The son of a watchmaker, Beaumarchais first became noticed at the French court when he made a watch with a new type of mechanism that was small enough to be mounted on a ring. Twice, he married a rich older lady who, after a short time, died in questionable circumstances. He joined the king’s secret service and took the side of the American colonists against the English. Under the name of Rodrigue Hortalez and Company, he employed a fleet of forty ships for the American cause.
During the same period of time he was writing Le Barbier de Seville (The Barber of Seville), which was staged in 1775, and Le Mariage de Figaro, which he completed in 1778. Although there were many private readings of the Figaro play in the late 1770s, most people did not see it until 1784 because of problems with king and the censors. There is a great deal of the personality of Beaumarchais in his resourceful title character. French revolutionaries, however, did not appreciate the playwright. Because of his past positions at court he was imprisoned. Later he was released, but his possessions were confiscated. He died a poor man in 1799.
On Saturday, April 6, 2013, Arizona Opera presented Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro at Phoenix Symphony Hall. Susan Benson’s scenery, originally designed for the Banff Centre, had walls painted in the rococo style of French painter Jean-Antoine Watteau. They were a joy to behold and they meshed beautifully with Mozart’s music. Douglas Provost’s subtle lighting helped make them an important part of the show. Benson’s costumes were totally authentic, too, even to their colors and underpinnings. Kelly Robinson’s stage direction allowed the singers to establish believable characters and they made the plot easy to grasp despite its intricate twists.
Jason Hardy, who made his debut at this performance, was a secure Mozart singer with a vigorous, robust sound that matched his energetic stage presence. As Susanna, Joélle Harvey was a perfect match for him. At the end of this longest role in the repertoire, the tiny, vivacious soprano was still as fresh as a newly opened cactus flower. She even embellished some of her lines with tasteful ornaments that might well have been sung in Mozart’s time. Erin Wall was a lovelorn Countess who sang enthralling legato lines with an opulent sound palette, and she never seemed to run out of breath. Her Count, Marian Pop, was a charismatic comedian with sonorous low tones. His first act double take had the whole audience laughing. Cherubino is a character with his feet planted firmly on a cloud. Jamie Van Eyck filled the bill perfectly, singing her arias with polished tones and bringing the audience thoughts of first love.
Peter Strummer was a strong and commanding Bartolo who was all the more amusing because he took himself so seriously. He tossed off the fast patter of his aria with finesse. As Marcellina, Susan Nicely sang a thoroughly amusing duet with her supposed rival, Susanna. One can muse on what kind of a mother-in-law she would eventually become. Members of the Marion Roose Pullin Resident Artists Program sang the smaller roles. Soprano Bevin Hill was an ebullient Barbarina with a sweet clear voice. Tenor David Margulis was a stuttering Don Curzio and a nosey, self-satisfied Don Basilio. Tall, lanky Thomas Cannon hunched down and assumed a plodding gait to become Antonio, the alcoholic gardener. The part really showed his talent for characterization.
Of course, it is the conductor who holds the entire performance together and Joel Revzen kept a tight rein on all of it. His overture was on the fast side, but his overall tempi were pleasantly brisk. Most importantly, he gave the singers all the room they needed. Only on the following Monday did we learn that General Director Scott Altman had handed in his resignation. Director of Artistic Administration Ryan Taylor holds the top position until a new general director is selected.
Cast and production information:
Figaro, Jason Hardy; Susanna, Joélle Harvey; Countess Almaviva, Erin Wall; Count Almaviva, Marian Pop; Cherubino Jamie Van Eyck; Dr. Bartolo, Peter Strummer; Marcellina, Susan Nicely; Don Basilio and Don Curzio, David Margulis; Antonio, Thomas Cannon; Barbarina, Bevin Hill; Conductor, Joel Revzen; Director, Kelly Robinson; Set and Costume Design, Susan Benson; Chorus Master, Henri Venanzi, Lighting Designer, Douglas Provost.