Ah, sweet lunacy composed by a musical genius is coming this way. It is full of rascally, randy men and quietly patient, shrewd women who want a love that will last beyond the first “whoosh” of courtship. The score soars from the very first beat of the overture.
On April 19, Virginia Opera’s production of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte antic-filled “The Marriage of Figaro” arrives at the George Mason University Center for the Arts. It remains as fresh, modern and subversive as when it was the pop culture event of its day...in 1786.
“So, lean forward and enjoy. Just have a ball.” said Lillian Groag, veteran stage director. “No matter what clothes the characters are wearing or the language they are singing, the comedic situations in ‘Figaro’ are recognizable. They are neither dated nor culturally bound.”
The score from “Figaro” contains recognizable melodies. Even now the music is used as cultural touch-stones. Think of the movie “The Shawshank Redemption “ with its use of a duetta from “Figaro” as a means to show the humanity of the most crusty locked-up prisoners. They looked up into the Heavens for the source of the unexpected beauty they were hearing, not understanding a word.
“’The Marriage of Figaro’ shows an optimism, a faith in the human heart and its power to regenerate itself and create a better life, if we make up our minds to change,” said Groag a veteran stage actor, playwright and director.
In a recent interview, Groag indicated she will “bring out the comedy of Mozart and librettist Da Ponte, as they wrote it. These are situations and characters that will be recognizable to audiences. No matter what clothes are being worn or language used, we recognize what is happening.”
For those less familiar with “The Marriage of Figaro,” it is a tale of love, deceit and ultimately forgiveness. There is Figaro, the day-to-day steward of the household for the womanizing Count Almaviva. Figaro is about to marry his fiancée, Susanna, who is the Lady’s Maid to the Countess Almaviva. Before they can marry, there are many challenges to be met. The comedy is upped with a puberty-stricken, on-the-loose young man.
This production marks the Virginia Opera debut of Richmond Symphony Music Director Steven Smith. He will conduct an orchestra of thirty-six at the performances. He also serves as Music Director of the Santa Fe Symphony and Chorus and the Cleveland Chamber Symphony.
“The opera and its music are charming and delightful; they can illuminate our lives.” said Smith “The overture is simply incredible; it sparkles. It has a quick tempo, a cheerful key and ‘presto’ speed. Mozart’s gorgeous music just has as such a fleetness to it.”
Matthew Burns (Virginia Opera’s “Orphée,” 2012) is the mischievous Figaro, while his bride-to-be, Susanna, is played by real-life bride Anne-Carolyn Bird. Aaron St. Clair Nicholson (Virginia Opera’s “The Mikado,” 2012) is the roaming-eyed Count, while the Countessa is played by Katherine Whyte.
The soprano Bird, has appeared on opera stages including the New York Metropolitan. For Bird, her character Susanna is “an appealing and accessible character. She is recognizable as a woman who is always multi-tasking; trying to help others.”
It is such “a timeless story of desire, love, and jealousy; all so very real with highly intense interactions that can be happy or tragic.” said Bird. “The opera always keeps the audience wanting to see what is next.”
The bass-baritone Burns has appeared in opera productions throughout the United States, including the New York Metropolitan Opera and with the Wolf Trap Opera. “Figaro is a great first opera to see; it will make your laugh and move you as well. There are also many characters intersecting as they present various slices of life.”
Baritone St. Clair Nicholson has performed with opera companies throughout the United States and Canada. “‘The Marriage of Figaro’ speaks to us about the complexities of the human condition. Also, the role I play, the Count, is not just a stock figure buffoon but a much more complex character as he reacts to what is happening to him.”
In inviting audiences including those who may be new to opera, St. Clair Nicholson described this opera as “a joyful, rollicking piece. It can lighten the burdens of the audience’s day. Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ is simply a great gift to us.”