On Friday, Toledo Opera welcomes the second installment in its Season of Three Barbers when Mozart’s comedic The Marriage of Figaro comes to the Valentine Theatre.
Set three years after Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Figaro is a farcical romance — think Noises Off but in song.
The opera is set in the town of Seville, Spain. Count Almaviva has allowed his devotion to his wife, the Countess Almaviva (Rosina), to wane. His eyes have gone roving to his wife’s maid, Susanna, the soon-to-be-wife of Figaro, the affable, problem-solving town barber and gossip.
A series of romantic intrigues, mistaken identities, and escapades ensues. All is eventually put right by the streetwise Susanna and Figaro, demonstrating the superiority of the lower class over the upper. The libretto is drawn from the second of three plays by Pierre Beaumarchais (1732-1799), a French musician, diplomat, spy, arms dealer, financier, and revolutionary. These plays would eventually become the rallying cry of the masses leading to the regicide of the French Revolution.
Figaro has been listed by National Public Radio as one of the Top 10 operas of all time. In NPR’s words, it is “sheer dramatic and operatic perfection. The wedding of Beaumarchais’ wit and Mozart’s music is total brilliance.”
Toledo Opera’s staging of Figaro welcomes a new member to the production family: Stage Director Garnett Bruce. Having worked with opera companies in Houston, San Francisco, and Chicago, he brings a wealth of experience to Toledo.
“My artistic vision for Figaro actually began with the set we are using,” Bruce said. “The stage is filled with a classic structure of open ironwork and railings. The concept is to show the transparency of everything. Then, as the drama unfolds, we add screens, scrims, and projections to show the layering influence of lies, deceptions, and the farce it creates.
“The set work becomes a metaphor for the unfolding dramatic action and eventual unveiling of the work’s core theme: the ability of humans to choose to forgive.”
Opera Executive Director Suzanne Rorick said the set framework is actually recycled from another company’s production of Cosi Fan Tutte.
“These days companies reuse material from other company’s productions to assist in reducing production costs,” she said. “It only makes sense given the baseline of mounting a production. This one happened to fit Bruce’s Figaro vision perfectly.”
The action is played out by a series of veteran singers who’ve spent hours poring over the Italian text to grasp the author’s subtle barbs and jabs.
Bass-baritone Darren K. Stokes portrays the title roll of Figaro.
“Bruce has really challenged me to find the dignity and intelligence behind the barber,” Stokes explained. “Often he is played as a silly buffoon, but I am firmly convinced that, rather, he is a very savvy and streetwise individual who truly knows his own worth in this world. It is that which allows him to triumph over political power.”
“The title of the opera should really be Susanna,” Stokes continued. “She’s a new character in the second installment, Figaro’s intended bride and the Countess’ maid. In many ways she is even slyer and quicker on the uptake than the barber. Between the two of us, we manage to solidly put the aristocracy in its place.”
Angela Theis, a young singer with an elan and zest that snaps her character into reality, is the soprano portraying Susanna. This is her first time playing the role.
“Susanna is an incredibly strong character that should be a role model for every young girl,” Theis said. “She is a fiery Latin with a keen sense of duty, smart and filled with a sense of joy and laughter. For both she and Figaro, truth is power.”
Add to these two principals the commanding presence of Laquita Mitchell (who portrayed Bess in last season’s production of Porgy and Bess) as the Countess Almaviva out to get even with her flirtatious husband and baritone Kyle Pfortmiller as the roaming Count, and you have a powerful quartet of central players.
Then there are the supporting actors playing a host of whimsical characters, such as the stuttering Don Curzio (Toledo Opera artist-in-residence Brian Skoog) and the opera’s “trouser” role Cherubino (Soprano Catherine Hancock).
“Mozart utilized and increased the cast of characters in this sequel to expand the artistic depth of the action,” Bruce said. “There are so many subtle plots and intrigues going on that it forms a dramatic masterwork, all of it perfectly set to music. Our challenge is to bring it all clearly to life.”
James Meena, principal artistic adviser and conductor, will wield the baton for the performance, assisted by the Toledo Symphony.
Kevin Bylsma, chorus master and head of musical preparation, will play the harpsichord, and the Toledo Opera Chorus will provide choral support.
Activities surrounding Figaro begin at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday with a talk titled “Barber Gets Married: Love Laws in Opera” by Toledo Opera Associate Conductor Sara Jobin at the Secor Gallery at Registry Bistro, 425 Jefferson Ave. The talk is free with a wine reception ($10) to follow.
On Student Night sponsored by The Andersons at 7 p.m. Wednesday, tickets are $5. The Lucas County Board of Education is making it possible for middle, high school, and university students to attend the performance free of charge. Interested students and teachers should contact the Toledo Opera Box Office.
Public performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Valentine Theatre, 410 Adams St., Toledo. Tickets, $40-$90, are available from the Opera Box Office at 419-255-7464 or toledoopera.org.
One hour before both weekend performances, BGSU musicologist Eftychia Papanikolaou will give an introductory talk on the opera to interested ticket holders in the Grand Lobby of the Valentine Theatre.
Contact Wayne F. Anthony at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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