Many aspects of The Marriage of Figaro could easily be adapted to fit the 21st century, but UBC Opera Ensemble's cast took more than three hours to demonstrate why they shouldn't be. If daring takes on major works of art appear to refresh the sterner operas, the Mozart opera certainly doesn't need more than a solid interpretation to appeal to the viewer.
The solidity of the cast and musicians of the ensemble is what audiences will remember of the opening performance of the newest UBC Opera production.
It started with Director Nancy Hermiston dedicating the opera to Irving Guttman, who passed away in early December. The founding father of the Vancouver Opera was a benefactor to UBC School of Music. Hermiston celebrated the new generation of singers who will perpetuate Guttman's passion and dedication to opera and awarded the Guttman-Dales scholarship to Laura Widget, the Countess in the night's cast, and Tamar Simon, who played Susanna. A new collaborative agreement between the school of music and the Vancouver Opera was also announced.
“It is not always that we have such a close relationship between the professional and the academic side of opera,” said Hermiston.
Then dark came, and with it the first notes of the opera. On the scene, a traditional set ornamented with light baroque paintings hinted that the cast was not to break any standards of opera. It sought to make the audience feel at ease, as if it were already part of the house of servants and masters that were to storm in. “Cinque ... Dieci ... Venti ...,” Figaro's voice resonated, and all distance was abolished.
The power of Mozart's opera, despite its beauty, relies in its ability to engage its audience in a circle of characters who, despite their antagonisms, always feel like a big family, and UBC's opera cast managed to pull it of with panache. The round and full voices of the talented cast had the audience convinced that despite the Count's claim on Susanna, Figaro's soon-to-be wife, all would be alright in the end.
In the game of simplicity and affection-winning, Guttman-Dales scholarship recipient and lead singer Tamar Simon managed better than anyone else. Her round soprano voice enchanted the audience as her character, Susanna, tried to escape the Count and helped the Countess play her unfaithful husband.
In addition, the comic role of Cherubino was not overplayed as it is occasionally, and overall, the cast kept a sobriety that makes the humour of the play that much more appreciated.
Unsurprisingly, the technical heights of the score didn't seem to prove a problem for the cast. Though some notes of the male cast lacked depth at times, the quality of the singing was more than enough to content the audience. The famous arias, Cherubino's “Voi Che Sapete” and the duet “Sull'aria” were duly applauded as they echoed in the memories of the audience.
A good part of the audience laughed hard at the plot twists making it seem like they knew the opera by heart, once again proving that it does not take a jury of 70 year old Mozart experts to enjoy a balanced staging of The Marriage of Figaro. Of course, it lacks the frenzy of modern cinema but it still engages the viewer in a way that sometimes makes us forget that the artists are singing all the while.
The story lives, the melody remains, and there is little reason for changing what has worked for more than 200 years. All it takes is a solid cast and talented musicians.