Chorus members sported masks, so this Opera Hong Kong production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro wasn’t quite a return to complete normality, but the socially-distanced audience for the first Hong Kong opera performance in almost a year enthusiastically took what they could get.
When Figaro, originally scheduled for August, finally opened yesterday evening, it was in the Cultural Centre’s Concert Hall rather the City Hall, the traditional venue for Opera Hong Kong’s summer “semi-staged” productions. The “set” was, perhaps as a result, even sparser than usual, not that it made a jot of difference: this delightful performance proves once again that opera, when well-played and performed, speaks for itself by itself without all the accoutrements that more often than not go along with it.
There was however nothing “semi-staged” (or semi-anything) about Yanna Chen’s charming and charismatic performance as the maid (and Figaro’s betrothed) Susanna. Chen has a smile which lights up the hall and a voice to match; she has considerable (and appealing) stage presence. Apollo Wong’s melodious bass has long been noticeable; it’s about time he got a lead role. His quite traditional Figaro proved an excellent foil to Chen’s perky Susanna. Sammy Chien, already well-known to Hong Kong audiences, had been promoted in social class from Figaro in a 2019 production to the Count; Candice Chung rounded out the quartet. Bobbie Zhang made a suitably foppish Cherubino (who wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in the army had he/she actually reported for duty as ordered).
Although Le Nozze di Figaro is a comedy, there are also passages of aching beauty, usually in the duets—the Susanna/Countess duet Canzonetta sull’aria being one—and ensembles. All individual performances aside, it is these relatively short passages make a performance of this opera memorable. When well performed, an opera is much more than the sum of its parts, and it was here.
It bears repeating that performances consisting largely if not entirely of local singers have been steadily improving over the past few years: the latest—and this Figaro was no exception—often seems to be the “best yet”. If COVID-19, regardless of the situation on the ground in Hong Kong, continues to restrict international travel, Hong Kong may count itself lucky to have a deepening pool of talent from which to cast local productions.