December 12, 2019
The Marriage of Figaro: All is Fair in Love and Triangles
Left to right: Figaro gestures towards a bewildered Cherubino, who has a bucket on his head and mop in handSource: The Academy of Vocal Arts
Photo courtesy of the Academy of Vocal Arts
A comic opera punctuated by its plot twists and turns, “The Marriage of Figaro” kept audiences entertained and on the edge of their seats in Haverford Centennial Hall on the evening of Nov. 21.
The opera compromises of four acts, each consisting of their own jaw-dropping surprises, and respective climaxes that ultimately leads to a very heartwarming reunion at the end of “The Marriage of Figaro.”
The singers didn’t miss a beat as they belted out fluent Italian while simultaneously maneuvering around the stage for three and a half hours.
A Bit of Context…
Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the late-18th century, “Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro)” marked the opening of the Academy of Vocal Arts‘ 85th Season, and performances ran from Nov. 9 through Nov. 24.
The Marriage of Figaro Cast
- Conductor: Christofer Macatsoris
- Stage Conductor: David Gately
- Figaro (the Count’s valet): Brent Michael Smith
- Susanna (the Countess’ maid and engaged to Figaro): Aubry Ballarò
- Bartolo (a doctor from Seville): Cody Mülle
- Marcellina (Bartolo’s housekeeper): Chelsea Laggan
- Cherubino (the Count’s page): Pascale Spinney
- Il Conte di Almaviva: Timothy Murray
- Basilio: Zachary Rioux
- La Contessa di Almaviva: Kara Mulder
- Don Curizo (a magistrate): Sahel Salam
- Barbarina: Emily Margevich
- Antonio: Griffen Hogan Tracy
- Chorus: Abraham Bretón, Yihan Duan, Daniel Gallegos, Mackenzie Gotcher, Rebecca Gulinello, Renée Richardson, Anne Marie Stanley, Griffen Hogan Tracey
The Mariage of Figaro at Haverford Centennial Hall
There was hardly a seat to spare in Centennial Hall with an older audience filling almost every chair. They were respectful throughout the entire performance, sitting quietly with their hasps clasped in awe or resting in their lap, letting out a soft laugh when appropriate.
“The Marriage of Figaro” takes place several years after “The Barber of Seville” and continues its plot.
“Rosina is now the Countess; Dr. Bartolo is seeking revenge against Figaro for thwarting his plans to marry Rosina himself; and Count Almaviva has degenerated from the romantic youth of ‘Barber’ into a scheming, bullying, skirt-chasing baritone,” the AVA Marriage of Figaro booklet explains.
By “The Marriage of Figaro,” Figaro is the head of the servant-staff and Susanna is the Countess’ maid, the booklet adds.
Act I revolves around the iconic chair, in which the main characters hide behind one by one (eventually piling together) as to not be seen in Susanna’s room by one another.
Scheme, scheme, scheme is the theme, theme, theme of “The Marriage of Figaro.” In this act, the audience is introduced to all of the characters and the interpersonal chaos underlying the plot: Figaro discovers that Count Almaviva is pursuing his fiancé, Susanna, and Marcellina is plotting alongside her former master, Bartolo, to force Figaro into marrying her instead to repay a debt he lacks the funds for.
All the while, Cherubino has developed an interest in Susanna, as well.
Pascale Spinney’s performance as Cherubino was a particular treat during this act and throughout the opera. Spinney was lively and animated, truly bringing the hopelessly romantic character to life.
“The Marriage of Figaro” is driven by its outlandish characters and the peculiar conflict they find themselves caught up in, but comic relief Cherubino had an unexpectedly important role throughout the entirety of the opera as he often found himself at the heart of the conflict.
From start to finish, Act I was nothing short of roaring and riveting, setting the stage for the rest of the story.
Count Almaviva takes center stage during “Terzetto” in Act ISource: The Academy of Vocal Arts
Photo courtesy of the Academy of Vocal Arts
In Act II, Countess Rosina, Figaro, and Susanna decide to trick Almaviva in retaliation. They plan to dress Cherubino as Susanna and send him into the garden under false romantic pretenses with the Count.
