Review: New and familiar performers fuel FM Opera's funny, memorable 'The Marriage of Figaro'
Talented cast and director have fun with Mozart classic.
FARGO — Considering the complications Fargo-Moorhead opera faced staging “The Marriage of Figaro” -- two actors and two cellists having to leave the production during rehearsals -- Friday’s opening night at North Dakota State University Reineke Hall couldn’t have gone much smoother.
With an entertaining and supremely talented cast and whip-smart direction by Maria Todaro , the show didn’t just go on, it went on as if nothing happened.
Todaro showed a knack for comic staging with last spring’s “Cinderella” and doubled down with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s classic. Her creative staging and sharp direction showcased a cast that was as adept at acting as they are singing.
Leading the way were two faces -- and voices -- that FM Opera fans will appreciate getting more exposure. Alicia Russell Tagert stars as Susanna with Lloyd Reshard Jr. playing her financé, the title character. Both alumni of the Gate City Bank Young Artist Program, the rising stars got ample time to shine and delivered throughout the show.
It may be called “The Marriage of Figaro,” but Susanna is the central character. (The story is a bit patriarchal, if not downright misogynistic, but that’s the 1780s for you.) Tagert’s performance is a revelation, since her previous mainstage show here was “Barber of Seville” in the spring of 2021, taped before an empty house with artists lip-synching under see-through masks to pre-recorded tracks for COVID-19 safety precautions. Unfettered now, Tagert let her bright and effortless soprano voice loose and it was a delight to hear. Though Susanna spends a lot of time on stage, Tagert was plenty ready for her star-turn aria near the end of the play, drawing a few cries of approval. That she sang it so remarkably well only slightly overshadowed her beguiling stage presence as Susanna charms Figaro, hiding in the shadows.
She and Reshard sJr. hare an easy chemistry and their flirting throughout the show seemed natural. Reshard towered over most of the other performers but his movements were as fluid and smooth as his baritone
The two may have the starring roles but the best numbers go to Lara Ciekiewicz as the beleaguered Countess. Knowing that her husband, Count Almaviva, has been sleeping around and now has designs on her maid, Susanna, the Countess has two heartbreaking arias which the soprano delivered with convincing pathos. She also gets the sublime scheming duet with Susanna, “Canzonetta Sull’aria,” as they write a letter to lure the Count into a trap and expose his philandering ways. And because it’s an opera, it pretty much happens just like that. And because it’s an opera, after he is outed as a lecher, she accepts his apology with grace and beauty in the final number and everyone is happy and singing.
Mark Diamond as the Count was one of the actors who stepped into the production late and while we wish the actor who had to bow out because of illness a full recovery, the crowd was happy with the replacement. The baritone wonderfully played the Count like a pompous villain from central casting -- complete with a sinister moustache -- while also nailing the vocals, going from belligerent to bewildered. It was his first performance with FM Opera, but don’t be surprised if you see him here again.
Also making a memorable local debut was Edith Grossman as Cherubino, the Count’s randy page who makes passes at just about every woman onstage. It’s easy to write the part off as a comic bit, but the mezzo-soprano opened eyes and ears with nearly every line she sang. She deserves bigger roles.
FM Opera regulars Holly Janz and Anthony Leatham returned as Dr. Bartolo and his housekeeper Marcellina. The roles are smaller, but significant and Janz and Tagert delight in swapping lyrical barbs in the first act.
FM Opera’s General Director David Hamilton was pressed into playing Basilio when that actor bowed out. He makes the most of learning the role late in rehearsals and clearly has fun playing the gossipy music teacher for laughs. If this is indeed his last stage performance -- he’s announced he’s retiring from the troupe at the end of the year -- he’s leaving the crowd wanting more.
Speaking of wanting more, the only thing that went wrong with Friday's opening was the curtain closing on some of the cast taking repeated bows during a lengthy standing ovation. That's not a bad problem to have.
An encore performance will be held at 2 p.m., Sunday.
If you go
What: “The Marriage of Figaro”
When: 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Reineke Concert Hall, NDSU
Info: Tickets range from $10 - $80. fmopera.org