Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 3
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
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Princeton University Opera Brings Lively, Entertaining “Marriage of Figaro” to Stage

Nancy Plum

Opera companies nationwide are struggling with how to get younger music lovers interested in opera; a recent survey by the Metropolitan Opera found that the Met’s audience was aging right along with the company. Survey takers and opera doomsayers needed only to attend this past weekend’s performances by the Princeton University Opera Theatre of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro to see the next generation of opera aficionados in action, cheering their classmate cast members as if they had scored the winning basket in an Ivy championship game.

Although listed as presented by the Princeton University Opera Theatre, the performances Friday and Saturday night in Richardson Auditorium were the product of a Department of Music class. MUS214, Projects in Vocal Performance, was a multi-month process of auditioning, casting, and producing an opera. The Marriage of Figaro was double cast last spring, students learned their roles over the summer, and the opera was staged and put together with orchestra throughout the fall. The large number of students at Friday night’s performance (which was presented in English), combined with the nearly flawless efforts of the singers, indicated that the performers have been both living with their roles for quite some time and pulling their friends into their operatic webs.

The Marriage of Figaro is a long opera, and conductor Richard Tang Yuk made a conscious effort to keep things moving by employing very quick tempi. With an instrumental ensemble drawn from the ranks of the University Orchestra, Dr. Tang Yuk opened the production with a very brisk overture played cleanly, especially by the very nimble-fingered string players.

With the exception of one, the operatic leads were all students, and across the board, their exuberant and youthful approach to the roles was refreshing and enjoyable. As Susanna and her beloved Figaro, University juniors Faaria Kherani and Adam Fox were both animated and completely engaged with each other. Mr. Fox showed exceptional command of the recitative style, and Ms. Kherani’s voice was refreshingly free of the vocal burdens one often hears in older singers who are trying too hard to be the role — Ms. Kherani was simply being herself with confidence and ease. Mr. Fox sang Figaro’s Act I closing aria, “Non più andrai,” especially well.

As Count Almaviva, senior Michael Scharff was convincing as an older man, and soprano Rachel Dunn settled in well to her role as the Countess, singing well her signature aria, “Porgi amor.” Ms. Kherani and Ms. Dunn were also well matched and graceful in their third act “Sull’aria” duet.

The third couple in this operatic comedy of implausibilities, Marcellina and Bartolo, was effectively portrayed by Brenda Jin and Jonathan Britt (the one apparently non-student in Friday’s cast). Mr. Britt handled the low notes of his role especially well, and Ms. Jin played her role with sauciness and vocal sparkle. Ms. Jin also presented a compelling visual image with an intricate costume and a doll-like presence onstage which drew the audience’s immediate attention.

Soprano Olivia Kang sang a very comedic Cherubino, eventually paired with Barbarina, sung as a small but well-done role by Maya Srinivasan. Ms. Kang’s rendition of “Non so più” was appropriately breathless, easily handled with her light soprano tone. This cast is of a generation raised on TV sitcom comedic timing, and they knew how to work the crowd. Other solid cast members included Andrew Saxe as Basilio, Stephen Pearson as the gardener Antonio, Zaafir Kherani as Don Curzio, and two Flower Maidens, Alexis Rodda and Sylvia Dee.

Designer Dale Simon’s sets were simple but tasteful, giving the performers plenty of room to move onstage under David Kellett’s direction. Costumes were muted greens, browns, and peaches, with an especially nice display of costuming for the chorus. Dr. Tang Yuk drew the chorus from the University Glee Club, and trained them to accurately shimmer in Mozart’s chordal choral writing.

This opera was a major undertaking for the Department of Music, but one which not only provided a great number of students with a chance to excel but gave many more students an entertaining night at the opera, hopefully instilling an interest in hearing the art form again in the future.

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