Monday, August 8, 2016

REVIEW: CONCERT “FIGARO” KICKS OFF BONJ SUMMER FESTIVAL

Sheila and OreoBy Sheila Abrams

It’s astonishing, given today’s standards, that the original play on which Mozart’s comic opera, The Marriage of Figaro, was based, was once banned in Vienna because of its licentiousness. Things have changed, and Beaumarchais’s farce, with its unfaithful mates, mistaken identities and gender confusions, is now a silly comedy with a tiny amount of titillation thrown in.

In fact, it probably would have been forgotten, if Mozart, and later, Rossini, had not chosen it to be set to music. And what music Amadeus created! It does not get old.

The Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey launched its annual summer festival with a concert performance of Figaro at Dolan Hall, The College of St. Elizabeth, on Aug. 7. Under the baton of Robert W. Butts, a chamber-size version of BONJ (we counted 18 musicians) played the glorious overture and accompanied a cast of singers portraying the characters in the farce.

The pared-down orchestra did a fine job, and the singers were outstanding. In a medium where the women are usually in the spotlight – and Mozart wrote the most amazing music for women – this Figaro was dominated by two exceptional young men, Jason Adamo in the title role and Aidan Kim as the Count Almaviva.

Adamo projects an effortless sound, his voice embracing some of opera’s most familiar arias as if they are natural speech. And his articulation (in the original Italian) is superb.

Kim is possessed of a voice that thrills. It is simply beautiful to hear. And, like Adamo’s, apparently effortless.

Not to neglect the women, the BONJ Figaro was a star-studded event where they were concerned. Domenika Zamara was not only right on target musically in her portrayal of Susanna. She was convincingly mischievous and flirtatious.

Equally outstanding, both musically and theatrically, were Timmie Cole as Rosina, the Countess Almaviva and most put-upon wife; and Teresa Giardina, absolutely adorable in the “pants” role of Cherubino, the boy-man.

Hanne Ladefoged Dollase, a mezzo-soprano, singing Marcellina, offered deeper, darker tones that thrilled.

The performance eliminated all recitative passages, replacing them with a spoken narration in English provided by Kevin Peters, who also sang the role of Don Basilio. The idea was a resetting of the 18th century bedroom comedy into the USA in the 1920s, with the occasion for the romp being a political campaign.

Thus the Count became a senator, Susannah, the maid, a public relations person, and so forth. Because the original play is so confusing by itself, the resetting did not clarify but occasionally added to the confusion. Not that we have ever been able to follow the plot exactly, but costumes that clearly identify the characters (as well as who they are pretending to be) have been helpful in the past.

Nonetheless, you can hardly argue with Mozart’s glorious music performed by a surprising cast of veteran singers and young talents. The festival continues with keyboard concerts throughout the week at Grace Church in Madison, a cabaret next Saturday (also at Grace Church) and a concert at Dolan Hall next Sunday, featuring orchestral and vocal music. Check www.baroqueorchestra.org for information.