San Francisco Opera’s conceptually novel trilogy — operas Mozart composed with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte set in the same changing American house over three centuries and presented over three seasons — got off to a solid start Friday with Michael Cavanagh’s charming new production of the “Marriage of Figaro.”
Cavanagh’s production takes place in the 18th century, though, in post-revolutionary America, not Seville, Spain. Erhard Rom’s neoclassical manor set design frames the dramatic tensions between the master of the house and his servants and between the genders. And, thanks to Constance Hoffman’s period costumes and several principals of color, without hearing Mozart, one might mistake the work to be a staging of “Hamilton.”
But there was no mistaking the fine delivery of Mozart’s musical banquet, starting with the sturdy bass-baritone Michael Sumuel as the house valet Figaro. Sumuel, though not commanding at first, quickly opened up vocally with a pleasant resonance, most notably in his rousing Act 1 aria “Non piu andrai” and, more seriously, in the Act 4 aria “Aprite un po’ quegl’occhi.”
Soprano Jeanine de Bique made her SFO and role debut as the maid Susanna, Figaro’s fiancée. Though de Bique’s voice was a bit on the small side, it was clear and carried emotional depth, especially in a lovely account of her Act 4 aria “Deh vieni, non tardar.” She was also physically nimble and delightful in any of her light-hearted scenes.
Baritone Levente Molnár made a splendid impression in his SFO debut as Count Almaviva, the philandering lord of the estate. Molnar’s rich, buoyant voice paired nicely with his dramatic persona, whether it rose to the imperiousness of his white male landed privilege or sank into the humbled state of a husband caught in an act of infidelity.
Soprano Nicole Heaston brought regal bearing and a supple voice to her house debut as Rosina, the Countess Almaviva. She was compelling as the forgiving wife of a husband with an ever-roving eye, and she gracefully rose to the occasion for all her big arias, including “Porgi, amor” in Act 2 and “Dove sono” in Act 3.
Mezzo-soprano Serena Malfi, making her SFO debut in the trouser role of the adolescent, lovestruck page Cherubino, was amusing ducking for cover or otherwise evading the suspicious Almaviva, and she boasted a lovely, ample voice, most notably in her Act 2 showpiece “Voi che sapete.”
Conductor Henrik Nánási briskly led the orchestra through the overture and then sensibly paced the remainder of the score, while Ian Robertson’s chorus honored the baronial setting with generous sonority.
The Marriage of Figaro
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 2 p.m. Oct. 13 and Oct. 27; 7:30 p.m. Oct. 16, Oct. 19, Oct. 22, Oct. 25 and Nov. 1
Tickets: $26 to $398
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com
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