The two classic comedies that Beaumarchais devoted to the exploits of the trickster valet, Figaro, gave rise to two comic operas that became even greater triumphs, Rossini's Barber of Seville and Mozart's Marriage of Figaro. Ever since, writers and composers have dreamed of creating a third panel for this triptych. Beaumarchais's own, rather glum finish to his trilogy, The Guilty Mother, has provoked several intriguing modern operas, but little enthusiasm.
A better solution, it turns out, lay sleeping in dusty archives. Last summer, at conductor Riccardo Muti's behest, the Salzburg Festival revived I due Figaro (The Two Figaros), by Saverio Mercadante (1795-1870), currently receiving its U.S. premiere from the tiny but game Amore Opera (Connelly Theater). And though not quite on the Mozart or Rossini level, it's something of a gem.
Based on an utterly obscure 1790 play by one Richaud-Martelly, Mercadante's bubbly work boasts a text by Felice Romani, whom operaphiles revere as the librettist of numerous bel canto masterpieces, including Bellini's Norma and Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore. Both Romani and Mercadante clearly had fun dotting I due Figaro with sly allusions to its two great predecessors.
At the same time, their work adds zesty new twists on the familiar story. It has been 15 years since Figaro (Daniel Quintana) married Susanna (Iris Karlin), rescuing her virginity from the lecherous Count Almaviva (Shawn Thuris) while saving his countess (Elena McEntire) from the infatuated pageboy Cherubino (Abigail Fisher). Now, Cherubino, a mature army officer but still a trousered mezzo-soprano, loves the Almavivas' daughter, Inez (Sheena Ramirez), whom the greedy count wants to marry off to the wealthy "Alvaro" (Edwin Vega)—who's really a dressed-up lackey conniving with Figaro to get hold of Inez's dowry. Simultaneously, Figaro is peddling the entire scheme to a young playwright, Plagio (Hans Tashjian), as the plot of a new comedy. Cherubino, himself masquerading as a servant named Figaro, foils Figaro's plot.
Mercadante fills this story with lush music, by turns giddily Rossinian and wistfully romantic à la Donizetti; the high points include a big, complex first-act quartet, a dizzying "confusion" ensemble, and the subtle duet in which Susanna, for plot reasons (don't ask!), tries to seduce the count. Gregory Buchalter, conducting, holds the piece together solidly, the makeshift orchestra notwithstanding. The singers, who alternate with a second cast, mostly do well, with Fisher a distinct standout, offering a strong stage presence to match her full, lustrous vocal tone. More Mercadante, maestro, please.
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