San Francisco Opera
October 13, 2019
|Serena Malfi as Cherubino, Michael Sumuel as Figaro and Jeanine de Bique|
as Susanna. (All photos by Cory Weaver.)
Le nozze is a natural for an American setting. The opera made its appearance in 1786, just as the world-changing Constitution was percolating overseas, aimed at taking down the noble classes in the same way that Beaumarchais' play took aim at the aristocracy's overentitled tuckus. (Beaumarchais was greatly fond of the new country, and in fact financed a gun-running scheme during the Revolution.)
|Nicole Heaston as the Countess, Serena Malfi as Cherubino.|
|Jeanine de Bique as Susanna, Catherine Cook as Marcellina.|
From square one, Sumuel is the quintessential Figaro, a hard-working blue-collar figure with sensitivities and wit far above his station. He fits right in to a particular American ideal of manliness, and perhaps his pledge to take on his master, "Se vuol ballare," is his Declaration of Independence. De Bique partners him with all of Susanna's saucy cleverness and appealing moments of girlishness, whether bouncing excitedly at the latest scheme or unleashing bursts of infectious laughter.
Musically, I keep flashing on the quiet moments. Conductor Henrik Nanasi displays a great sensitivity in matching these passages to his orchestra. The first is that fetching slowdown in Cherubino's "Non so piu," mezzo Serena Malfi gearing down from her page's hormonal panic to soak in the sudden open spaces and sing in captivating sighs, "And if no one is near to hear me, I speak of love to myself."
|Michael Sumuel as Figaro.|
The more outrageous side of the equation is fueled by the Evil Trio, intent on undoing the youngsters' nuptials. Mezzo Catherine Cook is divine as Marcellina, like some kind of wacky Disney villainess, and tenor Greg Fedderly and his pink wig play Basilio gloriously out. Bass James Cresswell offers a calm, likeable center as Bartolo, particularly in the great "sua madre" reveal. Lawrence Pech gave the threesome some deliciously dastardly movements to complete the picture.
Malfi's Cherubino is nicely centered on the female-male scale of a teenage dandy. Designer Constance Hoffman gave her a dazzling regimental uniform, all white underpinnings with a blue and red waistcoat. Levente Molnar's Count is all lothario, making his scenes with Susanna delightfully cringe-worthy. In the days of Harvey Weinstein and a certain President, you really can't carry the caddishness too far, and actually the Count's boyish moments of glee at his sexual anticipations are rather charming.
There was a surprising disappointment in the back-and-forth duet of "Sullaria... che soave zeffiretto" (famously played over the prison PA in the film The Shawshank Redemption). Though they blended beautifully in their scheming chatters against the Count, Heaston and De Bique seemed to be battling here. It's hard to pinpoint the blame - a little too much ego, clashing timbres - but it does demonstrate the challenge in Mozart of having to deploy both solo and choral abilities.
|Greg Fedderly as Basilio.|
Through November 1, War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. sfopera.com, 415/864-3330.
Michael J. Vaughn is the author of 22 novels, including the opera novels Gabriella's Voice and Operaville, both of which include scenes at the San Francisco Opera.