No opera company can long survive without Mozart’s near-perfect “Marriage of Figaro” in its repertory; with the L.A. Opera having wrung full use out of its aging Peter Hall production, it was probably time to consider a change. Whether the new version, unveiled before a full and moderately happy house on Saturday night, constituted a change for the better depended on a decision for the ears (mostly ecstatic) vs. the eyes (considerably less so).
Above all, the new “Figaro” is a triumphant showcase for winners of recent runs of Placido Domingo’s prestigious “Operalia” competitions: Canadian-Armenian biomedical scientist-turned-soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian and Uruguayan baritone Erwin Schrott, who made of the eventual Mr. and Mrs. Figaro a capering, lyric delight, beautifully matched in phrasing, eloquent on their own in vocal suavity.
Not far behind was the lithe, immensely appealing Cherubino, a paradigm of adolescent testosterone created by Boston-born mezzo Sandra Piques Eddy. Darina Takova and David Pittinger were the battling Count and Countess Almaviva; smaller roles were handily dispatched by longtime L.A. Opera stalwarts Michael Gallup and Greg Fedderly. In a company debut, conductor Stefan Anton Reck led a fleet, tidy performance, nicely balanced in the miraculous ensembles that are the heart of this one-of-a-kind opera.
Would that a similar tidiness had extended to visual matters. Director Ian Judge and his design crew have somehow devised a centuries-spanning “Figaro” in which the Countess reclines on period furniture while chatting on a modern telephone, and the lovers in the moonlit garden seek each other with latter-day flashlights across an empty parking lot. In one particularly ugly scene the green-uniformed Count becomes a floating head against a green backdrop.
Small but crucial details — doors presumably locked but that yield to a touch — are simply ignored or mismanaged. Somehow the one accident on opening night — a gel filter that fell from above and which baritone Schrott retrieved and disposed of in mid-aria without missing a beat — became one of the evening’s events most worth the watching.