Part of the role of a local opera company is to present inoffensive, likable productions of repertory works — like the Washington National Opera’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” which opened at the Kennedy Center on Thursday night. Last year’s season began with “Carmen,” another serviceable production that got across the opera and the music. “The Marriage of Figaro” will do equally well if you want to check this opera off your bucket list: It has a young, eager cast and a lighthearted approach, underlined by vividly colored, deliberately clashing costumes (by Myung Hee Cho) against a backdrop of muted, slate-y blue (sets: Benoit Dugardyn). It’s pretty, verging on the saccharine.
My bias in opera is voices. I want to hear a sound I’m excited by. I will happily hear a 60-year-old soprano sing the role of Susanna if she can deliver the goods. I am aware that the trend in opera is moving toward a more theatrical approach, meaning a Broadway-style casting that keeps young singers in young roles — preferably good-looking ones. Opera is, indeed, a field of entertainment, and I have nothing against that. So I could see on Thursday that Ryan McKinny, as Figaro, and Joshua Hopkins, as the Count, both moved and acted well onstage. I didn’t think that either of them conveyed the vocal authority to make these roles come to life — I often couldn’t hear them. But they were warmly received.
The singer onstage with the greatest stature was Amanda Majeski, whose Countess I last heard at the Met a couple of years ago and who delivered a similar performance here: vocally strong, dramatically nuanced, with a bit of an edge to her singing but a generally lovely presentation. Her foil was Lisette Oropesa in her WNO debut, as Susanna, one of the longest roles in opera; she sounded a little light and colorless at the beginning, but she worked up to do a nice job with her one aria in the fourth and last act, after spending most of the preceding three onstage. Aleksandra Romano, a recent alumna of the Domingo-Cafritz program, seemed a slightly overthought Cherubino, modulating every note in a slightly built-up mezzo voice.
Let’s hear a word in praise of the professional comprimario — the singers of the small roles often cast with members of a company’s young-artist program (like Timothy J. Bruno, who was unimpressive as Antonio, although Ariana Wehr was a lovely, bubbly Barbarina). Elizabeth Bishop’s Marcellina was as sound as you’d expect if you heard her Fricka in last year’s “Ring” cycle; Valeriano Lanchas was a reasonably if slightly strained Bartolo; and Keith Jameson, in his company debut, stood out, in a good way, as a penetrating Don Basilio.
The candy-bright colors of the costumes reflected something of Peter Kazaras’s directing approach: verging on the shtick, but only crossing the border in a couple of places. (Does Cherubino really have to fall over his own feet like a toddler?) James Gaffigan, touted as a rising young conductor who has worked with many of the world’s major orchestras and opera companies, had a more difficult night in the pit, with some coordination issues with the chorus and a tendency to be heavy-handed. This orchestra can rise to many challenges, as it showed in the “Ring,” but it needs more help to sparkle than Gaffigan, on Thursday, could give it.
The Marriage of Figaro continues at the Kennedy Center Opera House through Oct 2. On Saturday, the annual Opera in the Outfield event will broadcast the performance live to Nationals Park. On Oct. 1, the current Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist class performs.