Few operas have the name recognition that Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” holds. This weekend, the School of Music, Theatre & Dance will present a modern interpretation of the great classic at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. Directed by Grant Preisser, the opera will be sung in Italian with projected English supertitles. The University Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Martin Katz, will be performing alongside the singers.
“The Marriage of Figaro” is a romantic comedy — a rarity in a genre that is normally overflowing with tragedy. The story, based on the play by Pierre Beaumarchais, is set in Seville, Spain and follows the story of Figaro, a servant to the Count and Countess, and his fiancé Susanna. The Count, unhappy with his marriage to the Countess, is infatuated with Susanna. The Countess hears wind of this love affair and furiously vows to take revenge. Thus springs a complex plotline of trickery, cross-dressing and tests of loyalty. Think Shakespeare’s “Othello,” but with less ominous undertones.
Under Preisser’s direction, this centuries-old opera is much more adapted to modern times.
“He decided to put a big clash between women as sex objects and women as empowered figures,” said Zachary Crowle, a SMTD graduate student, of Preisser. Crowle plays the Count, a character that regularly sexually and verbally abuses women throughout the opera. Mozart creates a foil to this sexism in the character of Susanna, who is a refreshingly strong female character.
“She’s very smart, very funny and not afraid to speak her mind,” said Mahari Conston, another SMTD graduate student, of Susanna.
“The women are not only constantly standing up to those with power, but are working together to improve upon it,” said Kristine Overman, SMTD undergraduate. The beauty of “The Marriage of Figaro” is in these timeless parallels to modern times; the behaviour of Susanna and the Countess are reminiscent of the ongoing global #MeToo movement.
Preisser has also taken care to enhance Mozart’s emphasis on class struggle in the opera. Written just before the time of the French Revolution, “The Marriage of Figaro” was considered very controversial when it first came to theaters, so much so that a majority of theaters refused to air the opera. The socioeconomic clash between Figaro, a servant, and the Count, a member of the extravagant aristocrat class, is apparent to any viewer.
“It was really one of the first times in history that any kind of literature stood up to people in power,” Crowle said. We see this kind of opposition to power every day in the news, through marches and protests both in the University and around the world.
SMTD undergraduate Justin Burgess, who plays Figaro, commented that the visuals have been updated as well to fit with modern times; they aren’t the typical archaic style that is expected of operas.
“There’s a juxtaposition of old imagery mixed with bright, modern day technicolor,” Burgess said. “It really makes a cool visual for the audience.”
From relatable characters and relevant social issues, to modern sets and color schemes, SMTD’s rendition of “The Marriage of Figaro” aims to think outside the box and adapt to the changing interests of our current society.