By Yayra Sanchez, Guest Contributor
It’s easy to imagine that neither Mozart nor Da Ponte would have thought of outer space as the setting for their opera Le Nozze di Figaro, but a couple of hundred years later, that’s exactly where Independent Opera Company decided to take it. Opening the show with a clever, Star Wars-inspired communiqué, they set the tone for the night, promising to take the audience for quite a ride. Their premise to take the setting some “230 lightyears from Earth,” as explained by stage director Jay Stephenson, was refreshing and fun. This is a story that would work in any time or place setting, so why not space? The story was still as interesting and entangled as ever.
In order to portray this “space opera,” to borrow a term that usually refers to a sub-genre of science fiction graphic novels, the costumes were inspired by comic books. Sometimes over the top, sometimes silly, they were successful and visually interesting. On the other hand, the stage was bare except for a few set pieces, props and a screen where images were projected. These backdrops served as the sets for each act, and I think it was one of my favorite things in this production. These images gave the audience a good idea of the setting while being budget-friendly alternative to flats or elaborate sets.
The music was performed by a cast of solid singing actors who made this an enjoyable show. “Figaro” is a long show, but when the cast is having fun onstage and letting you in on it, the time flies. The singers took command of their roles, and projected both volume and character. Their diction was also impressive, as I understood a great deal of the Italian while it was being sung. One of the standouts in this performance was baritone Eric Castro (Count), who showed that he’s a smart singer with a enveloping voice and, also a natural actor with great on-stage charisma. He was commanding when he needed to be and charming when he wanted to be, especially when seducing Susanna, played by Stephanie Howard. Another impressive character was bass-baritone Raed Saade (Figaro). He portrayed Figaro with confidence and poise. His voice was engaging and he moved across the stage freely, as he interacted with every castmate.
Cherubino’s antics were well played by the talented mezzo-soprano Jessica Mirshak. Not only was she incredibly charming as Cherubino, but her voice was rich and smooth, with a velvety quality that made it very enjoyable to listen to as she sang her deceptively challenging arias. Her “Voi che sapete” was delightful. Another noteworthy moment in this opera was the Act 2 Finale, in which all singers created an impressive sound. Mozart’s challenging ensemble writing was managed very well. The Countess’ recitative and aria “Dove sono i bei momenti” (sung by soprano Alexandra Borboa) was beautiful and moving. She sang an exquisite pianissimo at the end of the recitative and went on to sing the aria with enough vulnerability to have the audience enraptured throughout.
Music director Galina Barskaya played this wonderful score with grace and elegance, and lead the chamber string ensemble into a passionate and energetic sound, which only enhanced Mozart’s score. The chorus was a pleasant surprise in their contribution to the show. Comprised of some eleven singers, the sound was strong, confident and in tune. They came out well prepared and brought the music to life. IOC’s production was a successful take on Mozart’s masterpiece, and shows great promise for more quality opera in the future.
UPDATED: The mention of the role of Susannah was played by Stephanie Howard. Apologies to Ms. Howard, and thanks to Maggie Lane for catching the error. (See comments)