I had the privilege of seeing Saturday night’s production of The Marriage of Figaro, put on by the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance (the show was double cast for the 4 performances that took place from Thursday-Sunday).
The plot of this very famous opera revolves around the highly-anticipated marriage of Susanna and Figaro, a maid and valet of the Count and Countess, whom they and the other servants regard and trust highly. Because the characters feel maybe a little too comfortable around each other, they take it upon themselves to make sure that everyone is remaining faithful to his/her beloved. Lovers navigate and push social constructs mostly using the powers of humor and wit.
Saturday night’s cast brought the appropriate amount of energy and fun into Mozart and da Ponte’s incredibly humorous work. David Weigel’s Figaro was clearly heard and clearly seen as a joy-bringer among the company. While it was difficult to hear Susanna’s voice at first, Mahari Conston soon brought a sparkling color and playful spirit into the role. Sedona Libero stood out as a charming, giddy Cherubino. Kristine Overman’s voice floated and shimmered just like her elegant Countess gown over Mozart’s rich orchestral textures. Zachary Crowle played a commanding yet clumsy Count. Kayleigh Jardine and Matthew Fleisher brought the perfect amount of dramatic flare to their at-first vengeful and then absurdly kind characters, Marcellina and Bartolo. The chorus members also brought a bubbling, contagious enthusiasm to the larger numbers.
The chemistry between all of the couples, especially Figaro and Susanna (and even Cherubino and Barbarina), was irresistible and adorable. As an audience member, I didn’t mind watching the various mishaps and pranks carried out because it didn’t feel like the relationships were at stake. It was clearly a comedy from beginning to end, yet I found myself yearning along with the characters who wanted something more in their relationships.
From the very first downbeat of the widely-familiar overture to the joyous close of the opera three hours later, the orchestra consistently supported the cast by bringing a buzzing energy to the light-hearted pieces and a moaning intensity to the more dramatic moments. Chelsea Gallo, a student in the University’s Conducting program, led the orchestra with grace and with fiery command into a sparkling interpretation of the score. Shane McFadden provided superb continuo accompaniment from the harpsichord as the singers artfully and playfully wound their way through the recitative sections.
The sets were exquisite and grand. The costumes were sparkling and picturesque. Personally, I found the constantly-changing backdrop colors rather distracting, but the lighting was very effective at the end, when the characters enjoyed a fireworks show together.
The second half of the three-hour opera was the same length as the first half, and I attribute my gradual sense of disengagement more to a fault of pacing on the part of the composer than I do to the creators of this production. There are plenty of complicated webs to be untangled, and Mozart took care to give every main character an aria before everything got sorted out. Luckily, every one of these arias was executed brilliantly, and it eventually paid off to see the tricks carefully planned out in act one finally play out in the second half.
The opera was hilarious. It was fantastical. It dreamed of a world where justice could be done, and even enjoyed, even as complicated life circumstances tried to prevent it at every turn. The best part of the production, for me, was watching 40+ extremely talented people give themselves over to fun, witty, and truly great music that’s stuck around for over 200 years for a reason. I look forward to the School of Music’s next big opera production next semester!