Figaro!

Figaro!

Dayton Opera presents Mozart’s wedding day comedy of errors

By Eric Street
Photo: Bass-baritone Michael Sumuel takes the lead as Figaro

The sparkling overture to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” hints at the excitement as Dayton Opera prepares for performances on Friday, April 5 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, April 7 at 3 p.m. in the Mead Theater of the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center.

“Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’ has a vision of humanity that we all agree on,” said stage director Gary Briggle. “Mozart understood that in every human there is joy and sorrow, good and bad. There’s something undeniably thoughtful about the way Mozart understood the human spirit and its capacity for wrong-doing, as well as its capacity for forgiveness.

“We throw around words like ‘universal’ and ‘classic,’ the ‘timelessness’ of a Mozart masterpiece, and of course these are all true. But to get to the heart of what these words mean, Mozart really looks at people in their totality and sees the good and the bad. And he understands,” explained Briggle.

“For those of us in the profession, we know that Mozart helped liberate his characters from the two-dimensional stock characters he inherited from the commedia dell’arte and instead writes them as flesh and blood human beings.”

With guidance from Briggle and conductor Neal Gittleman, three artists make Dayton Opera debuts in this production: bass-baritone Michael Sumuel in the title role of Figaro, soprano Zulimar Lopez-Hernandez as Figaro’s soon-to-be bride Susanna and soprano Rebecca Davis as Countess Almaviva, the wife of a Count with a roving eye.

Returning to Dayton Opera, baritone Andrew Garland sings Count Almaviva, bass Thomas Hammons sings Don Bartolo, mezzo-soprano Maria Ventura sings Marcellina and tenor Phillipe Pearce sings Don Basilio. Members of Dayton Opera’s Artist in Residence Program, soprano Caitlin Cisler, mezzo-soprano Amy Helfer, tenor Ian Jose Ramirez and baritone Kenneth Stavert perform the roles of Barbarina, Cherubino, Don Curzio and Antonio. The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra accompanies this production, which also features the Dayton Opera Chorus.

“The cast Tom Bankston has assembled is quite extraordinary, as I’ve always found here. These are young singers in their 30s and trained as ‘singing actors.’ Mozart’s demands of them are frankly Shakespearean, and they are working with all the emotional and physical aspects that make up a character. It’s a dream come true to work on Mozart, both as a singer and as a director,” said Briggle, who has experience as both. “I’m so grateful to Tom Bankston for the opportunity to work on this masterpiece.

“While I haven’t worked with most of the cast before, I’m amazed how quickly they have grown to trust, to take risks,” said Briggle. “There’s a tremendous spirit generated by working on a Mozart opera. I encourage the artists to trust in their own instincts, to trust in their preparation. I think this ownership of the singer-actor of every moment is magical.

“We’re really an acting company – it’s not just the prima donna in the room who matters.  Everyone gets a chance to carry the ball, so to speak. We’re having a marvelous time bringing this to life. It’s thrilling to watch the cast bringing what they know to the performance. We’re not changing Mozart’s conception of the opera – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” he laughed.

“We are excited to welcome back Stage Director Gary Briggle,” said Thomas Bankston, Dayton Opera’s artistic director. “Gary is a master of comedy, having directed our ‘The Barber of Seville,’ ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ and ‘H.M.S. Pinafore,’ in which he also starred as Major General Stanley. He also directed our acclaimed ‘Porgy and Bess’ for our 50th Anniversary Season.”

Creation of the Opera 

Mozart composed “Le nozze di Figaro, ossia la folle giornata” (“The Marriage of Figaro, or The Day of Madness”) in 1786 to a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. Da Ponte based his libretto on “La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro,” a French stage comedy by Pierre Beaumarchais written only two years previously. It was the sequel to Beaumarchais’s earlier “The Barber of Seville,” which had already been turned into an opera by Paisiello and later would be set by Rossini. Although Beaumarchais’s “Marriage of Figaro” was initially banned in Vienna, Da Ponte managed to get official approval for his libretto from Emperor Joseph II by gutting much of the political satire in the original play. Mozart earned 450 florins for the work – three times his annual salary in Salzburg.

“Figaro” premiered in Vienna on May 1, 1786 with Mozart himself conducting, seated at the keyboard for the first two performances. Audience applause on opening night resulted in encores for five numbers. Joseph II was concerned by the length of the performance and directed that while solo numbers could still receive encores, no ensemble pieces could be repeated. Just in case anyone might miss the point, he ordered posters be printed to that effect. They were posted in time for the third performance.

The Dayton Opera presents “The Marriage of Figaro” Friday, April 5 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, April 7 at 3 p.m. in the Mead Theater of the Schuster Center, 2 W. Second St. The opera is sung in Italian with English surtitles above the stage. Tickets from $15 to $92 are at Ticket Center Stage 937.228.3630 or online at daytonperformingarts.org.

Reach DCP freelance writer Eric Street at EricStreet@daytoncitypaper.com

 

 

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