Mozart and Da Ponte’s wild and crazy day-in-the-life of the Almaviva household can seem as interminable as a leaden production of Wagner’s Parsifal if not sung and acted with aplomb. Fortunately, Boston Lyric Opera’s production of Le nozze di Figaro boasted a young, capable, and energetic cast, a lively staging, and an intimate venue to put it all across. The day flew, aided by nips and tucks to the score including the usual pruning of the Act IV arias for Marcellina and Basilio.

Evan Hughes (Figaro) and Emily Birsan (Susanna) © T. Charles Erickson
Evan Hughes (Figaro) and Emily Birsan (Susanna)
© T. Charles Erickson

Director Rosetta Cucchi chooses to italicize the opera’s many layers of theatricality where identity is fluid and characters become authors and actors in their own mini-dramas, complicating and often derailing the main plot with plots of their own. A scrim representing a call board greets the audience, scrawled across it in chalk: ‘Figaro now (a work in progress)’. Midway through the overture the scrim rises to surprise a knot of stagehands, FIGARO in white on their black t-shirts, playing cards on a bare stage. Susanna and Figaro are frozen in poses stage left and right. Mirrors covering the back wall and canting above reflect a floorplan covering the acting area, with red tape marking spots for blocking and furniture placement. The stagehands stir and begin dressing the stage for the first scene – a cutout representing the classic silhouette of a Ferrari and a trestle table, fabric and mannequin for Susanna’s work room, a doorframe on wheels separates indoor from outdoor. They put blueprints in Figaro’s hand and drape a tape measure around Susanna’s neck, then retire to bright yellow bentwood chairs along each side of the stage as the action begins with a snap the fingers. They will remain visible and intervene throughout the evening, even handing props to the singers, and interact with the performers who break role when they exit their scenes. Even the adept fortepianist, Brett Hodgdon waxes metatheatrical, playing snatches of the Rossini Almaviva’s “Ecco ridente”, Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, and the Nokia ringtone!

Emily Fons (Cherubino) and Nicole Heaston (Countess Almaviva) © T. Charles Erickson
Emily Fons (Cherubino) and Nicole Heaston (Countess Almaviva)
© T. Charles Erickson

Further inspired by the spirit of Billy Wilder’s 1954 romantic comedy Sabrina, Cucchi  incorporates aspects of the film into her staging shifting the action to an Italian estate in the 1950s, making Figaro the Count’s chauffeur, the Count a sportscar buff and setting Act 4 on an indoor tennis court. Most of the women wear 50s swing dresses; Barbarina favors pedal pushers, Cherubino could be Hank Williams, but looks more like K.D. Laing in cowboy hat, jeans, blue shirt open and untucked with sleeves rolled to the elbow, a white t-shirt underneath, and a guitar slung across his back. The Count is the epitome of the slick lounge lizard in his loud smoking and white dinner jackets.

Nicole Heaston (Countess Almaviva) © T. Charles Erickson
Nicole Heaston (Countess Almaviva)
© T. Charles Erickson

Mozart gives the three principal female singers some of his most memorable music. Figaro aside, the men are not as fortunate. Emily Birsan was clear and precise as Susanna, irrepressible and even more determined and wily than her future husband. Nicole Heaston's plummy, mellow soprano captured the Countess’ wistful regret in her two arias at the turn her life has taken. Her stage presence made the Count’s neglect even more inexplicable. Emily Fons avoided all caricature in bringing Cherubino to life. Gawky and coltish, she gave the impression physically and vocally of an adolescent ill at ease with his rapidly changing body and captive to the attendant mood swings. Evan Hughes’ light and pliable bass-baritone was perfect for the quick-thinking Figaro, easily darkened for the anger and withering sarcasm of “Se vuol ballare” and the cynicism and bluster of “Aprite un po’ quegli occhi”. The interpolation of an ill-considered cadenza marred an otherwise impeccable “Non più andrai”.  David Cushing’s Bartolo sported the most robust and resonant male voice on the stage. The role of the Count would have had more face and contrasted Figaro better had he switched with David Pershall. Pershall sang well but seemed oddly subdued and detached for a character so thwarted and beleaguered. Matthew Dibattista, clad in black suit and Roman collar, was an unctuous Basilio while Brad Raymond played an officious Don Curzio without effecting the traditional stutter or scatterbrained demeanor. Excellent diction from the entire company made titles superfluous for anyone knowing Italian or familiar with the libretto. David Angus, dressed just like the stagehands, led a jaunty, adroit, and attentive performance. Too bad the pit tended to muffle the brass and percussion.

Only love, Da Ponte writes in the final chorus, can put an end to the folly and madness of this day. But, given human nature, what about tomorrow? Or any day thereafter?