With a four-act favorite, Madison Opera kicks off its 50th anniversary season Friday with Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.”
“It’s a charming piece, and that’s a nice way to start off a celebration season,” Madison Opera General Director Allan Naplan said. Naplan also announced Wednesday that Nov. 5 has been dubbed “Madison Opera Day” by the City of Madison.
“The Marriage of Figaro” is one of the top 10 most performed operas (it’s been performed four times with Madison Opera), as is “La Traviata,” which Madison Opera will perform Apr. 29 and May 1. “We want to make sure it’s a very well balanced performance offering that we’re giving our audiences in repertoire and style. ‘Figaro’ is more a comedy, while ‘La Traviata’ is a very romantic story,” Naplan said.
Operas can sometimes seem unapproachable to audiences when they focus on gods, mythical creatures or royal families. But “Figaro” remains accessible to all audiences. “It’s a story that has great current relevancy… These are everyday people,” Naplan said.
The opera takes place on Figaro’s (Jason Hardy) and Susanna’s (Anya Matanovic) wedding day. What should be a happy day free of conflict quickly goes awry when Susanna reveals that the Count (Jeff Mattsey) is interested in cheating on his wife, the Countess (Melody Moore), with her. Although he previously repealed his feudal rights (the right to sleep with his servants’ brides on their wedding night before she consummates the marriage with her husband), he wants them back to prey on Susanna. Meanwhile, Marcellina (Melissa Parks) and Bartolo (Michael Gallup) appear at the palace, ordering that Figaro must either pay Marcellina a large sum of money he owes her or marry her instead of Susanna.
A classic example of opera buffa (comedic opera), “Figaro” features cross-dressing, Shakesperian disguises and deception, slapstick comedy and witty sarcasm.
The cast overall displays this droll lightheartedness that embodies “The Marriage of Figaro” after just a three-week rehearsal process. “It’s very efficient because everyone is a professional and they come prepared,” Naplan said.
Hardy and Matanovic shine through as Figaro and Susanna in their onstage chemistry, humorous ploys and stunning arias, and Emily Lorini as the hormonal pageboy Cherubino steals her scenes with excellent comedic timing.
Recent UW alumni James Smith and Emily Birsan will be performing the roles of Antonio (Susanna’s uncle and the Count’s gardener) and Barbarina (Antonio’s daughter), respectively. “It’s great that we can have opportunities for the university’s most talented students,” Naplan said.
The set, with soaring columns, simple furniture and spotless tiling, helps to tell the story in its simplicity. “The piece is about really intimate relationships; it’s not about a massive house,” Naplan said. “Often performers get dwarfed by a massive set, and that’s not the story we’re trying to tell.” Intimate in design, the set undergoes nuanced changes to reflect the opera’s narrative, shifting from Figaro’s cramped quarters to a massive office to a romantic garden.
In preparation for the weekend’s performances, Madison Opera presented a series of events for audiences to delve into the art form. This included “Opera Up Close” in October, which included a multimedia presentation exploring the history of Mozart and “The Marriage of Figaro,” and a roundtable discussion about the artistic process with principle artists, stage director A. Scott Perry and Naplan. Additionally, a wedding cake contest with cakes from local vendors will take place in the Overture Center’s lobby tonight, and before each performance, Naplan will give an optional 30-minute pre-opera talk.
With comedy, elegance and beauty in the aesthetics, orchestra, libretto and singing, this weekend’s performances of “Figaro” are sure to entertain everyone, whether you’re an operatic veteran or someone who recognizes Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries” as Elmer Fudd’s quest to “Kill the Wabbit.”
“It is accessible for everyone, so if you want to try out opera, ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ makes perfect sense,” Naplan said.
“The Marriage of Figaro” will be performed tonight at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the Overture Center. Student rush tickets are now available at a 50 percent discount (tickets originally priced $16-$114 are now $8-$57) at the Overture Center Box Office. Visit Madisonopera.org for more information.