Thursday, June 4, 2015

Ode to a New Production of Marriage of Figaro

This is perhaps the most beautiful, whimsical, creative, and relevant opera production and staging that I've ever seen.  The set is Japanese and extremely minimal: three gold boxes with large painted flowers the size of walk-in closets on a raised and raked stage, two slightly to the left of center and the other on the right.  The remainder of the set is created with bamboo poles which are moved to different location and form a giant double "X" in the front of the stage during intermission and beforehand.  Inspired by Japanese theater, there is a narrator which tells the story through added text in Japanese, and even speaks the recitatives in Japanese as the singers are manipulated like large puppets with their arms resting on short bamboo poles and operated by "puppeteers" from behind.  The stage is treated like a sacred ground, with the boxes serving as entrance and exit portals, and the long bamboo poles moving freely throughout to change the dynamic of the visual effects.  Throughout the production, people become puppets, living sculptures, and a physical representation of a metaphoric boundary through which other characters can pass.

The use of language also shapes the interpretation.  The story is told to us in Japanese by the narrator and all the servants speak and sing in Japanese to one another.  But the Count, Countess, and Cherubino, all foreigners, sing in Italian, as do the servants when they are in their presence.  Marcellina (lowly but with money) sings in Italian but is Japanese and sings in Japanese when she discovers the servant Figaro, whom she had wanted to marry, is actually her son (oops).   It sets up an added layer of class and race commentary, which is perhaps a more relevant interpretation for today's audiences to understand the abuse of power that the Count exercises in his sexual prowess.

And this is also given a lot of extra attention in the opera.  Staging suggests some very sad and horrific actions on his part, which although perhaps were suggested in Mozart's vague libretto, are not necessarily staged in such a way.  In a devastating and heartbreaking aria that one of the servant girls sings about losing a pin (though the object is never mentioned in the aria), it becomes clear she is singing about her loss of something far greater.

And these were only the times that I was able to turn around.  It is a visual feast and a beautiful journey.  A work that is over 200 years old is as relevant, if not more so, than it was when it was written, and done in an incredibly creative way.  It's amazing the extent to which the production is true to the original work and the extent to which it is able to deviate.  It is a feat in meaningful artistic interpretation and a true honor to be able to be a part of it.

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