Seville, Spain (or Washington D.C… by way of Richmond, VA) – For centuries, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has been known as the “Bad Boy of Baroque and Roll”, due to his flowing white hair band wig and blatant disregard for the entitlement of the aristocracy (the man). “The Marriage of Figaro” sealed the bad boy moniker. Mozart, along with Lorenzo Da Ponte (who penned the libretto) were able to take a play, banned by the aristocracy for its somewhat racy (for the time) and anti-authority theme, add a LOT of notes (music) and convince Emporor Joseph II that it was worthy of the big stage. The work was pure genius as Mozart and Da Ponte were essentially able to tell the ruling class to go to hell and made them laugh while on the trip (a true diplomat).
I am going to venture many of our readers have never experienced Figaro, or even an opera for that matter. If opera was always performed as Virginia Opera performed Figaro, it is imperative that all take at least one in! I was taken aback by the quality of production, the wit of the performance (which has more twists and turns than a year’s worth of afternoon dramas), and the vocals as well as the acting of the cast. Add to that the historical aspect, it was an Opera written by an Italian (who later immigrated to America), composed by a self-identified German, born in Austria, performed for the Austrian emperor, with Italian, lyrics and taking place in Spain. WOW.
Enter Figaro (Erik Earl Larson), head servant for the Count of Almaviva (Richard Ollarsaba), and Susanna (Alisa Jordheim), the maid of Countess Rosina (Symone Harcum), engaged to be wed to Figaro. Both are preparing for the big day. Unbeknownst to Susanna, Figaro had borrowed money from an older lady, Marcellina (Whitney Robinson), who, in lieu of collateral, had required Figaro to agree to marry her in the event he did not pay her back (now that is high interest). Also, much to Figaro’s dismay, the Count has been coming on to Susanna and expressing his desire to reinstate his elitist right to bed the wife of a servant on their marriage night. Figaro is confident he will be able to outwit the Count and foil his attempt at blatant debauchery (out of the box, the twists and turns were enough to make one’s head spin!). The humor with which they were presented in verse and song were outstanding!
When Marcellina hears of the wedding, she retains the assistance of Dr. Bartolo (Eric J. Mcconnell), who hates Figaro because Figaro had convinced Rosina to marry the Count (in the ‘Barber of Seville’, the prequel) rather than the good doctor. Susanna and Marcellina go at it, with Susanna coming out victorious lobbing an insult in Marcellina’s direction, noting her rather advanced age.
Barely 20 minutes into the tale and we already have two women after the same guy. We also have two guys in hot pursuit of the servant girl. Finally, we have the wife of the Count, who, as it turns out, is frustrated because the Count is infatuated with Susanna (and other women). It is now time to meet Cherubino (Lauren Cook), who is being sent to the military because the Count caught him messing with the gardener’s (Chauncey Blade) daughter, Barbarina (Catherine Goode). He confesses to Susanna that he (for lack of a better term) has the hots for all women, in particular, Rosina, the Countess (so now a guy, not the Count, is pursuing the Countess… almost sounds like it could be taking place in Hollywood).
Marriage of Figaro Photo Gallery 1
As they are talking, the Count enters, Cherubino, fearful for his life, hides and the Count makes a pass at Susanna. Susanna fends off the Count quite well until there is a knock at the door. The town gossip, Basilio (Jason Ferrante, who also played Don Curzio, the judge, later in the performance) enters, forcing the Count to also hide behind the chair (thankfully Cherubino anticipates this and hides ON the chair under a dress.
By this time, I was dying! The music, the acting, and the story were out of this world (and I was taking it all in, Baroquing the night away) and it was less than a half an hour into the show! It was moving so fast I had a hard time keeping up (and taking pictures).
The storyline was only half the tale, the talent on stage was phenomenal. Larson’s powerful baritone voice complimented Jordheim’s soprano to a tee. Together they were the perfect couple addressing troubles couples have in a beautiful and yet humorous manner.
Harcum blew us all away with her strong presence as the Countess. Together with Susanna, they made a team that was a force to be reconned with. She brought the role to life showing the world that she was a loving wife with a strong desire to win her husband back. All the while she was working with the woman who the the focus of the Count’s desires. To complicate matters even more, she had the bumbling Cherubino to deal with.
Ollarsaba’s portrayal of the Count was outstanding. From the start there was an air of aristocratic entitlement with a whole lot of Al Bundy incompetence thrown in for good measure. Looking at the Count character as played, it was amazing that Mozart and Da Ponte were able to convince Joseph II that this was about the infidelity of women when it was insult laced performance directed at those in positions of authority.
Last but not least, Cook was very convincing as the bumbling, scared of his own shadow Cherubino. In a way, the bumbling nature was what seemed to draw attention to him.. not always the attention of affection, but attention none-the-less.
The opera would not be complete without a strong orchestral backing. Directed by Adam Turner, Richmond Symphony accompanied the company with wonderful sound.
The performance was directed by Kyle Lang. Kyle was gracious enough to talk to me from his abode far far away and provided some of the insights into the production and history of the opera (helping me conclude that that this indeed was worthy of the Baroque and Roll Hall of Fame).
As one who has covered a lot of music performances, I was floored to learn that the vocals in opera (most anyhow) are not mic’d, relying on vocal techniques to project their voices to every nook and cranny of the venue. Because I was used to performances where the musicians rely on amplified sound to deliver the music, I was amazed as I roamed the venue trying to find a place with inadequate sound. I found none. As they performed I could see the power in their stance as they projected their voices while maintaining the ability to use body language in the performance arsenal.
So how did it all play out? Without giving too much away (you really do need to experience Figaro), we find out that two that were destined to wed were actually parent and child (hmmmm?). We find out that the Count is not the brightest bulb on the tree and gave Al Bundy appear at the top of the food chain. The Countess was quite intuitive and could read the Count like a book, manipulate to get what she wanted, and put him in his place when needed.
Marriage of Figaro Photo Gallery 2
So did Figaro and Susanna get married? Did the Count and Countess reconcile? What did become of Marcellina and the good doctor? Did this twisted tale actually take place in modern day Washington DC? Get the answers to these questions and more when you tune in to this wonderful opera on your own. I guarantee you will laugh (not cry too much), love the music, the costume and the rocking, ‘stick it to the man’ storyline. If there was really a Baroque and Roll Hall of Fame, Virginia Opera’s rendition of the “Marriage of Figaro” deserves to be inducted. It was a red carpet night to remember! Bravo!!