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In Review > North America

Le Nozze di Figaro

HOUSTON
Houston Grand Opera
1/22/16

In Review HGO Figaro lg 416
Pérez, Houston’s Countess Almaviva
© Lynn Lane

ON JANUARY 22, Houston Grand Opera offered the first local performances of a Nozze di Figaro created by Michael Grandage for HGO and Glyndebourne Festival Opera, where it was first seen in 2012. This Figaro was set in a hilariously exotic 1970s disco-infused, Moorish-tinged Spanish resort, whose different spaces in Christopher Oram’s set-design are revealed by rotating the whole of the set between acts.

The engrossing performances of a strong cast of singers provided the solid foundation for this remarkable staging, but there was a hitch: baritone Joshua Hopkins (Count Almaviva) was unable to perform due to illness. To replace him, HGO Studio Artist Ben Edquist sang from the wings, while stage director Ian Rutherford walked the part. Ailyn Pérez’s warm, rich, supple voice evoked the crucial poignancy for the parte seria of the neglected Countess. Heidi Stober, with bell-like clarity and crisp articulation, gave Susanna her proper resourcefulness and quick thinking. The full talent of these two singers, however, lay in the exchanged roles of the Countess and Susanna during the disguise scene of Act IV, in which each singer was able to capture the other’s sound so as to make the switch totally convincing and, for the Count, devastatingly effective.

Adam Plachetka had the right cheerful nimbleness for the happy-go-lucky but quick-witted Figaro. Soprano Lauren Snouffer created a brighter-sounding Cherubino than is heard from most mezzo exponents, but she easily had all the notes, plus a few well-placed improvisatory flourishes while playing the awkward, breathlessly girl-crazy adolescent. Some of the best comedy was generated in the secondary roles: mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook, an excellent conniving-but-prim Marcellina; a brilliantly miming and mugging Peixin Chen (who also has an outstanding bass voice) as Dottor Bartolo; Pureum Jo, a robust soprano, as a free-spirited hippie version of Barbarina; and tenor Keith Jameson, whose Don Basilio had the look and manner of a ’70s-era lounge lizard.

Under the baton of guest conductor Harry Bicket, the HGO Orchestra gave a crisp, tightly knit accompaniment to the onstage chaos. A high point was the sensitive playing during Pérez’s “Porgi amor,” which featured particularly nuanced and legato clarinet-playing by Sean Krissman. The sum of all these strengths in this production and performance was, in short, one for the books.  —Gregory Barnett 



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