The L.A. Opera's production of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" is a beautiful staging from the Lyric Opera of Chicago by Sir Peter Hall. This is the third time I've seen this production with different casts, and this one is first rate from top to bottom.

The sets and costumes are lavish and from the period. We open in a room in the palace that Count has given to Susanna and Figaro. It looks like an aristocratic hunting lodge from the Eighteenth Century, with wood paneling framing murals on the walls. Figaro's thrilled with their new accommodations, but Susanna's skeptical of the Count. It's too convenient for him to exercise his right of the nobleman to the new bride of his servant. He has renounced it, but privately told Susanna that he intends to re-institute it for her.

Bartolo and Marcellina hatch a plot to force Figaro to marry Marcellina. Figaro thwarted Bartolo's plan to marry Rosina, and he wants revenge as he says "to forgive an insult is the lowest thing on earth." When Susanna and Marcellina are together, they circle and size each other up like two cats.

Cherubino enters, distraught because the Count has caught him with Barbarina again. He tells us that "Every woman makes me blush, every woman makes me tremble." They all love him, but the Count hates him. He's everything the Count tries to be. After the madcap scene where the Count, Don Basilio, and Cherubino are all uncovered and discovered the Chorus enters with flowers, and Figaro announces that it's in celebration of the Count renouncing his rights. He's given the white veil, symbolizing purity to put on Susanna's head. The Count manages to avoid it, and turns to Cherubino and gives him a military commission.

Act Two is the Countess' beautiful boudoir. There are paintings of flowers and nymphs, red draperies, and a big bed with a high canopy, along with desk and chairs. She's sad and lonely, because the Count is straying, ignoring her, but is also insanely jealous of Cherubino, who has been giving her attention. Figaro, Susanna, and the Countess hatch the plot to catch the Count in the garden, so they can have their wedding. Cherubino sings to her, and they dress him in women's clothes after Figaro leaves. He walks tentatively in her shoes and falls.

The Count is furious when he thinks the Countess has a lover hiding in her closet. Cherubino makes his escape, and Susanna takes his place. When the Count triumphantly opens the door with his rapier drawing to kill him, out steps Susanna to his astonishment. After begging for forgiveness, Figaro enters with the musicians for his wedding and the Count resumes his scheming and plotting. Bartolo and Marcellina return to lay their claim to Figaro. Susanna and Marcellina repeatedly lunge at each other and have to be restrained.

The Count's room has potted trees, big doors with blinds at the sides and back. When Figaro discovers that Marcellina is really his mother, he's hugging and kissing her when Susanna walks in. She's distraught until she finds out what has transpired. The Count is thwarted again. The children and Chorus present the Countess and Count with flowers, and the gardener rushes in and pulls the hat off Cherubino, posing as one of the children.

There's a beautiful garden for the final act. We have trellises and huts hung with climbing roses. Everyone congregates there, almost inspite of themselves, as the plot comes to fruition, against all odds, and Figaro and Susanna, along with Marcellina and Bartolo are united in marriage, and the Count and Countess rediscover each other.

"Figaro" is one of my very favorite of Mozart's operas. I love the big choral scenes and the multitude of duets, trios, quartets, and more are absolutely glorious. The singers play off each other in exquisite combinations, with each singing what suits them directly, and in asides. I'm certain that Mozart wasn't familiar with Shakespeare, but "Figaro" is as close to a Shakespearean comedy as any opera, even the ones based on Shakespeare.

The cast is strong from top to bottom, but Megan Dey-Toth's Cherubino stands out. She's more like a boy than any Cherubino I've seen. She may lack Flicka's infectiousness, but she's taller than the other women and projects a boyish charm that is astounding. She's awkward, clumsy, and always ends up in the arms of the nearest female. Claudio Otelli is a darkly brooding Count. His plots and schemes are continually thwarted, but it just makes him that much more determined. If he was just a little smarter, he might actually succeed. Maria Bayo is the coquettish Susanna. She's charming and endearing, alive and sparkling. Pamela Armstrong's Countess is melancholy, tender, and pleading. The Count doesn't pay attention to her and her joy of life is gone. Richard Bernstein is an engaging Figaro, who is quite lively and quick of mind. Marco Guidarini leads the orchestra in this charmingly entertaining production of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" at the L A Opera.

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