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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bolshoi's 'Figaro' Soars in Last Act

The Bolshoi Theater has unveiled its only new production of the current season -- Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro," with mixed results.

To produce what is arguably the most nearly perfect of all operatic creations, the Bolshoi took the unprecedented step of engaging an entirely foreign team, with young Slovak conductor Peter Feranec presiding in the pit, veteran German director Joachim Herz controlling the action on stage and Herz's fellow countryman and long-time collaborator Peter Sikora fashioning the decor and costumes.

The one clear success at Tuesday's premiere was Herz's fluently choreographed staging. Unlike so many leading operatic stage directors, Herz apparently has no axe of his own to grind. He has simply taken a close look at Mozart's music and the equally brilliant libretto of Lorenzo da Ponte and trained his cast to carry out their joint intentions. In the process he has managed to give unusual clarity to the opera's complex story, and to bring out many of the subtle nuances often lost in its performance.

Unfortunately, this has been framed by sets that might at best be called provincial. In Sikora's conception the Almaviva's palace, scene of the opera's first three acts, is undergoing some sort of extensive remont. Walls appear stripped of plaster and are given a coat of whitewash, and most of the palace furniture seems to have been trotted off to storage.

On the musical side, Ferenc obviously has some of the right ideas about conducting Mozart. The Bolshoi orchestra, reduced here to Mozartian proportions, plays for him with crisp and clean precision. But too often he chooses eccentric tempos, racing through the overture and large ensemble pieces, then for long stretches falling into a sort of lethargy. He also seems to have some difficulty coordinating the music on stage with that in the pit.

For Russian singers, Mozart presents an enormous challenge. First, contemporary ideas about performing Mozart in a style resembling that of the composer's day have been slow to penetrate Russia. Furthermore, normal Russian vocal technique and style hardly lend themselves to producing the purity of sound that Mozart's music demands.

Despite these handicaps, at least some of Tuesday's cast rose to the occasion. Best was soprano Marina Meshcheryakova, as Figaro's bride, Susanna. Hers is a voice that sounds authentically Mozartian, warm and flexible, and free of intrusive vibrato. She is also a splendid actress, creating a Susanna who is both mischievous and heart-warming.

Not far behind in both voice and acting skill was the evening's other principal soprano, Maria Gavrilova, as the Countess Almaviva. After a somewhat shaky start, she rose triumphantly to the demands of the great third-act aria, "Dov? sono," and to the duet with Susanna that follows it, with only a hint of Slavic squall in her topmost notes.

Figaro was portrayed by veteran bass Vladislav Verestnikov. Seemingly preoccupied both with Italian pronunciation and maintaining a clean Mozartian vocal line, he made little impression during the opera's first two acts. But in the evening's second half he reappeared full of confidence, firmly establishing himself as the work's central character.

Among the rest of the cast, only mezzo-soprano Nina Fomina, as Marcellina, displayed both the voice and technique that the music requires. Quite justifiably, she was allowed her fourth-act aria, a charming bit of music that interpreters of Marcellina are rarely given a chance to perform.

The best part of Tuesday's nearly four-hour performance came in its closing 30 minutes. For the opera's final scene, Sikora created a reasonable semblance of a garden, and Feranec at last found and maintained an appropriate musical pace. With Herz skillfully unravelling the denouement of unexpected encounters and mistaken identities and the singers stretching themselves to their limits, the Bolshoi's "Figaro" finally took wing and came to an end in a burst of true Mozartian glory.

Remaining performances of "Figaro" (sung in Italian) are at 7 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday. For tickets contact the box office at 292-9986, Intourist at 292-2677, or IPS ticket service at 927-6982 or 927-6983.