THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO by W.A. Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte, directed by Guillaume Bernardi (Canadian Opera Company). At the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). To November 2. $20-$275. 416-363-8231, www.coc.ca. Rating: NNNN
It's easy to coast on the marriage Of Figaro 's familiarity. Arguably the best comic opera in the repertoire, it boasts a classic farcical plot and half a dozen arias (not to mention that famous overture) on every opera lover's favourite playlist.
So how to make it fresh? Director Guillaume Bernardi hasn't radically changed its staging, but he does make us re-examine the work by focusing on the story and characters. This is easily one of the best-acted Figaros you're soon likely to see. And the singing's not bad either.
Based on the second of Beaumarchais's trilogy of taboo-busting plays about upstairs-downstairs sexual adventures on a Seville estate, the opera chronicles the action-packed wedding day of Figaro ( Robert Gleadow ) and Susanna ( Ying Huang ), valet and maid of the philandering Count Almaviva ( Russell Braun ) and his neglected Countess ( Jessica Muirhead ).
Lost letters, characters hidden in closets or dropping from windows it's all here, and Bernardi and the performers relate the story clearly, only slightly hampered by Morris Ertman 's somewhat flimsy-looking set.
What's exciting is how sharp the characters become, especially the Count and Countess, who emerge not only as figures of fun but as an easily identifiable couple braving marital difficulties.
Of course, Mozart's music elevates the comedy and drama considerably, and conductor Julia Jones , though generally swift in her tempi, knows how to let us savour the more moving sections as well. Yes, those are people weeping during the final act.
Braun seems completely at ease physically and vocally in the role, so it's too bad Muirhead's Countess has fewer shadings.
Vocal powerhouse Huang similarly overpowers Gleadow, who's got good acting instincts but not the securest top notes. Another standout is Sandra Piques Eddy as Cherubino, who manages to convince as a woman playing a man sometimes playing a woman.
The mostly uncut opera runs a little long. If you're a fan, you'll see some sections in a whole new light. And if you're not, you will be.