In Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, Figaro and his bride-to-(maybe)-be Susannah share their ups and downs, but in San Francisco Opera's revival production directed by Robin Guarino, it was evident they would be a veritable match made in heaven. And while wedding plans and celebrations weren't going according to plan, everything about this production both on the stage and in the pit honoured the masterpiece it has been considered to be since the opera's premiere in 1786 at the Burgtheater in Vienna with Mozart conducting.

Greg Fedderly as Don Basilio, Lisette Oropesa as Susanna, Luca PIsaroni as the Count © Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera
Greg Fedderly as Don Basilio, Lisette Oropesa as Susanna, Luca PIsaroni as the Count
© Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera

On this occasion conductor Patrick Summers brought wholesomeness and energy to the score with unifomly precise playing from the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, gifting the ears with a thrilling spatial sound experience.

In The Marriage of Figaro's opera buffa story of love and love's losses, where humour is spliced with seriousness and emotions calm, simmer, percolate and explode at a turn, Guarino sprinkled just the right amount of tomfoolery. The accompanying age-old battle of the sexes is played out in games and disguises while one surprise conundrum arises before another is solved. With an easy flow, Guarno utilises the stage effectively for the many entrances and exits, and though the story is set in 18th century Seville, delighful modern mannerisms are cleverly employed. 

The matinee opening performance, however, wasn't without its minor blemishes, particularly in vocal timing, but nothing could be taken away from the shining cast of young and seasoned performers familiar with the War Memorial Opera House stage.

Philippe Sly as Figaro, Kate Lindsey as Cherubino © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
Philippe Sly as Figaro, Kate Lindsey as Cherubino
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Bass-baritone Philippe Sly and soprano Lisette Oropesa acted out Figaro and Susannah's day with charming animated playfulness. As a savvy but more settled and reserved Figaro than the man-about-town barber Figaro would have been, Sly created thrilling anticipation through leaps and lulls in vocal pacing with a solidity tempered with a handsome, burnished finish. Oropesa imbued Susannah with affability and confidence and despite an ocassional loss of steam in her low range, her bright, clear and fluidly phrased voice complimented Sly's Figaro splendidly. Noticeably, Sly and Oropesa's recitative passages were full of exciting speculative interest and intoned detail.

Bestowed with some of the most beautifully heartfelt arias written for any opera character, Countess Almaviva's lamentations of the loss of her husband's affections were rendered in breathtaking form by Nadine Sierra. Act II's Porgi, amor, qualche ristoro – "Grant, love, some comfort" and Act III's Dove sono i bei momenti – "Where are they, the beautiful moments" (in which Sierra's whispering low range intoxicated), excelled in their generously nuanced expression. In the Countess' final Act IV aria Più docile io sono – "I am more mild", in which she forgives her husband after he remorsefully begs her forgiveness, Sierra sealed her stature as an artist of impeccable strength.

Flicking his long mane of black hair as an attention-seeking, hot-blooded and slick Count Almaviva, bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni cut an imposing figure. In a relishing performance full of conviction, throughout a broad spectrum of physical and emotional demands, Pisaroni's resonant, dusky and dextrous bass-baritone surged.

As the Count's page Cherubino, Kate Lindsey brought an endearing, pubescent awkwardness while zealously riding its newfound sexual awakenings. With an oddly but befitting world-wise maturity of voice, Lindsey caressed Act II's love song Cherubino wrote for the Countess, Voi che sapete che cosa è amor – "You ladies who know what love is, is it what I'm suffering from?" with exceptional control, delicate delivery and deft embellishment.

Other soloists including John Del Carlo as Bartolo, Greg Fedderly as Basilio and Catherine Cook as Marcellina all fortified every aspect of the villa and the chorus of peasants, villagers, and servants elevated the celebrations with exuberance via the San Francisco Opera Chorus.

Visually amongst the best creations satifying the story's demands, in a production originally designed by Zack Brownan way back in 1982, an inviting spatial consistency flows through faithfully conceived set designs taking you on a tour through a rustic but substantially scaled Spanish-Moorish 18th century villa, feauturing an intricately crafted staircase timber detailings and by Act IV, the boxed hedging and cypress trees of its garden and maze. Muted hues of period costumes inspired by of-the-era Francisco de Goya paintings are completed by Gary Marder's skilfully matched lighting design.

Sometimes it's impossible not to look for any little niggly bit in a performance without making comment but at San Francisco Opera's The Marriage of Figaro, it was a pleasure to sit back, sit up or sit forward and let the opera spin its ineffable magic. Clearly, Figaro and Susannah's crazy day will continue for an eternity.