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Opera Saratoga opener sizzles with spontaneity

Opera Saratoga opener sizzles with spontaneity

The capacity crowd was all abuzz Friday night at the Spa Little Theatre as it waited for Opera Sarat

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The capacity crowd was all abuzz Friday night at the Spa Little Theatre as it waited for Opera Saratoga to open its 55th season with one of the glories of the standard repertoire: Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro.”

They got a superb production, which sizzled with a spontaneity that had an almost freewheeling kind of spirit.

Singers, led by the terrific Chinese bass Peixin Chen as Figaro, were in exuberant mode and with never a dull moment in Lorenzo de Ponte’s brilliant libretto, acting was convincingly natural nuanced by comic asides. Couples had good chemistry.

Much of this brisk pace, which was carried over into the opera’s sparkling orchestral overture and many of the famous arias, was because director David Paul made sure to keep the action tight and sentimentality only hinted at.

Considering that acts one and two were combined as were acts three and four, it made for a long time sitting for the large audience.

But people didn’t seem to care. Attention was rapt; responses to arias were enthusiastic; and at the single intermission, favorable comments were constantly heard.

Mozart had charmed everyone.

Meanwhile, the singers were uniformly excellent.

Chen had a deep rumbling voice, fabulous sustained lines, excellent Italian diction and a presence fitting for the opera’s lead. Soprano Chelsea Basler as Susanna soared effortlessly with an agile voice and maintained her high energy level despite being on stage for almost all the scenes.

Katherine Whyte’s lustrous soprano shone in her few arias as Countess Almaviva, and Keith Phares was lyrically splendid as Count Almaviva.

Mezzo-soprano Courtney Miller in the pants role of Cherubino and soprano Brooklyn Snow as his love interest Barbarina were also solid and focused.

With so much action and Mozart’s marvelous penchant to have multiple leads — sometimes as many as six, singing at the same time — blocking was a prime necessity. Here, too, Paul was inventive.

It helped that Caite Hevner’s spare but open set allowed for fluid movement. Only a few props, such as a bed or desk on the fascinating black and white tesselated floor were needed.

Costumes by Glenn Avery Breed were in a cool palette, including the Countess’ sparkly green number, and were easy on the eye.

The orchestra under conductor Andrew Bisantz was vivacious and light.

The other “Figaro” performances are June 27 at 2 p.m., July 9 at 2 p.m. and July 15 at 7:30 p.m.

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