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Early in the rehearsal period for Utah Opera's season-ending production of "The Marriage of Figaro," conductor Gary Thor Wedow described the Mozart opera as "so joyous, I could go back into the pit [after a performance] and conduct it again. It's like a battery pack."
By the end of Saturday's opening performance, the Capitol Theatre audience must have known exactly what Wedow meant. This production is 3½ hours of pure operatic bliss.
Artistic director Christopher McBeth has assembled a first-class cast, led by bass-baritone Seth Carico, possibly the most charismatic Figaro ever to grace the Capitol Theatre stage. Carico sang with power, accuracy and good humor, elevating the energy level every time he appeared onstage Saturday. His chemistry with soprano Zulimar López-Hernández, who portrays Susanna, was genuine and charming. López-Hernández's acting through her sparkling voice, movement and facial expressions was flawless. Soprano Nicole Heaston balanced poignancy and pluck in her portrayal of Countess Rosina Almaviva; baritone Craig Irvin was a strong foil, playing Count Almaviva as a suave bully who was redeemed by a lightning bolt of compassion at the end of the opera.
Mezzo Abigail Levis was a firecracker as Cherubino, delivering the lovestruck page's arias with effervescent lightness. Bass Patrick Blackwell and mezzo Melissa Parks were perfectly matched as Bartolo and Marcellina, setting off comic sparks (and showing a knack for snappy patter) the moment they burst onstage. Tenor Joseph Gaines, baritone Christopher Clayton and tenor Christian Sanders delivered strong stage presence and solid singing as Figaro's antagonists Basilio, Antonio and Curzio. Soprano Jessica Jones' Barbarina has only one aria, but it's a gem, and Jones sang it beautifully.
Conducting without a baton, Wedow led the Utah Symphony fresh off its triumphant appearance in Carnegie Hall in a magnificent performance of Mozart's glorious score. Whether nimbly illuminating the comedic hijinks or tenderly comforting Heaston in her gorgeous performance of the aria "Dove sono," the orchestra was always on point. Carol Anderson's harpsichord playing provided the perfect accent. The Utah Opera Chorus, prepared this time by Melanie Malinka, also excelled.
Stage director Tara Faircloth delivered just the right amount of physical comedy while making sure the characters' humanity always rang true. Under her direction, every movement and gesture, even in the choreographed moments, propelled the story naturally.
Susan Memmott Allred's fabulous new costume designs, inspired by the period drama "Downton Abbey," set the production in the early 20th century an inspired touch that highlighted the class differences central to the opera's plot. Yancey Quick's wig and makeup designs completed the picture.
Here comes the bride
Utah Opera presents Wolfgang Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte's "The Marriage of Figaro." The opera is sung in Italian, with Supertitles in English.
When • Reviewed Saturday, May 7; continues Monday, Wednesday and Friday, May 9, 11 and 13, at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, May 15
Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
Running time • 3 hours, 20 minutes, including two intermissions
In a nutshell • Figaro and Susanna deal with a lecherous boss and other distractions on their wedding day.
Tickets • $18-$107; discounts for students, groups and people under 30; utahopera.org
Learn more • Utah Opera principal coach Carol Anderson will give a preview lecture an hour before curtain, and artistic director Christopher McBeth will lead a post-performance Q&A, all in the Capitol Room on the west side of the theater; more background material is posted at utahopera.org/watch-listen-learn/online-learning-courses
A toast to the groom • Eleven Salt Lake City restaurants have created craft cocktails inspired by the opera. Patrons who share photos of their favorite drink on social media have a chance to win opera tickets. See utahopera.org/libations for details.