fb-pixel Skip to main content

‘The Marriage of Figaro’: Handel and Haydn Society revels in Mozart’s madcap world

On Thursday night at Symphony Hall, the production served up an inventive bare-bones production with a big side of ham

The Handel and Haydn Society performs a semi-staged production of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" led by Raphaël Pichon.Sam Brewer

In the competition for most convoluted opera plot, Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” is a front-runner. With four acts’ worth of schemes, pranks, and mistaken identities featuring nine principal characters, each of whom (with one exception) is both horny and stupid to varying degrees, its source material’s alternate title — “The Crazy Day” — would suit this opera well.

But when it comes to sets, props, lighting, and all those other operatic accoutrements, you don’t need to get too crazy. As the Handel and Haydn Society proved Thursday night at Symphony Hall, it might even be better if you don’t. The company’s first semi-staged “Figaro” had absolutely everything it needed and nothing it didn’t, and I now have a new litmus test to measure all future productions of the Mozart comedy I might see. Bravi tutti.


“Figaro” includes some of Mozart’s most famous arias, but at heart it’s an ensemble piece that requires ensemble players, and H+H’s impeccable cast was more than up to the challenge. Almost every line affects everyone on stage at the time, and the cast reacted to the plot’s twists and turns accordingly: No parking and barking at center stage for this “Figaro.” Even in the background, there was almost always something happening.

In the title role of Figaro, Polish bass Krzysztof Baczyk matched a sonorous voice with limber physicality, maneuvering his towering frame around the stage with fleet-footed ease. Ying Fang made a coquettish and cunning Susanna, and the combination of her expressive face and lissome soprano voice did all the translating necessary whenever the supertitles lagged, which was often.

The accord between Fang’s Susanna and Jacquelyn Stucker’s regal Countess Almaviva was electrifying. The two’s harmonies, in lockstep at light speed during the Act II finale, foreshadowed a stunning “Sull’aria,” the duet in which the Countess and Susanna compose a fake love letter for the skirt-chasing Count. Fang echoed Stucker’s regal, velvety dictation with silvery guile. It was an astounding role debut as the Countess for Stucker, who slowly and cannily unveiled the character’s fiery heart. There was no doubt that the Countess was the same woman who seizes control of her own fate in “The Barber of Seville,” which comes before “Figaro” in the trilogy of Beaumarchais plays that inspired Mozart, Rossini, and countless other composers.


Paula Murrihy’s frantically ardent Cherubino, Maya Kherani’s blithe Barbarina, and the hammy character trio of MaryAnn McCormick, Scott Conner, and Zachary Wilder as Marcellina, Bartolo, and Basilio (the latter two dual-cast in minor roles, accomplished with a quick wig swap or by donning a grubby apron) were equally at home in Mozart’s madcap world. Bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum seemed miscast in his role debut as the philandering Count Almaviva. He’s on the young side for the part, and a swaggering, arrogant young Count would have been exhilarating, especially opposite Stucker. Quattlebaum seemed to be going for a certain mature bluster that sounded at odds with his youthful voice.

The cast masterfully carried the plot, while conductor Raphaël Pichon maintained the music’s momentum, and fortepianist Ronan Khalil added slapstick accents to the recitatives. Director James Darrah’s minimal staging and sets (a few chairs, a pile of cargo to stand in for a closet, a music stand that a character pushed over to create a convenient clatter) illuminated the comedic theatrics within the story itself. Many of the conceits within the plot are frankly ridiculous: Are darkness and a cloak swap really enough to convince the Count that the woman he’s trying to seduce is Susanna, when it’s his own wife in disguise? By stripping the theatrical machinery bare, this “Figaro” treated those points as comedic bits in themselves. When Figaro interrupted the Count putting the moves on Susanna in the first act with chorus of villagers singing the Count’s praises, there wasn’t room to escort the chorus in as per usual: Instead, Baczyk sprinted across the rear of the stage where the singers were standing in a line, high-fiving all of them like a sports coach pumping up the team.


The one aesthetic area where the creative team didn’t go minimal was costumes, another wise move. Costume designer Molly Irelan and wig designer Rachel Padula-Shufelt dressed the principal cast in colorful period regalia that illustrated the class distinctions and dynamics between the characters in addition to providing a visual feast for the audience. Especially exquisite was the cumbersome-looking bejeweled gown that the Countess sported in the third and fourth acts. In such a bare-bones production, how better to allude to the Countess’s feelings of powerlessness than dressing her in a gilded cage?


At Symphony Hall. Nov. 17. www.handelandhaydn.org

A.Z. Madonna can be reached at az.madonna@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten.