From left (foreground): Nuccia Focile (Susanna), Shenyang (Figaro) and Morgan Smith (Count Almaviva) in Seattle Opera’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” Photo by Tuffer
From left (foreground): Nuccia Focile (Susanna), Shenyang (Figaro) and Morgan Smith (Count Almaviva) in Seattle Opera’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” Photo by Tuffer
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Mozart’s complex “The Marriage of Figaro” is a masterpiece of opera buffa, a comedic opera style that features the stories of people in real life and often-indecorous circumstances. In his Seattle Opera stage-directing debut, the company’s general director, Aidan Lang, and his willing and able cast embrace the opera’s physicality and bawdiness, nailing its humor.

Although Mozart’s tour de force premiered in 1786, the opera has no problem engaging a modern audience with its clever story, gorgeous music and ageless emotional catch-22s in which the couples at the center of the action find themselves. 

The convoluted plot is set in motion by the imminent marriage of Count Almaviva’s valet, Figaro, and the Countess’ maid, Susanna. Unfortunately, the Count has set his randy sites on Susanna and is endeavoring to bypass his recently banned right to a roll in the hay with the bride-to-be. Susanna is trying to outmaneuver the Count, and the Countess wants to get him back. 

All the while, the Count’s amorous young page, Cherubino, is perpetually falling in love, first with the Countess and then with the irrepressible Barbarina, daughter of the Count’s gardener. 

Needless to say, a bounty of comical machinations and mistaken identities ensue. 

For Seattle Opera’s production, Robin Rawstorne’s walls and floors slyly slide to create new rooms throughout the Count’s palace and new places for the characters to hide — whether behind a large unhung picture, under a bed or in a closet. Gauzy foliage projections, coupled with Duane Schuler’s enchanted night lighting, conjured a late-evening garden setting redolent with the magic of love. Elizabeth Whiting’s costumes, which subtly blended styles from 1780s with denim, subliminally linked the story to the present, as did the smooth, simple lines of some of Rawstorne’s walls.

On opening night last Saturday, Jan. 16, Lang kept the action in constant motion as his singers fearlessly fondled, threw themselves at each other and traded sexual innuendos. Despite the over-the-top comedy, Lang and his cast’s focus on emotional realism meant the characters were refreshingly three-dimensional, landing some wonderfully poignant moments. 

Figaro and Susanna are the keystones of this opera, and Chinese star Shenyang and Nuccia Focile displayed masterful comedic timing in those roles. In his Seattle Opera debut, Shenyang was an endearing Figaro, with his warmly sonorous bass and attempts at backpedaling his way out of clever schemes gone awry. Focile’s Susanna was equally engaging with her agile soprano and feisty smarts.

Morgan Smith was unexpectedly appealing as Count Almaviva, with his potent baritone and fluctuating between his ill-mannered lordliness, sexy seductiveness and jealousy-provoking love for his wife. 

Also making her Seattle Opera debut, soprano Bernarda Bobro spun her crystal-clear and moving voice seemingly effortlessly through McCaw Hall as an elegant Countess Almaviva.

While mezzo-soprano Karin Mushegain’s delightful, agile page Cherubino was so incessantly and ardently lovesick that she hovered on the edge of being irritating, it explains perfectly the Count’s infuriation with the scamp. 

Also spot-on, with perfect comedic delivery, were Arthur Woodley as Dr. Bartolo, Margaret Gawrysiak as Marcellina, Amanda Opuszynski as a pregnant Barbarina, Steven Cole as Don Basilio, Alasdair Elliott as Don Curzio and Charles Robert Austin as Antonio the gardener. 

Conductor Gary Thor Wedow and his orchestra were light on their feet with a sprightly nuance. A small chorus provided lovely support, both vocally and dramatically, as servants and townspeople.

Seattle Opera’s “Marriage of Figaro” plays at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall (321 Mercer St.) through Saturday, Jan. 30. For information or tickets, call (206) 389-7676 or visit www.seattleopera.org. 

MAGGIE LARRICK is a former editor of the Queen Anne & Magnolia News.