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Opera Works' `Figaro' has stark set, lush singing; Local talent puts texture into a classic.

Byline: John Zeugner

COLUMN: MUSIC REVIEW

Evidence of a strengthening transformation of Worcester's local classical music scene continues to pile up. Case in point: Worcester Opera Works, a 5-years-young outfit that began as an outreach to students in the area and has evolved to a fully staged production of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" on Friday night, with a repeat performance this afternoon at 2 p.m. at the Warner Theatre on the campus of Worcester Academy.

(Yes, there is still time! Set aside that last bagel and hasten over to the Warner Theater, itself an intimate, columned venue worth seeing.)

The performance is ingeniously staged with a minimalist set - a chair, a closet, a doorway, a raked slightly elevated walkway surrounding the stage. By way of stunning contrast, the costumes are lush, brilliantly colored flowing hoop skirts, long coats in tan and black, capes in red and blue, with nifty faience on the stark set.

In the pit, five string players anchored by Ian Watson's always vigorous, impeccable keyboard work, accompany 11 first-class singers. Musical director Michael Lapomardo keeps Mozart's glorious "singspiel" spinning steadily forward, cresting into those unbelievable golden quartets, quintets and sextets that climax each of the four acts.

Mozart's singable melodies seem spread evenly among the cast, but the ultimate impact of the performance swings on the competence of the two lead couples, Figaro and his would-be bride, Susanna (Brian Ballard and Rebecca Grimes), Count and Countess Almaviva (Jonathan LaBarre and Elaine Crane), and the epicene, hyper-innocent, hyper-hormonal, aptly named Cherubino (Jacque Eileen Wilson).

These five rise beautifully to the occasion. LaBarre brings authority, command and a sturdy voice to Figaro, as well as comic adroitness to the some of the slapstick, while at the same time suggesting through the dark texture of his singing that this opera buffa, for all its frolic and misfired assignations possesses a lyric music that in Maynard Solomon's words can "disturb the sleep of the world."

Sopranos Grimes and Crane bring clear-toned dignity and elegance to their roles, and Ballard well conveys the cunning, confusion and ultimate powerlessness of the count. Ms. Wilson emerged the audience favorite in the final standing ovation curtain calls, as Cherubino, sweetly delivering the arias, "Is it pain, is it pleasure ..." and "Tell me, fair ladies ..." and broadly mugging her way through the required double cross-dressing.

As the recent closed-circuit broadcasts of the Met in New York indicate, opera may be the best vehicle for rescuing classical composition from its aging aficionados. This splendid production by Worcester Opera Works demonstrates the depth of the talent in the area.

So does the appearance of the Worcester Collegium at the recent St. Paul's Festival. Both entities are tied to student proselytizing.

Such home-grown magical music-making deserves celebration, support and, most of all, profound gratitude.

ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" at Worcester Academy.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jun 17, 2007
Words:478
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