I must confess that I don’t know a lot about the opera. The first time I was even aware that the opera existed was through an episode of Hey Arnold!, and I’ve only been to one prior to this, a production of Turnadot that turned me into a fan. When I was younger, I scoffed at idea of the opera. I thought it was snobbish and boring. Why did they sing like that? I wondered. Why do rich people spend their money on this?
Boy was I wrong. The opera is not the snobbish and elitist place that I thought it was. In fact, there are many people from different walks of life who enjoy and are frequent patrons of the opera. You don’t even have to dress up if you don’t want to! More than anything else, the opera, much like the theatre, is another way of experiencing art. It is a different kind of musical theatre, steeped in history and culture.
This was last point was really poignant to me when I attended a performance of The Marriage of Figaro, staged by the Canadian Opera Company (COC). Penned by Mozart, the plot of The Marriage of Figaro is thus: Set in Spain, the story follows Figaro, a valet to Count Almaviva, who is about to marry his love, Susanna, who is a maid to Countess Almaviva. Their wedding is jeopardized by the Count, who lusts after Susanna, and by wealthy older woman named Marcellina who wants Figaro for herself. Susanna, Figaro, and the Countess hatch several schemes to trick and shame the Count for his indiscretions, and plan to use a local playboy named Cherubino in order to do so. Meanwhile the Count plots to seduce Susanna, and becomes concerned that Cherubino is trying to seduce his wife (which he is). Marcellina tells Figaro to pay back the loan she gave him else he has to marry her, but it is soon revealed that he is her son. There is misunderstanding after misunderstanding, and a complicated web of lies is woven. Finally, after carefully untangling themselves from the confusion that they brought upon themselves, Susanna and Figaro are married and the Count is shamed, and promises his wife that he will never stray.
As The Marriage of Figaro is steeped in the rich tradition of comedia del arte, there is a lot of slapstick humour, and indeed, the whole opera is very much like Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing (even though the latter came much later). This performance at the Four Seasons Centre, upheld that proud tradition, and I would argue, maintains it as a sophisticated work of art. The set was an opulent masterpiece, and the theatrics of the performance was unparalleled, from set changes to the theatrical rigging system and the use of feathers and lights.
Iain Macneil, tackled the role of the eponymous Figaro, and while he does a perfectly good job, it is Jacqueline Woodley, the Soprano who portrayed Cherubino, who stole the show. She is the perfect fit for the role, encompassing Cherubino’s youth and energy. She channelled a sense of fun into a character who could have easily been turned into a one-dimensional scoundrel, but Woodley ensures that we the audience falls in love with the lovable rouge.
Doug Macnaughton, who plays Antonio, was the perfect mix of dramatic and comedic, and the actor had a great sense for timing, and he had the audience in stitches as the “fool” character. He is more concerned about his geraniums that the fact that a man jumped out of a window, a fact made funnier by Antonio’s belief that a man was thrown through the window! Gordon Bintner, who played Count Almaviva, brought a lot of vigor to the role, and he looked like he enjoyed playing the “villain.” His deep Baritone voice gave the Count the authority and brevity that a man of his stature would need.
The only thing I disliked was the weird subplot with Figaro’s heritage, which has an Opedial undertone. Marcellina, played by Megan Latham, who wanted to marry him, was revealed to be his mother. This is problematic for us modern viewers, but it is a classic trope in that time period. Many plays (Such as Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance) feature kidnapped royalty that is revealed at the end and solves all the problems.
The themes of erotic love/lust were prominent, and was physically manifested in Cupid-like figure named Cherubium (played by Uli Kirsch in his COC debut), who used the characters as if they were puppets. They were subjected to his whims, and one could almost blame him for the events that transpire. He weaves in and out of the story, clueing us in to the relationships and egging the characters on. They all reject him in the end, with the exception of Cherubino, who still has the lusts of his youth. There is a focus on women’s sexuality and desire, as all the women love the beautiful and youthful Cherubino, yet do not scheme to seduce him, unlike the male characters. There are many sensual performances due to the plot of the opera, but none of the performances are sexualized in the traditional sense, and are played up for the humourous point that the opera is trying to make. Relationships between man and women are the center of this opera, with Figaro, in a moment of weakness, singing about how women will always trick men. The women are portrayed as being smarter than the men, using their feminine wiles to trick their male counterparts and get their own way, and the Susanna (portrayed by a lovely and talented Karine Boucher) often comments on the stupidity of the men. The opera reveals the flaws that everyone (regardless of gender) has, and creates an experience to look at the full range of the human experience.
Operas can be hit or miss in contemporary performances, but for fans of musical theatre, this is an elevation of it, a departure from the mass market enjoyment. A night out of the opera left me reflective and amazed, thanks to the fantastic performances and orchestral accompaniment, but also due to the rich tradition of drama that forces us to look at ourselves through the magic of the theatre.
Photo courtesy of Annie Spratt via stocksnap.io
Anyka Davis is a vertically-challenged tea addict, who is fighting the good fight against socks-with-sandals wearers and tall cabinets. Her secret shame is her love for bad puns, but she hopes that one day she’ll actually be funny. You can follow her on Twitter (@MsAnyD) and Instagram (ANKATD) for random pictures of objects.