For the Salt Creek Chamber Orchestra’s first foray into opera, Maestro Timothy Semanik has chosen a romantic comedy by one of the world’s best — some would say THE best — composers. Arias from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” will be sung in Italian with English subtitles in one performance only, with a cast of young singers who are about the same age the characters in the story are supposed to be.
In fact the singers who portray Figaro and Susanna, the couple about to be married, are themselves married. Bass baritone Dan Richardson has been cast as Figaro and his wife soprano Diana Stoic Richardson is the lively Susanna.
“Susanna is considered a soubrette role,” Diana explained. “Her voice is light, lyrical, but she also has a warm middle range. She’s a girl’s girl getting ready for her wedding, and like all brides, she wants the day to be perfect.”
Instead, however, she is confronted with the possibility that Figaro’s employer, Count Almaviva, has a self-serving motive when he gives the engaged couple a large room adjacent to his own. The opera is set in a period when the droit du seigneur was not unknown in Europe, and Susanna shares her well-grounded suspicions with Figaro.
“Diana and I covered these roles for Des Moines Metro Opera,” Dan explained, “so we know them very well, but this is our first performance of the parts.”
The couple met when they were students at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, where the Des Moines Metro Opera is also located. Diana is from Skokie. “So I dragged my Iowa husband to Chicago,” she said, laughing. “There are more singing opportunities here.”
They have taken advantage of them. In addition to singing for the first time with Salt Creek, Dan sings with the chorus of the Grant Park Music Festival and they both sang in the chorus of Lyric Opera of Chicago, Diana returning to that stage for “Parsifal” just two weeks after the birth of their son Maxwell, now 10 months old.
Baritone Ryan Cox is cast as Count Almaviva, Figaro’s employer who is infatuated with Susanna. “I don’t usually get the womanizing roles,” Cox admitted, “and it’s definitely outside my comfort zone.
“Plus he is not a comic character. He is laughed at behind his back, but he’s a serious person, a little smarmy and foolish, but certainly not evil.”
Cox has sung previously with Salt Creek and Maestro Semanik. “I’m director of music at the First Congregational Church in La Grange,” he continued. “My choir sang with Salt Creek for the Faure ‘Requiem’ and Tim asked me to do the solos. I also sang Bach’s ‘Coffee Cantata’ with them.”
During the summer he sings in the Grant Park Chorus and during the year he is a member of the highly acclaimed Chicago Symphony Chorus.
The attention Count pays to Susanna wounds his beautiful Countess, sung by soprano Susan Nelson, who is celebrating her tenth year singing the Grand Park Music Festival Chorus and sings one opera a year in the chorus at Lyric. She has also sung with Music of the Baroque for six seasons.
Her character laments having lost her husband’s love in her husband in “Dove sono,” which is certainly one of the most beautiful soprano arias in the entire repertoire. “It’s really challenging” she said, “but a wonderful piece to sing.”
The Countess doesn’t languish for long, however. She and Susanna, who is her servant, plot to give the Count his comeuppance. “I like to think that there is still some Rosina-ness inside her,” Nelson continued, referring to the young woman in the Rossini opera “The Barber of Seville,” who defies her guardian and runs off to marry Count Almaviva, who woos her pretending to be a penniless student named Lindoro. “I love the idea of playing a headstrong woman.”
Nelson is also assisting Semanik in arranging English subtitles for the arias. “There is no narrator and the plot is so comical and complicated there is no way it could be explained in a few lines. But by singing the arias, we can bring the audience into the heart of Mozart’s music, which is so beautiful.”
“We’ve suspended all the recitative,” the conductor explained, mentioning the almost-sung dialogue in Mozart’s operas. “By doing that we eliminate all the distractions and just go straight to the arias and ensembles. This opera is simply perfect Mozart and I know the audience will enjoy it.”
The Maestro is in his fourth season as music director of the 35-piece orchestra. This opera serves as being a bridge to the ensemble’s 19th season.
Semanik is music director of the Bradley Symphony Orchestra and the Central Illinois Youth Symphony, and has been guest conductor of the Chicago Youth Symphony, the Windsor Symphony, the Elmhurst Symphony and orchestras at Northwestern University and the University of Michigan.
He also has conducted operas at the Winter Opera St. Louis, Light Opera Works, Great Lakes Lyric Opera, the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company, Ann Arbor Opera and California State University, Fullerton. He is in his seventh season as music director for the Savoyaires in Evanston.
“I’d like to have a late summer opera as a regular feature of our programming,” he concluded. “I hope this is a start.”
‘The Marriage of Figaro’
Salt Creek Chamber Orchestra, First United Methodist Church, 100 W. Cossitt Ave., La Grange 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 23
$18 adults/$12 seniors and students; tickets available at the door