About 2,000 guests assembled at Windsor’s Capitol Theatre on Saturday for a very special wedding. Well… it wasn’t really a wedding per se, it was more of a giant farce and the guests were witness to the antics of some strange fellow named Figaro, who wanted to get married to a mischievous maiden called Susanna.
If that all seems a little too familiar, that’s because this wedding story has been told many times before in venues throughout the world. The Marriage of Figaro is a legendary opera in every sense. It’s a cornerstone for the entire opera genre and it’s one of the most performed pieces every year, including this weekend’s sold-out performance by the Windsor Symphony Orchestra.
In this Bill and Rochelle Tepperman Masterworks performance, the WSO brought along 10 marvelous lead vocalists from around the country, and around the county, for a thrilling comedic night of storytelling, stunning music and astounding voices. Joining the primary cast were the always charming University of Windsor Chamber Choir and University Singers.
It’s astonishing to see so much interest in opera. Wasn’t it just nine months ago Windsorites were told that the opera was “barely breathing” when pop singer Huey Lewis peddled his popular message that rock and roll is still alive and beating during his performance at the Colosseum? Mr. Lewis would be surprised to see opera not only alive, but thriving here in Canada’s largest border city.
WSO conductor Robert Franz led the orchestra and performers through the three-hour epic, narrating the story as the actors set up for their scenes. The narration was a welcomed addition and helped tell the Italian language story for the English audience. In addition, captions were projected on a screen above the orchestra as the songs were being performed.
The WSO were their usual lively selves, giving Mozart’s score a beautiful hue, especially in the overture, which to this day is still among my favourite musical pieces of all time. It’s still hard to believe the composer originally assembled the piece just hours before Figaro’s premiere.
During the four-act opera, we were introduced to various characters through songs and slight physical movements, leaving costuming a bit restrained. Performers Caitlin Wood (Susanna) and Clarence Frazer (Figaro) were delightful. They seduced us through the beloved story of mistaken identities, lecherous masters and were cast both vocally and visually well.
Other favourites included Emma Char as Cherubino, who was what Franz described as a pants role, which involved a female singer dressing up as a man, who later gets dressed up as a woman. In essence, the audience saw a woman dressed as a man, who dressed as a woman, all while singing as much like a man as she could. Her facial expressions and subtle nudging won the audience over as soon as she hit the stage.
Baritone Gene Wu worked extremely well as aristocrat Count Almaviva, as did Collen Daly as his devotedly ill-behaved wife Countess Rosina Almaviva. The main cast was rounded out by Lesley Andrew (Marcellina), Ryan Downey (Basilio, Don Curzio), Tom Goerz (Bartolo), Bruce Kotowich (Antonio) and Emily Houchen (Baarbarina). Kotowich also served as the Director of the lively choirs performing throughout the show.
Stage Director Erin Armstrong-Dickau also pulled off a great job keeping the performers and choirs organized and in place. At no point in the show were the vocalists stationary and the action was quite lively during the fourth act when the audience felt as though it was tucked away in the bushes watching the action unfold.
Mozart’s popular comedy of bad sexual manners tickled us with laughter, wooed us with gorgeous music and seduced us with its genius. And at the hands of this marvelous cast, some amazing choir singers, our wonderful orchestra and Maestro Franz’s brilliance, we were in the essence of the musical master’s shadow the entire time. With The Marriage of Figaro, the WSO has shown us that an evening of Mozart might be fabulous, but an evening of Mozart opera is simply divine.