To go along with last fall’s “Music Man,” the powers that be in K-State’s new School of Music, Theater, and Dance decided to stage “The Marriage of Figaro” as the spring’s major multi-disciplinarian production. Excellent choice. This Mozart opera is something students can do very well—in fact, one of the most memorable K-State opera productions of the last forty years was a “Marriage of Figaro.” And it is also something audiences love.
I mean, Love. Mozart, generally speaking, is fun, and the music for “Marriage of Figaro” has insinuated itself into our lives through cartoons and commercials. If the story is repeatedly silly, that doesn’t bother us, because what we want out of this entertainment is not logic or reality but delight.
Director Reginald Pittman’s staging went to get the delight out of the music. There was a little dance along the way. And some of the singers had some delightful business to associate with their characters. This wasn’t a visually static sort of opera. But the music came first.
Conductor David Littrell’s pit orchestra of thirty-plus was re-enforced by guest harpsichord soloist Nicholas Good. While the mix favored the young singers over the instrumentalists, the latter clearly knew their parts, and their leader kept the musical events popping along, never rushed but always ready.
On stage, the cast included the right vocalist-actor in every part. The tough one to fill here is usually Don Bartolo, the bass, but the dependable DJ Davis stepped in there. Particularly pleasing was Sarah Wirtz as the flirtatious Cherubino, but then that part is a fat pitch.
Here’s a bar-bet note about the opera. Because it appeared (in 1786) before Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” (1816), many people assume Mozart’s opera is the original one about the Figaro character. Actually there is a 1782 Paisiello “Barber” that, at least one hears, isn’t all that bad itself. All arise from Pierre Beaumarchais’s plays. The K-State production used Ruth and Thomas Martin’s fairly witty translation of the Da Ponte opera text.
So we are in Spain. Barber turned valet Figaro (Donovan Woods) works for Count Almarviva (Drew Hansen) and is in love with Susanna (Aeriel Dodson), servant of the Countess (Kirsten Hyde). But there are impediments to their marriage. Bartolo wants to force Figaro to repay a loan or, as per contract, to marry Marcellina (Mallory Rathbun). And the Count is trying to seduce Susanna.
Meanwhile little Cherubino makes a play for the Countess and is sent off to the army by his employer. But he won’t go, and his subsequent escape from the Countess’s apartments make for an embarrassment that can only be explained with a wild Figaro lie. A missing letter, a love song in manuscript, a family brand, and a mash note sealed with a pin all figure in the just sufficiently complicated developments that lead to the happy ending.
Perhaps the performance didn’t establish its loopy tone quite as fast as it got to its central complication. And, then, there was an over-stuffed, wing-back chair in the first scene that wasn’t up to the rest of Kathy Voecks’s practical and versatile, three section, faux-Empire set. Even Dana Pinkston’s wonderfully fanciful costumes (loved the Count’s jacket) included a hood that Hyde found troublesome the night I saw the show. But you know, these small mis-steps wouldn’t have been noticed in a production that was only so-so.
The latest K-State “Marriage of Figaro” was a fine one, a memorable one. And while I’ll remember details like Hansen’s comic sneer, I think it was the solid solo and unit singing that made this presentation of the most beloved opera by the world’s most beloved composer delight its audience for the full three hours of its running time. Make that, Delight.