Monday, December 18, 2006

Bel Cantanti: 'The Marriage of Figaro'

The sheer youthful ebullience of Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" too often gets short shrift. Yes, it is a genial and knowing portrait of human frailties and foibles. But Mozart was just 30 when he wrote it (in a mere six weeks), and all its major characters are young, so the work is particularly well suited to Bel Cantanti's informal staging and its troupe of talented young singers.

Artistic Director Katerina Souvorova rotates cast members, giving different performers star turns as Figaro, Susanna, and Count and Countess Almaviva. On Saturday night at the Austrian Embassy, Danielle Talamantes was a standout as a sassy, pert and very pretty Susanna, with spot-on comic timing. She was as adept with facial and vocal expressions as she was with the lute in Act 2.

Kwang Kyu Lee's rich bass-baritone gave Figaro more weight and bite than usual. David Krohn was a snide, self-centered Count, always in heat or high dudgeon. Amanda Gosier was introspective and genuinely moving as the Countess.

Jessica Renfro offered utterly charming naivete as Cherubino. Jeffrey Tarr and Alexandra Christoforakis were deliciously overdressed and overdone as Bartolo and Marcellina, and Alexander Kugler was suitably oily as Don Basilio and Don Curzio.

Souvorova, playing piano and harpsichord, kept the pacing fleet, abetted by a fine string quartet. The minimalist sets made up in cleverness what they lacked in elegance.

Repeat performances, at 7:30 p.m., will be at the embassy tomorrow and the Randolph Road Theatre in Silver Spring on Dec. 22 and 29.

-- Mark J. Estren

Morgan Heritage at Crossroads

The so-called Morgan Heritage "concert" Friday night at Crossroads partly felt as though the audience had stumbled into a particularly excellent karaoke night. But at least in karaoke, you get the full version of a tune to warble with.

Morgan Heritage sang over truncated versions of otherwise great songs such as "Tell Me How Come," "A Man Is Still a Man" and "Don't Haffi Dread." It was the concert equivalent of going to iTunes and listening to 30-second snippets rather than buying the album.

Unfortunately, only four of the five siblings who make up the roots-reggae group took the stage, and only singers Jahpetes, Gramps and Una performed throughout the 11-song, 30-minute set. Morgan Heritage's three-part harmonies were top-notch, as always, but the singers crooned to DJ-spun backing tracks, not a live band.

Jahpetes must have sensed that the audience wasn't crazy about not getting the full Morgan Heritage experience. Toward the end of the show he said: "Next time we're going to bring the full band, so we can play the songs a little longer."

Despite the canned music and promotional nature of the performance -- the gig was a release party for, ironically, Morgan Heritage's new in-concert CD, "Live: Another Rockaz Moment" -- the group's singing saved what was an otherwise lackluster event. While sister Una kept to the background harmonies, Gramps's chesty baritone came to the fore a number of times.

And like classic Jamaican singer Freddie McGregor's, Jahpetes' lead vocals are steeped in old-school R&B, colored by a lightly raspy tone and soaked in gospel-fueled emotion.

-- Christopher Porter

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