ST. PETERSBURG — Identity — mistaken and otherwise — is the theme of The Marriage of Figaro, which is winding up the season for St. Petersburg Opera. In working out its characters' sense of self, Mozart's "subtle and elaborate comedy" (in the words of George Bernard Shaw in his music critic days) can either be charming or a bit menacing, playing off the sexual and class politics at the heart of Lorenzo Da Ponte's intricately plotted libretto. Ideally it should be both.
If this staging under director Dean Anthony shortchanges the politics by taking a light, broadly comic approach, nobody in the audience seemed to be complaining Friday at the Palladium Theater, and rightly so. It was a scintillating musical experience, with interesting, mostly young singers and a 34-piece orchestra finely conducted by Mark Sforzini.
Ultimately, it's the title character of the opera, the valet Figaro, whose identity undergoes the most dramatic transformation when he discovers who his parents are, but along with that startling, hilarious recognition scene in Act 3, the fluid roles played by other principals create a heady confusion. Cherubino, the Count's lovestruck page, dresses as a girl. The Countess and her chambermaid, Susanna, trade outfits in a scheme to catch the Count in his philandering.
On balance, the women of the cast made a stronger impression than the men on Friday. Dove sono, the Countess' aria to lost love, was deeply moving in the performance of Jacqueline Noparstak. As Susanna, Julianna Tauschinger-Dempsey was delightful, though her voice may be a little thin for the part. Jessica Renfro brought a coltish physicality to the pants role of Cherubino. Ronnita Miller, the St. Petersburg-raised mezzo soprano who has a major career going, was a striking, lyrical presence as the housekeeper Marcellina. Phoenix Gayles, playing Barbarina, had a nice moment with her cavatina L'ho perduta.
Adelmo Guidarelli was certainly good as Figaro, capturing the valet's subversive wit and merriment, but his performance didn't really vary much or deepen over the course of the opera's long, eventful day. Daniel Klein's Count was accurately sung, but without a lot of vocal beauty, and his good-humored style seemed too eager to please, undercutting the tension of life in the court of a ruler whose lechery is a matter of legal right. Zack Rabin and Nephi Sanchez were suitably buffoonish as Dr. Bartolo and Basilio, respectively.
In some ways, Figaro exemplifies the adage that nothing succeeds like excess. With more than three hours of music broken up by two intermissions, it can feel overstuffed. But just as your attention is starting to flag, a pungent little episode comes along, like Marcellina's lament for the lot of women in Act 4, to perk things up.
Glenn Avery Breed's costumes included some knockouts, such as the sumptuous gowns for Susanna and the Countess in the garden. T.J. Ecenia's set of pink, purple and blue doors served the farcical business well and took on a warm glow in Keith Arsenault's lighting. Constantine Grame was busy at the harpsichord, playing for recitatives.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.