The title of the opera isn't "Marriage of Susanna," but perhaps it should be.
The men are fine performers, but the sopranos steal the show in Madison Opera's lively production of "The Marriage of Figaro," W. A. Mozart's 1786 opera about love, intrigue and betrayal.
"Figaro" is scheduled for one more performance on Sunday, Nov. 7, at 2:30 p.m., sung in Italian with English supertitles. Conducted by artistic director John DeMain, it is a worthy opening for Madison Opera's 50th anniversary season, polished, thoughtful and thoroughly entertaining.
In director A. Scott Parry's hands, "Figaro" balances the tragedy of a marriage gone sour with silly exploits around Figaro and Susanna's frequently thwarted nuptials. The Count's wandering eye has lit on the bride, leading Figaro to jealous action and the Countess to scheme to win back her man.
The heart of the play is Anya Matanovic as Susanna, who embodies the wry humor and merriment in Mozart's score. With a nimble, sweet soprano, Matanovic is a joy to watch, kicking her heels as she teases a rival about her age and taunting Figaro with a dramatic love song as he lies panting, "hidden" behind her.
As a foil for Susanna's glee, Melody Moore's Countess has a vulnerability that is heartbreaking to watch. Her rich, mellow tone shimmers in the gorgeous aria "Porgi, amor, qualche ristoro" ("Grant, love, some comfort"). Restless and frustrated, the countess' unwillingness to accept her situation is clear in Moore's steely sung dialogue.
Her dissatisfaction has a mirror in the count, played by powerful baritone Jeff Mattsey. Though still a villain, Mattsey's count is surprisingly sympathetic — the count's boredom has led him to cast out for any fight he can win.
Bass Jason Hardy's Figaro captivates from his first aria of revenge. He's an expressive performer — even when angry, Hardy doesn't overplay, and he's funny as he bemoans the inconstancy of women in an entertaining Act IV aria ("Aprite un po' quegli occhi," or "Open your eyes").
Tenor James Doing is a highlight of the supporting cast as sniveling Don Basilio, the music teacher, as is the fine comic mezzo Melissa Parks as haughty Marcellina. Emily Lorini sings well as the boy Cherubino, but is a bit more stilted with the physical comedy. Some of the best moments are trios, as each person sings a doom-filled aside, or ensembles when half the stage is gleeful in victory and the other half pouts.
Simple and clean, the set recalls a story book (designed by Benoit Dugardyn for Glimmerglass Opera in New York). Tall white pillars frame an airy estate bedroom or a garden at dusk, then evoke a near-literal cage for the dejected countess. Lovely costumes by Susan Memmott Allred (for Utah Opera) paint in light blues, creams and khaki.
On the set above the performers' heads are words in Italian meaning "He merits not pardon who cannot forgive." It's a hopeful message, one that looks forward to a brighter future. With this excellent production, that's a future Madison Opera surely has.