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Merry Melody

[whitespace] William Neely and Jenni Tenenbaum
Steven Yeager

Randy dandy: William Neely romances Jenni Tenenbaum in 'Figaro.'

'Figaro' hits high note at Cinnabar

By Daedalus Howell

IT TAKES A threesome to make a love child as marvelous as Cinnabar Theater's The Marriage of Figaro. Climbing nimbly into bed are 18th-century French playwright Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, his Austrian contemporary Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and at the apex of this marvelous ménage à trois, the Cinnabar Opera Theater company under the bang-up direction of Cinnabar grandsire Marvin Klebe.

Springing from Donald Pippin's new translation of the work and guided by music director Nina Shuman, Klebe's The Marriage of Figaro furnishes an imminently enjoyable second installment in the theater's ongoing Figaro Fest--a three-year cycle of Beaumarchais' Figaro-based plays and the operatic works they inspired.

The opera's labyrinthine plot hinges on an outrageous privilege permitted under ancient feudal law whereby the gentry could choose to usurp the groom's place in the nuptial chamber when their servants wed. The licentious and conniving Count Almaviva (baritone William Neely) intends to bed maidservant Susanna (soprano Jenni Tenenbaum), who is betrothed to Figaro (bass-baritone Ethan Smith), the lecher's valet. Figaro, of course, resolves to thwart the count, and there ensues a morass of double-crosses and deceptions that leads to a comic comeuppance.

The tight, topnotch ensemble cast--led by the adroit Smith's sly, finagling Figaro--has more chemistry than a pharmaceutical lab. Soprano Tenenbaum is a delight as the droll Susanna--she seems to bond on a nearly molecular level with her onstage cronies. Her voice is superbly matched to her role, as is Neely's to his truculent count, and soprano Eileen Morris' to her cool countess.

In an ingenious stroke of gender-blind casting, mezzo-soprano Lisa Houston plays the post-adolescent scapegrace Cherubino, a hopelessly romantic young man infatuated with anyone boasting two X chromosomes. Houston's knack for comic nuance often borders on the sublime, as when, in a Chinese box of acting conundrums, her character must disguise himself as a woman.

Making an impressive debut is young soprano Mikka Bonel as the lovesick Barbarina. Director Klebe, in an Andy Warhol fright wig, plays her father, Antonio the gardener, with cheerful readiness.

Conductor Shuman's musical acumen is well matched by the eight-piece composite of strings and woodwinds dubbed the "Filarmonico Figaretto." This taut group performs Mozart's score with levity and precision.

The finely crafted costumes and economically understated set (well lit by Megan and Bronwen Watt) reflect the shrewd decision to reset the opera in the more practical, less costly fashions of the 19th century. Dressing the upper crust in the manner of the 1700s would have been an exhausting and costly endeavor, as impractical on stage as it was back then in real life.

This production is model operatic theater and, for that matter, a nice blueprint for the perfect soft drink: light, effervescent, and sweet, without a modicum of saccharine. If the Cinnabar could bottle its recipe, the need for arts fundraising would go the way of New Coke.

Bravo! Brava!


Cinnabar Opera Theater's production of The Marriage of Figaro plays through June 20 at the Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd., Petaluma. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sunday, June 14, at 3 p.m. Tickets are $12 -$18. 763-8920.

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From the June 11-17, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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