The Marriage of Figaro
By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Lyric Opera of Chicago
By Lori Dana
Figaro wants to marry Susanna. Marcellina wants to marry Figaro. Figaro’s boss, Count Almaviva is not sure he still wants to be married to the Countess, but he’s insanely jealous at the idea that she might be seeing someone else. Meanwhile, he is dallying with the gardener’s daughter Barbarina, and angling to have his way with Susanna before her wedding. The Countess’ godson Cherubino is lusting after anyone in a skirt, while dodging the Count’s attempts to draft him into the army to get him out of town. Yes, the gang from The Barber of Seville is back, with that wily barber (now personal valet) Figaro scheming to teach the Count a lesson and send him back into the arms of his wife once and for all!
Part soap opera, part situation comedy and all Mozart, Lyric Opera’s new production of The Marriage of Figaro kicked off the 2015/16 season with a bang on Saturday evening. A brilliantly updated production, adapted and directed by Barbara Gaines of Chicago Shakespeare Theater, delights the eyes and ears, as well as tickles the funny bone. Gone are the stiff and stilted dialog and costumes that, while historically correct, often fail to speak to a contemporary audience in the same way that Mozart’s joyous music does. The first time we read a supertitle that characterizes Almaviva’s conniving sidekick Don Basilio as a “sleazebag”, we know that this is not going to be the same old Figaro! Every production detail seems fresh. The neutral wood tones of James Noone’s sleek, gilt trimmed backdrops provide a perfect contrast to the riotous colors of opulent costumes and props that help bring the world of Count Almaviva’s castle to life. Designer Susan Mickey’s palette of lush scarlets and blues, warm greens, golds, purples and eye-popping turquoise, combined with a jumble of graphic patterns that reflect the crazy confusion and light-hearted humor of the plot while subtly expressing the social ranks of the time.
The only thing that is not re-envisioned through a modern lens is the glorious music of Mozart, whose appeal remains timeless. Led by young Hungarian conductor Henrik Nánási (General Music Director of the Komische Oper Berlin and a master of opera buffa), delivered by an ensemble of fabulous singer-actors, and accompanied by Lyric Opera’s world-class orchestra and chorus, the music here is pure beauty and joy. The terrific cast, led by Czech baritone Adam Plachetka as Figaro, also features German soprano Christiane Karg, in her Lyric Opera debut, as a saucy and confident Susanna, Ryan Opera Center alum and international sensation Amanda Majeski as her mistress and confidant Countess Almaviva, and Italian star Luca Pisaroni as the Count. The level of singing brought to the production by this group would be pretty hard to match in any other international opera venue, and the onstage chemistry between these performers is quite contagious. The audience is immediately drawn into Figaro’s circle of friends and lovers, and we become part of his crowd; party to the hilarity of the inside jokes and invested in the outcome of the plotting and scheming.
The excellent casting in Lyric’s Figaro extends to the supporting cast as well. Keith Jameson’s pot-stirring Don Basilio, Rachel Frenkel’s awkward and charming Cherubino and Katherine Goeldner’s wacky Marcellina, along with her solicitor/lover Don Bartolo (BrindleySherratt) each deliver distinctly delightful performances, and second year Ryan Opera Center soprano Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi is an especially giggly treat as Barbarina.
Opening night at the opera is always a dazzling experience. It is the best night of the year for people watching, with a red carpet scene that definitely rivals the Oscars and Emmys for sheer glamour and excitement. On the best opening nights however, the evening’s musical entertainment is even more dazzling with the sheer transformative power of great music and genuinely moving dramatic performances eclipsing even the most breathtaking audience trappings. Lyric Opera’s new production of The Marriage of Figaro is such an experience: funny, outrageous, heartfelt, with supertitles that will crack you up and singing that’ll knock your socks off. Not even Mozart could have asked for more than that.
(“The Marriage of Figaro,” presented by Lyric Opera of Chicago, runs through October 24th at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive. 312-827-5600)
The Marriage of Figaro production photos by Todd Rosenberg and Michael Brosilow.