Music Academy of the West's annual stage opera, "The Marriage of Figaro," duly impresses

James Conlon, James Darrah
Santa Barbara News Press

By Josef Woodard

Among the many ways we can count being blessed by the Music Academy of the West summer season is the reliable artistic payoff of its annual, fully staged opera production.

This midsummer weekend's operatic treat is a highlight not only of every Academy Festival, but Santa Barbara's serious musical calendar, and even, in a good year, the more general West Coast opera life during what would be the summer lull. Thus, it made perfect geo-cultural sense that the weekend's eagerly anticipated production of Mozart's profoundly musical farce "The Marriage of Figaro" was heavily tethered to the creative forces of that prominent Southern Californian opera bastion, the Los Angeles Opera.

Dynamic young director James Darrah was returning to town, lending his quirky but effective spin to the setting, shifting its original 18th century context of marital and romantic scheming to a vaguely mid-century Los Angeles modern hotel lobby/ballroom setting, with peeling paint implying faded glory and fading aristocratic morality.

And the big news this year was the Music Academy debut of world-renowned conductor James Conlon, associated with many a top orchestra but most strongly connected with the LA Opera for many years now. In the pit, Mr. Conlon summoned in mighty but ever-sensitive ensemble sound from the Academy Festival Orchestra.

Thanks to Mr. Conlon, Mr. Darrah and the combined forces of musical good at the Music Academy, the triple marriage farce reached that special status at the Granada, as an operatic apex of our summer.

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