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Posted April 25, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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'Figaro' is long, but worth the wait

Drew Colby, as Figaro, left, shares an amorous moment with Marisa Davis, who plays Susanna, his bride-to-be, in "The Marriage of Figaro" at Shenandoah Conservatory. Courtesy photo

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By John Horan Jr. -- jhoran@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- From the first, skittering notes of the familiar overture, the musical genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart blossoms spectacularly in "The Marriage of Figaro."

The comic opera, elegantly sung and handsomely staged at Shenandoah Conservatory, brims with mellifluous melodies and elaborate vocal ensembles that convey the various moods of the characters.

Mozart's music deftly matches the twists and turns of Lorenzo da Ponte's witty libretto, based on a Beaumarchais play about the amorous adventures in a Spanish nobleman's court. The plot was sneakily subversive for the 1780s: The commoners are brighter than the royals and the men dimmer than the women.

"Figaro" is readily accessible to novice operatic ears, although its length -- three and a half hours -- may prove daunting. But director Mark Kittlaus draws lively characterizations from the cast, all of whom sing ably.

Drew Colby is a stalwart, appealing Figaro with a smooth, seamless bass voice. Marisa Davis, his quick-witted fiancee and the count's current obsession, boasts a rangy lyric soprano, which blends beautifully with Melissa Chavez, who plays the countess.

Chavez, in her two signature arias, convincingly conveys the melancholy of a noblewoman who thinks love has passed her by. As the philandering count, John Irby sings solidly and even manages to bring a measure of charm to the role.

Kathleen Payne is funny and charming in the trouser role of Cherubino, the youth whose ardor knows no bounds. Also notable are Whitney Hollis as Marcellina, Ian Bowling as Bartolo, Kristopher Burke as Basilio and Katy Vaughn as Barbarino.

Mozart gives each of the main characters an aria or two to express their inmost feelings -- and for the singers to display their vocal chops -- but, despite the sung recitatives, he continually moves the action forward by adding singers -- thus a duet can bit by bit become a septet.

This fluidity -- and Mozart's musical felicity -- is best displayed in the finale to Act 2. Over the course of about 20 minutes of nonstop music the jealousy palpable in a tense standoff between the count and countess is transformed into surprise at the discovery of the maid, befuddlement when Figaro arrives, humor with the appearance of the drunken gardener and finally, when three of the count's allies appear, a mix of despair and delight, all manifested in Mozart's sublime music.

Conductor Jan Wagner elicits inspired playing from the orchestra.

Cheryl Yancey supplies a surfeit of sumptuous costumes. The tall columns and diaphanous curtains of William Pierson's set are both exquisite and facilitate the action.

But Michael Jones' inexplicably bright lighting undermines the final act. Set in a garden at night, the scene requires a measure of dimness to make credible the mix of mistaken identities leading up to the opera's climax.

* "The Marriage of Figaro"

* By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

* Directed by Mark Kittlaus

* Continuing at the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre today at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Box office phone number: 665-4569.

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