Returning opera to its traditional roots with The Marriage of Figaro

In a world where the arts are constantly struggling to engage audiences with modern interpretations of classics, UBC Opera Ensemble is showing its roots with a traditional production of The Marriage of Figaro.

The opera classic Le Nozzi di Figaro is a based on Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais’ 1784 play Le Mariage de Figaro and remains as one of the most recognizable comic operas.

“The drama is great, it has all elements within it. It has the comedic element but also just real characters having real problems,” said Geoffrey Schellenberg, who plays Count Almaviva in the production.

Directed by UBC Opera Ensemble founder Nancy Hermiston, the performance follows Susanna, played by Tamar Simon and Stephanie Nakagawa, and Figaro, played by Peter Monaghan and Scott Brooks, as they try to escape the powers set on breaking up their wedding -- particularly the unwanted advances from the Count.

The power dynamics between the Count, Figaro and Susanna are at the forefront of the plot, however the connection between the couple emphasize the importance of strong relationships, playfulness and love over lust.

“It really comes down to a true relationship.... There’s give and take. [Susanna] tries to calm Figaro down … and she takes the consoling figure as well, as at the same time, she might freak out and Figaro is there to console the situation, so it’s a true relationship,” said Monaghan.

While Figaro is the most well-known character, the role of Susanna in the opera is a prominent one. She is a strong female character in the production, often staying steps ahead of the Count in his advances and setting forth the plans that they plotted to oppose the Count.

"The Count feels like he’s on the same playing field, the same game, as Figaro, but he really does not keep up with him. He constantly thinks he understands whats going on, and that everyone will do his bidding, but it doesn’t quite work out that way and he doesn’t really understand why," said Schellenberg.

The characters, beyond the main three, serve to bring in both realistic and comedic elements, particularly Cherubino -- played by Katie Miller and Courtney Bridge -- a young man who is often found by the Count in compromising situations with different women from the castle whom he lusts after.

“All these other characters that bring the subplot in ... really give a huge drastic change from the realism to the comedic,” said Monaghan.

Though the characters and plot are enticing to any audience, the opportunity to see a traditional opera is the most exciting aspect of this production. Many modern performances of The Marriage of Figaro around the world are concept productions, said Simon, however UBC Opera will stay true to the medium's traditional roots, forgoing modernized versions of the production.

“Everybody tries to make a revolutionary thing when it comes to opera to try to bring audience members, but when it comes down to it, some of the best productions that you’ll ever see is really what it was meant to be put on as,” said Monaghan.

Their production utilizes elaborate traditional costumes and sets to emphasize the beauty and grandeur of The Marriage of Figaro. The sets are, according to Schellenberg, 60-70 years old and 25 feet tall. The set takes up a large portion of the stage, but doesn’t crowd the space, transporting the audience to a time in the distant past.

“It’s pretty true to what Mozart would have wanted,” said Simon.

The Marriage of Figaro will be performed from February 5-8 at the Chan Centre. Tickets are available online online or at the Chan Centre ticket office.