The Madison Opera has given itself, and us, a grand 50th anniversary present this weekend, in a splendid production of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. Its first performance was Friday night in Overture Hall.
The cast is another of those wonderful crops of top-quality young American singers. If there is a weak member, it is baritone Jason Hardy in the title role. He is a fine actor, but the part was written for a bass. Though Hardy has bass vocal coloring, he lacks the heft to stand up, as he should, against his master and opponent, Count Almaviva, so splendidly portrayed by baritone Jeff Mattsey. Of the other men, Michael Gallup is a richly pompous Dr. Bartolo, and our own local James Doing is a frenetically comic Don Basilio.
The women are uniformly superb. Sopranos Anya Matanovic and Melody Moore stand out most prominently as Susanna, Figaro's betrothed, and the neglected Countess. If less prominently featured, Melissa Parks is simply delightful as Bartolo's former servant (and mistress), Marcellina. And, if a little strained in her representation of male adolescence, Emily Lorini is a charming Cherubino.
Madison Opera artistic director John DeMain keeps the overall musical dimensions in firm control.
An elegantly spacious set comes from the Glimmerglass Opera (anyone notice the moralizing motto on its cornice?), and rich period costumes come from the Utah Opera. The staging is handled brilliantly by director A. Scott Parry. He and conductor DeMain follow the usual cuts of the arias for Marcellina and Don Basilio in Act IV, but I was surprised by their omission of the scene of Cherubino's discovery in Act III. Likewise omitted was the entire character of the lawyer Don Curzio, whose place is assumed in double duty, but without separate identification, by the music master, Basilio. (Mozart actually wrote the two parts for the same tenor.)
Parry does understand the cues given in Mozart's music and realizes them fully in action, notably in the great Act III sextet. There are so many details he gives us to relish, but I particularly like his subtle ways of suggesting early on the obvious past that Marcellina and Bartolo have had. Parry has the Countess show lingering love for her husband even as she conspires to trick him.
But he also has her suggest a nascent attraction for the sexually precocious page, Cherubino. In that, Parry archly anticipates her situation in the third of the Figaro plays by Beaumarchais, whose second play was the source for this opera.
Above all, while conjuring up vivid comedy, Parry never forgets to probe the serious emotional interactions among the characters. In all that, director and conductor reveal to us anew what a work of both beauty and humanity this extraordinary opera truly is.
There is another performance on Sunday, Nov. 7 at 2:30 p.m.