Marriage of Figaro

LAOpera

Written by:
Karen Weinstein
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Mozart may be the master of opera buffa. The current cast in LA Opera’s production of The Marriage of Figaro may well be the masters of operatic comic delivery. The music, the libretto, and the cast deliver a frothy concoction, but underlying messages are deadly serious and in their eighteenth-century way, expose the vulnerabilities of humanity.

Figaro debuted in 1784. The Age of Enlightenment was well underway but old traditions die hard. The doit du seigneur may never have been written into law, however it prevailed in various forms in many corners of Europe. The doit entitled the lord of the manor to sleep with any woman in his domain on the day of her marriage. Figaro (Craig Colclough) is Count Almaviva’s (Lucas Meachum) valet. His bride-to-be, Susanna (Janai Brugger) is the countess’ (Ana Maria Martinez) ladies maid. You can be certain Figaro is not the only man who has his eye on the lively Susanna. We are talking class warfare as well as the battle of the sexes. Although Count Almaviva had earlier, in the spirit of enlightenment, made declarations rejecting the doit, his wandering eye had long been on Susanna; despite his earlier declarations, his intention is to bed her on Figaro and Suzanna’s marriage day. We humans may be noble in spirit however when temptation rears its ugly head, we are less noble in entitlement and desire takes over.

Figaro has all the earmarks of a classic farce: transparent disguises, characters hiding in plain sight, impossible deceptions – need I go on? To try to detail the story would take pages and you would get lost on the way. It is not you. Even reading the synopsis before and after, and even having seen other Figaros, both my companion and I were adrift as the action comes to a close in Act IV when all the marriages finally take place between all the right partners. Does it matter if every detail is nailed down? I don’t think so. The messages are still clear, lifting Figaro above the level of mere silliness that one might conclude by reading the story or trying to relate it to a friend.

Mozart himself could be considered a feminist before feminism’s time. Women seem to come out more clever, more loyal, and better able to form alliances. Male bravado knows few constraints across class lines, tripping up many a male figure regardless of class. Both teams toss out quips about marriage and the other sex that ring a bell beyond the eighteenth century. As for class conflict, at the time Figaro was written the French Revolution was on the cusp of explosion.

LA Opera delivers the mish mash with wonderful acting as well as singing. From a theatrical point of view the singers are all well cast. Rihab Chaleb’s Cherubino carries the day, conveying the essence of adolescent male exuberance. Cherubino is a trouser role, meaning it is always played by a female. Chaleb’s Cherubino exudes energy, grace, awkwardness, and a depiction of sexual awakening that could not be more on target. The audience adored her. Craig Colclough believably conveys Figaro, the lower-class guy who has clawed his way to the top of the servant class by wit, charm, connivence, and unending energy. Not that he is not thinking about a picadillo of his own. Lucas Meacham with his commanding physical presence and to-the-manner-born style conveys the arrogance of Count Almaviva. His nose is so high in the air he is a natural to be made the buffoon as the women conspire to trick him into thinking he will succeed in his plans for Susanna.
Director James Gray is known for his direction in Hollywood. Figaro is his first foray into the world of opera. His stated goal was to make the music shine and shine it did. However, the sets by Santo Loquasto, except for Act III, are pedestrian. Act III, a hot bed of plotting, deception, revelation, and more plotting, takes place at a huge staircase styled like an exaggerated keyhole. Simple and dramatic. The Christian Lacroix costumes looked as though they came out of any opera company’s warehouse.

Nit picking comments aside, the three hours of this production of Figaro fly by. Figaro can seem dated and silly. However, this production is both hilariously entertaining and strangely relevant. It would be a delight for an opera buff and an excellent introduction for anyone who has never seen an opera.

Karen Weinstein

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