However, Almaviva begins pounding on the door as they’re dressing Cherubino in Susanna’s clothes. Cherubino scuttles into the closet while Rosina must deter the aggressive Almaviva from acting on his suspicions and opening the closet.
Timothy Murray and Kara Mulder bring the tension to life with their liquid gold voices and mannerisms in Act II. Murray conveys Almaviva as a despicable tyrant, while Mulder must tame his beastliness.
You can truly feel Mulder’s somberness as a wife betrayed by her husband’s unfaithfulness at the beginning of Act II. The way plotting reignites her inner flame sends embers of passion into the audience. The fear she feels as Almaviva insists on opening the closet door leaves you nibbling on your nails.
Countess Rosina belting out a songSource: The Academy of Vocal Arts
Photo courtesy of the Academy of Vocal Arts
When Almaviva drags his wife with him to grab tools to open the closet, Susanna steps in and swaps places with Cherubino, who then dramatically escapes by jumping out the window.
Almaviva’s demeanor does a complete 180 towards apologetic with a tinge of embarrassment when he finds Susanna in the closet instead of Cherubino.
Their ruse is almost ruined once the gardener comes up with crushed flowers, citing that he believes he saw Cherubino throw himself out the window, ruining his garden. Yet, Figaro is able to cover for Cherubino by faking a leg injury and claiming it was he who jumped from the window.
Act II ends after reaching its dramatic climax. Without giving the characters a second to breathe following Almaviva’s rampage, Marcellina, Bartolo, and music master Don Basilio storm into Rosina’s bedroom with a court summon for Figaro. This affords Almaviva time to delay Figaro’s wedding.
Shock and awe hung in Centennial Hall during “The Marriage of Figaro’s” intermission, the audience turning to chat with one another while some excused themselves to stretch their legs.
Nevertheless, Susanna continues on with the plan to trick Almaviva in Act III and Marcellina stays bent on forcing Figaro to marry her – despite being old enough to be his mother.
Although everything is looking quite bleak for a dejected and cornered Figaro, it’s eventually revealed that Marcellina is indeed his mother and Bartolo his father – a shock to both the characters and the audience. Gasps and laughter filled the hall.
Later during the marriage ceremony, Susanna flirtatiously slips Almaviva a note inviting him to the garden that evening.
In Act IV, the gardener’s daughter Barbarina tells Marcellina and Figaro of Susanna’s secret date with Almaviva. Thus, when Figaro hears Susanna singing of her love for him, Figaro mistakenly believes she’s singing of her love for Almaviva.
Brent Michael Smith had consistently done an excellent job portraying Figaro, but it’s in this act where his talent as a performer truly shines. He does a phenomenal job conveying the other side of the charming and lighthearted Figaro’s personality.
The plot then becomes entangled in layers of conflict and confusion as the characters swap roles with one another.
Cherubino begins flirting with Rosina, who is now dressed as Susanna, but Almaviva chases him away. Figaro begins to catch on that the scheme planned out in Act II is beginning to take hold, so he makes love to Susanna who is now dressed as Rosina.
Almaviva calls everyone to witness after he finds Figaro and the disguised Susanna, all before Rosina reveals that the two had switched places.
Again, Almaviva is knocked down from his pedestal and begs for Rosina’s forgiveness. Order is restored and the characters rejoice in reunion.
Bug’s Two Cents
4.7 out of 5 lovelorn Cherubinos
“The Marriage of Figaro” at Centennial Hall was my very first opera and most certainly won’t be my last. The Academy of Vocal Arts’ production was spot on!
The performers blew my mind and the direction was fantastic. Given the size of the venue, I thought the stage design did the story a great justice without drawing too much attention away from the opera singers.
“The Marriage of Figaro” left me in awe of the opera arts as a whole. While I could appreciate the aesthetic of the genre, I had never been afforded the opportunity to appreciate the amount of talent that went into opera productions prior to this show.
While I found the plot of “The Marriage of Figaro” entertaining with its engaging use of plot twists and ample amounts of humor, it could be hard to follow for audience members who haven’t read the plot synopsis prior.
Overall, “The Marriage of Figaro” was delightful and I can not wait until the AVA’s production of BrAva Philadelphia! in March 2020!
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