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Marital Mozart

Opera San José shows off its new California home with 'The Marriage of Figaro'

By Scott MacClelland

THE "most perfect comic opera" opened the renovated California Theatre with fireworks, limousines and searchlights Saturday night in as gala a gala San Jose has seen in a very long time. Despite the officious label "urban renewal project," the swanky memento of a bygone era, when movies enjoyed culture-palace prestige, the California once again echoed with the oohs and ahs of patrons feeling civic pride in this restored jewel box. Anyone who remembers the old Fox California will immediately think of all the stairs to climb. The renovation, seriously supported by the Packard Humanities Institute (founded by David Packard, the younger) has added level corridors and elevators, and other enhancements as demanded by an aging population.

The Italian Rossini, a composer who also rendered the Beaumarchais comedy into a popular opera buffa, famously remarked about Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, "He beat us at our own game." Still, at more than three hours performance time, most of us who live in the fast lane (intentionally or otherwise) need a larger than usual incentive to go for it. Of course, the "new" theater was a big draw. And by now, 20 years on, Irene Dalis' Opera San José has won an enthusiastic following all over the Bay Area, from San Francisco to Carmel. But finally, Mozart, and his librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte, tilted the balance; the California was packed at last Sunday's matinee.

This production featured the second of the two alternating casts (in its first appearance), and it took a bit more than one act before the original tightness relaxed and the performance began to blossom. The singers were well cast in their ensemble, no one standing out to the detriment of another. The level of both acting and singing, once warmed up, was of a type across the board. Following the overture, a "minor" masterpiece, the Figaro and Susanna, Jason Detwiler and Aimee Puentes, set the tone for what followed. Against Detwiler's suspicions and schemes, Puentes played the feisty soubrette, assertive and volatile. Heidi Rae Kalina was suitably clumsy and gushing as Cherubino, in contrast to David Britton's posturing Count Almaviva. As Britton's work unfolded, he gained vocal authority, but in large ensembles his baritone was harder to single out.

The hapless countess, Lori Decter, would give the afternoon its finest moment in the Act III aria Dove sono. Not only was the voice a thing of polished beauty, but the delivery saw the fulfillment, even apotheosis, of the troubled and sympathetic character. The scene won bravos from the house, just as her Porgi, amor in Act II created strong expectations of this moment. David Cox played the drunken gardener, Antonio, with Jennifer Muhawi as his air-headed daughter Barbarina. Bartolo, Marcellina and Basilio, the libretto's "commedia dell-arte" knock-offs, were respectively Jesse Merlin, Kimberly Matthies and Adam Flowers. Bill Welch played the notary.

Lorna Haywood's stage direction used the space generously and included abundant sight gags and flourishes all nicely fit to the period style and costumes. The high proscenium provided for Giulio Cesare Perrone's elegant sets and design, which exploited the full dimensions of the stage. Pamila Z. Gray's lighting effectively moved the acts from morning to afternoon, evening and night. Conductor David Rohrbaugh kept a tight rein on things in the opening act, then, along with the cast, subsequently warmed up, setting an ideal pace for the pattering comedic ensembles. Colossal busts of Mozart and da Ponte, commissioned by David Packard, were rolled on stage during the final curtain call.

The Marriage of Figaro, an Opera San José production, plays Sept. 23, 25, 28 and Oct. 1 at 8pm and Oct. 3 at 3pm at the California Theatre, 345 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $60-$80. (408.437.4450)

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From the September 22-28, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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