As others have already noted, WNO has turned out an immensely pleasing Figaro revival (I saw it Tuesday with the A-cast). This is a production focused on emphasizing the opera's vast appeal and, watching such a natural, well-conceived staging (kudos to director Harry Silverstein), it is hard to believe this magical piece of musical theatre ever produces anything else. But getting 200 year old humor right is not easy (witness every godforsaken Barber production) and finding a production that avoids wallowing in the endless hit parade while meeting the piece's musical demands is something to value indeed.
The mood was evident from Patrick Fournillier's downbeat on a madcap, rollicking reading of the overture, and he proceeded to keep things moving at a healthy clip, which was clearly catnip to the enthusiastic cast.
Now, it must be said, despite the considerable fun of Teddy Tahu Rhodes' SexyCount TM, it sacrifices something in the plausibility department. There's something to playing the Count as a sort of hapless Don Juan, but the discrepancy between his station and dissolute behavior is an important tension. If he just comes off like a rich 28 year-old d-bag, it is hard to be very perturbed by this. Moreover, it makes sympathy for the Countess less easy to come by--you married this jerkstore who's at least a decade younger than you, what did you expect? That said, Rhodes clearly has a great stage presence and to my ears was the most exciting vocal thing happening onstage. One of the musical thrills of the evening was hearing his warm, resonant baritone cutting through the ensembles.
His Countess, Virginia Tola, turned in a fairly sedate performance relative to her colleagues that at times verged on the nondescript. The voice has an appealing strength and urgency through the middle despite a sometimes unpleasant edge, but peters out at the top, with pitch issues on some of the big moments. But all of that equivocation was promptly forgotten for the duration of her "Dove Sono" which seemed to suck all the air from the room, as it is wont to do in the right hands.
Veronica Cangemi's Susanna was a great deal of fun--she works the Despina angles hard where others might try to keep things straighter and more sympathetic, but it really is a better character this way. Vocally there were some quibbles, including a failure to hold her own in the ensembles where Susanna's soaring lines are so key. But, as with Tola, she went out on a high point, offering a sensitive and beguiling "Deh Vieni".
If less consistent than Rhodes, Michèle Losier's Cherubino was certainly the other vocal standout of the evening, bringing all the ardent passion one wants from this role, if not the exalted levels of mezzo creaminess one finds in the finest readings. The rest of the cast was uniformly strong, particularly: Ildar Abradzakov's polished Figaro and Victoria Livengood's bawdy, hilarious Marcellina, which could be too broad depending on your taste, but never crossed the line to vulgar or distracting.
The crime is not doing Figaro too much, but doing it in a way that anyone could leave bored and unfulfilled. Figaro is like comfort food and haute cuisine all at once--a delicate balance, to be sure, but one that, successfully achieved, leaves one's heart full and one's head swimming. So let's not phone it in, OK? More of what this production has going is a good start.