In the opera world, where being true to a libretto is considered unforgivably boring, and using traditional scenery and costumes very dull, sometimes nothing is more pleasing than seeing a conservative production. Lucky for many opera connoisseurs, some directors still see a certain value in good old traditional opera staging and try to prevent its ultimate modernization by preserving the original feel of the works that they choose to stage.

Janinah Burnett (Susanna) and Kirsten Gunlogson (Cherubino) in Lyric Opera Baltimore's Le Nozze di F
Janinah Burnett (Susanna) and Kirsten Gunlogson (Cherubino) in Lyric Opera Baltimore's Le Nozze di F

Much to the delight (and relief) of the audience, the dazzling production of Mozart's timeless comic gem Le Nozze di Figaro that I saw at the Baltimore Lyric Friday night turned out to be the quintessence of classical tradition. A fruit of close collaboration of stage director Bernard Uzan, scenic director Allen Charles and lighting director Donald Edmund Thomas, this production boasted everything an opera buffa calls for: breathtaking scenery painted in every shade of blue and gold, exquisite period costumes, head-spinning ensembles, elegant dancing, and of course, the omnipresent gleaming light, deceitful enough to cover up conspiring heroines, but apparent enough to unveil their jealous heroes. However, above all, this production boasted the most essential feature of any opera buffa: a genuine youthful spirit generated by a dynamic troupe of emerging opera stars. To everyone's surprise, there was not one single older artist in the whole production. Even the "old" love birds, Stephen Morschneck's Bartolo and Madeleine Gray's Marcellina, were young, fit and quite good-looking!

Even though some arias and duets lacked technical precision, the genuine emotion and exuberant humor of the artists quickly made up for what looked like a mere lack of performing experience rather than a serious flaw. All the six principals, united by a powerful team spirit, performed with sizzling energy and irresistable charm.

From the first bars of his opening cavatina "Se vuol ballare, signor contino," Daniel Mobbs' brilliant Figaro won the audience over with his charisma. His slightly cynical Susanna, sung by Janniah Burnett, offered a beautifully phrased and mellow rendition of "Deh vieni, non tardar". However, the most convincing performance belonged to Romanian baritone Marian Pop, whose arresting stage presence and aristocratic flair made his Count Almaviva quite memorable. Boasting vocal fluidity and purity of tone, his was the most impressive voice of the evening. The baritone's attention to detail and refined diction were particularly noticeable in the recitatives, which he delivered with noble grandeur.

Beyond doubt, this production proved that to make Mozart fresh and more accessible for younger audiences, a director does not have to rip his production of scenery and costumes. Stepping too far away from the original may result in losing the entire perspective of the piece. However, a traditional production with a youthful spirit seems to be just what the 21st-century audiences need in order to appreciate the musical heritage of the ever-young and modern Mozart.