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OPERA REVIEW

'Figaro' marries wit and elegance

Soprano Ailyn Pérez is a sweet Susanna and bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen is a charismatic Figaro in Mozart's opera.

Boston Lyric Opera sees part of its mission as making opera more accessible to newcomers, and its modestly scaled production of "Le Nozze di Figaro," which opened Friday night at the Shubert Theatre, does just that. With veteran John Copley directing a capable cast of singers, this "Figaro" is a highly serviceable and enjoyably light-footed introduction to Mozart's timeless opera buffa.

The wily valet Figaro and the maid Susanna are of course determined to marry each other , but they are obstructed by the hopelessly corrupt Count Almaviva. Beneath its patina of madcap comedy, "Figaro" is not without some serious themes, including the torpedoing of social hierarchies -- Susanna and Figaro outwit their class superior at every turn -- and in that sense it very much breathes the air of the European Enlightenment.

But whatever subversive undercurrents are present in this work, Lorenzo Da Ponte's libretto creates recognizable and sympathetic characters and makes elegant mischief out of every situation. It was these light comic touches, the sly asides and witty repartee, that Copley's vivid direction seemed intent on bringing to the fore. The responsive laughter from the audience on Friday night suggested that this goal had been met. The period sets and costumes, originally created for the Banff Centre were understated and unobtrusive.

Kyle Ketelsen was a charismatic Figaro, inhabiting the role with a resonant bass-baritone that was gracefully wielded. Ailyn Pérez made a sweet Susanna with an attractive soprano voice, but one that was frequently underpowered. The Brazilian baritone Paulo Szot gave a vocally and dramatically assured portrayal of the incorrigible Count. He was well-matched by soprano Jennifer Casey Cabot, who sang the role of the Countess with cool allure. Mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey was the lovelorn Cherubino, bringing a youthful energy to her portrayal that bordered at times on over-acting but was nonetheless vocally persuasive. Gale Fuller, Matthew Lau, Frank Kelley, Brent Matthew Wilson, Michael Callas, and Allison Pohl capably filled out the rest of the ensemble cast.

Under the baton of music director Stephen Lord, the orchestra sounded full of life. There were some scrappy moments in the overture and a bit of ensemble drift in Act II, but overall this was a well-paced and flexible reading of the score. Cabot's singing of "Dove sono i bei momenti" was one highlight of the evening. Leave it to Mozart to make even scheming and regret sound so sublime.

Jeremy Eichler can be reached at jeichler@globe.com

'Related'

Le Nozze di Figaro

Opera by Mozart. Presented by Boston Lyric Opera

At: Shubert Theatre, Friday night, through May 8

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