Changing hats is not always flattering. And so it was that Donald Gramm, one of America's finest singing actors, made an inauspicious directorial debut with Mozart's opera "The Marriage of Figaro." In spite of some fine singing from the young Wolf Trap Company cast Saturday night at the Filene Center, Gramm's overly busy and alarmingly vulgar staging betrayed a novice's distrust of his actors and hubristic grasp of the libretto. Mozart would not have been amused.
"Figaro," after all, is not a screwball comedy. Its fun and glee are always wise and not without a touch of melancholy. A wife looks with serene sadness at her husband's infidelity, an adolescent's ardor remains unfulfilled, a servant must outsmart his master just to keep from losing his own wife. At best, Gramm turned the exquisite into the cute. And in the several instances where he went against da Ponte's stage directions, the results were failures. To name a few: The dumb show with the curtain show during the overture added nothing; Dr. Bartolo really does not need to twirl a baton; it would have been nice if someone on stage had appeared to listen to Cherubino's "Voi che sapete," well sung by Lynn Beckstrom; and it would have been better if Susana had told Figaro of Count Almaviva's advances without rubbing her crotch. Mozart really is more subtle than that.
The cast was uniformly attractive and sang well, even if the level of acting remained broadly insincere. Ronald Madden was a handsome Count with a rich voice, impeccable diction and commanding presence. James Tyeska's Figaro was carefully phrased and colored with a beautiful lyric baritone. As Cherubino, Lynn Beckstrom hooted her first aria but soon relaxed vocally to reveal a lovely mezzo. Rodney Miller made an unforgettable musical vignette out of the lawyer Don Curzio.
The program listed Richard Woitach as the conductor, but there was no audible evidence of intelligent life at the podium.