:  Craig T. Mathew & Greg Grudt/Mathew Imaging
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6 thoughts on “Seeing “Figaro” again: after Thursday’s performance, more random other thoughts about LA Phil’s latest gem

  1. A nice little detail that only very few in the audience could probably appreciate – the name of the newspaper that Bartolo was “reading” a few times during the opera.

    Like

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