Mercadante’s I due Figaro(1) is one of a number of operas that continue the story of Figaro, Almaviva etc into a third instalment. It sets a libretto by Felice Romani based on Les deux Figaro by Honoré-Antoine Richaud Martelly. It premiered in Madrid in 1835 but was lost for many years before being rediscovered in 2009 and given at the 2011 Ravenna Festival. Yesterday in got its Canadian premier at VOICEBOX:Opera in Concert.
The story is a bit contrived. Almaviva is planning to marry his daughter Inez off to Don Alvaro who he has picked, apparently, from some mail order catalogue of eligible aristos. Since nobody in the Almaviva household has set eyes on Alvaro, Figaro plans to have his buddy Torribio impersonate him, marry Ynez and split the dowry. But Ynez is in love with Cherubino, by now a colonel, and her wish to marry him is supported by the Countess and Susanna. Cherubino shows up as a servant called Figaro(!) and offers his services to the count. Various shenanigans ensue until Cherubino recognises Torribio as his former servant. All is revealed, all is forgiven and Cherubino and Ynez get hitched. There’s also a playwright bumbling around looking for material. It’s all a bit contrived but it does have a few good gags that presume knowledge of the Mozart and Rossini operas. Musically it’s pretty satisfying. It sounds very like Rossini to me with few of the “reform”(2) elements that Mercadante was noted for but it’s not at all shabby. There are some pleasing arias and some well crafted quick fire ensemble numbers.
VOICEBOX’s production was pretty much at the concert end of semi-staged. The chorus was lined up with their music behind the piano (it was given in piano reduction). The soloists, in concert wear, operated in front of the piano with a few props and some basic blocking. It worked well and it made me curious to see it fully staged with orchestra.
It was a strong line up of soloists. The busiest and perhaps the most impressive was Nicholas Borg who portrayed Figaro as conniving and not overly brave. He made light work of the fairly large amount of patter song called for. Tonatiuh Abrego was in good voice as the count. It’s not as flashy as some Rossini tenor roles but he produced appropriately Italianate sound and convinced as the overly proud and not too bright aristo. It’s bel canto so most of the flashy stuff went to the ladies. Inez is, more or less, a coloratura soubrette role and was well handled by Ilana Zarankin. The Countess and Susanna are rather written as homage to Mozart with a touch of Rossini. The countess is a mezzo but gets lush, lyrical music more like Mozart’s countess. It was a great fit for Beste Kalender’s rich, dark voice. Susanna is perkier which suited Holly Chaplin’s light, bright soprano. Perhaps oddly, since he’s now a middle aged colonel, Mercadante keeps Cherubino as a mezzo trouser role. He also gives him(?) some of the showiest music, handled with considerable aplomb here by Marjorie Maltais. The cast was rounded out by Stuart Graham as the playwright and Edward Larocque as Torribio. The choir, directed by Robert Cooper, sounded fine and Narmina Afandiyeva was tireless at the piano.
It was an interesting afternoon and much more musically satisfying than I expected going in.
- Oddly enough there’s an earlier I due Figaro. It’s by Michele Carafa and premiered at La Scala in 1820. There’s even a video of it recorded in Würrtemberg.
- This particular reform movement was designed to curtail what were seen as the diva centric excesses of bel canto and produce something more dramatically robust. Mercadante’s contribution may be all but forgotten but he was likely an important influence on the young Verdi.