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Opera rekindles Figaro’s marriage

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As its second opening weekend offering, the Santa Fe Opera revived the 2008 staging of W.A. Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” One enters to a garden of flowers covering the stage, while watching a glorious New Mexico sunset through the open back. Only at the Santa Fe Opera.

Once a highly subversive play leading to the spirit of the French Revolution, the Figaro trilogy by Pierre Beaumarchais is now remembered primarily for the two operas made from it, this by Mozart (the second of the three plays), and Gioachino Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” (the music written later but actually the first of the play sequence).

There could hardly be a more effective cast. After a hiatus of several years, SFO favorite Susanna Phillips, now a fixture at the Metropolitan Opera, is back to reprise her role as the Countess, which she sang in 2008. If anything the voice is richer, more seasoned with passion and pathos as she portrays the neglected wife – that is, the Rosina of “The Barber of Seville,” so ardently courted by the Count Almaviva, now grown into a self-satisfied aristocratic oaf.

That he could ignore this sultry, raven-haired beauty brands him as a heel of the first class. Phillips rendition of “Dovo sono (Where are the golden moments)” in the third act is a miracle of gossamer pianissimos over a bittersweet oboe line. In itself that is worth the trip to the opera house.

Daniel Okulitch provides a splendidly bombast, overly entitled blowhard as the Count Almaviva. Okulitch commands the stage both by stentorian voice and his tall frame, demonstrating in amusing caricature the excesses of the privileged class.

Mezzo-soprano Emily Fons is thoroughly convincing in the gender-jiggling role of Cherubino, a teenager with his hormones aflame. Here we have a woman playing a man, dressed is disguise as a woman. Easy.

In the title role Zachary Nelson, a SFO apprentice singer last year, lends his dark-hued baritone to the bon vivant Figaro, the count’s valet and formerly general mischief-maker. An animated, highly charged stage presence, Nelson along with his would-be bride Phillips provide the voices of reason in this class-based farce.

Lisette Oropesa, also from the Metropolitan Opera, employs her clear and appealing soprano to the myriad emotions of the complex young woman – cajoling, frustration, jealousy and ultimate satisfaction. In her touching final aria “Deh vieni non tardar (At last the moment is near)” one can almost hear her becoming tired of the subterfuge and simply wishing to be married peacefully to Figaro.

Several years ago Susanne Mentzer told me she was becoming less enthralled with traditional opera and was eager to explore other vocal forms. So it was a delightful surprise to find her turning up as Marcellina. She is a welcome return to the character roles, which are her particular speciality. Veteran bass-baritone Dale Travis rounds out the primary cast as Doctor Bartolo, conspiring with Marcellina to entrap Figaro.

Conductor John Nelson and the excellent SFO orchestra provide solid grounding for the complexity of the drama.

“The Marriage of Figaro” continues at 8:30 p.m. July 10 and at 8 p.m. Aug. 3, 6, 13, 20 and 23. For ticket information go to or call 800-280-4654 or 505-986-5900.

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