I hadn’t been back on Belmont University’s campus in years before last night and was pleasantly surprised. The campus was bustling – streets full of cars, sidewalks full of people. Things were even more energetic inside the university’s intimate Troutt Theatre on Thursday night, when Belmont Opera Theatre’s new production of The Marriage of Figaro opened for a four-day engagement.
This production’s theatrical director is voice faculty member Kristi Whitten. The orchestra is conducted by the always affable Robert Gregg. Throughout the evening the orchestra handled its parts with finesse.
The production was presented with arias and ensembles in Italian with English supertitles, while English dialogue took the place of recitative. I’m tempted to criticize the overly conservative nature of the production elements – everything felt like an opera (wigs, fluffy gowns, a lit chandelier). Nothing was particularly innovative. And yet, a straightforward production like this proved to be a fantastic platform for these developing artists to stand on.
Kudos to Whitten for only using three ringers while at the same time providing undergraduates the chance to sing. The ringers were two graduate students – Nashville Opera Fellows Amanda Walden (as Susanna) and Alyson Haley (as Marcellina) – and one alumnus in the role of Figaro, the veteran singer Benjamin Schultz.
I expected the ringers to steal the show from the undergraduates, but I was wrong. Those Belmont undergraduates could really sing and act. The program did not include bios for any of the cast or crew, so I don’t know what year of study these folks were in. I expect many of them were upperclassmen in the competitive music theatre program.
Jairus Maples’ (Bartolo) entrance with Haley was the first moment of strong acting in the show, and it set the tone for the rest of the production. His singing was less engaging than his acting, but of course he’s just 20. Goodness, if he’s this strong now, John Hoomes should pluck him for Nashville Opera’s farm team.
Heather Aikens’ (Countess Almaviva) entrance in Act II was impressive. Her voice – creamy and clear – was consistently great throughout the show. Clementina Moreira (Cherubino) was fun to watch. Her facial gestures were immensely expressive, and she nailed her arias.
Walden and Haley were fantastic when they sang together (or at each other, as was often the case). Their scenes with the men in the cast never rose to the same heights, except when Jairus was onstage as Bartolo.
I noticed that the men’s voices had difficulty carrying in the Troutt. At least, that’s how it sounded from my vantage point at the back of the hall. The hall’s acoustics may be responsible, since I’m not convinced the women were always out-singing the men. It may be worth considering this with future programming decisions.
In all, Opera Theatre’s Figaro proved to be a fantastic student production. The audience laughed at all the jokes, which were in Italian. It’s a fun show, it’s done well, it’s just $10, and the next show is tonight. See you there.
IF YOU GO
Belmont University’s Opera Theatre presents Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8 and Saturday, Nov. 9 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10 at the Troutt Theatre, corner of Belmont Boulevard and Compton Ave. Tickets are $10 adults, $5 seniors and students (free for Belmont students). For tickets, click here.