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'Marriage of Figaro' Closes LA Opera Season Without a Hitch

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With the Marriage of Figaro that opened Saturday night, LA Opera is capping off not only its 2014-15 mainstage season, but also two distinct trilogies of productions offered in recent memory. The first of these is the much-promoted "Figaro Unbound" series, launched last month, of works by three different composers which all feature Beaumarchais's famous barber as the central character. Unofficially, too, over the past four seasons the company has offered the complete set of Mozart-DaPonte operas in almost the same time frame as the LA Philharmonic next door.

Unlike the Phil's audacious one-off presentation in 2013, this Marriage was built to last as a recurring repertory staple at the Chandler Pavilion. Director Ian Judge's staging plays up the comedy in the story, garnering almost as many laughs as the Barber of Seville we saw earlier this month, even though this is inherently a much darker, cynical piece. Rather than an uneasy sigh of relief that the union of Figaro (Roberto Tagliavini) and his beloved Susanna (Pretty Yende) has survived the obstacle course of others' machinations to destroy it, Judge ends the evening with a raucous display of fireworks. It's an easy crowd-pleaser, but it works.

Soprano Guanqun Yu and mezzo Renee Rapier reprise their Ghosts of Versailles roles as Countess Rosina and Cherubino, respectively. Impressive as we noted Yu was in that earlier appearance, her performance here is even more refined, both in her two great arias of lamentation over diminished love and in her scheming partnership with Susanna to put her husband the Count in his place. Rapier doesn't overplay the gender bend in her role as the horny boy who has to disguise himself by dressing up as a girl and sings one of Mozart's most beautiful arias, "Voi che sapete" ("You women know what love is") with perfect poise.

Ryan McKinney's frustrated lothario Count Almaviva is high on both comic outrage (especially in the opera's classic closet scene) and self-castigating contrition. Kristinn Sigmundsson, who played Doctor Bartolo's malignant consigliere Don Basilio in Barber a couple weeks ago now lends his imposing presence to the role of Bartolo himself. Lucy Schaufer, Robert Brubaker, Joel Sorensen, Philip Cokorinos and So Young Park also all make their second appearances in the "Unbound" trilogy.

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Tagliavini and Yende exude more on-stage chemistry than we necessarily expect to see in most paired operatic couples. Tagliavini's Figaro comes across as a little diffident when he hears that his old friend and boss the Count wants first dibs at his fiancee, but works up more than sufficient vocal bravado for the aria "Se vuol ballare" ("You think you want to dance?") in which he resolves to thwart those plans as well as when he cheerily dispatches young Cherubino off to join the army in the familiar "Non piu andrai" ("No more playing around"). Yende as Susanna is righteously annoyed at, but never resigned to, her uncomfortable position as the object of one too many men's designs,. Though ultimately shrewder even than Figaro, she is too graciously in love to hold it over him.

Even presented out of order (Ghosts of Versailles should logically follow Barber and Marriage), LA Opera's three "Figaro Unbound" productions performed in closely succeeding weeks have provided audiences a comfortable thematic milieu to settle into for the second half of an undeniably successful season. (No guarantee here, of course, but next season could be even better.)

LA Opera's The Marriage of Figaro runs for five more performances through April 12.