“Le Nozze di Figaro” (The Marriage of Figaro) is one of the greatest operas ever. Mozart’s musical masterpiece is enchanting, comedic and complex, and Ohio University Opera Theater is striving to do it justice with their production that opens this weekend.
That’s a tall order, but also one that, thanks to a talented cast and crew, just might be possible.
The opera is a commentary on economic and social constraints shrouded in comedy, according to Kaitrin McCoy, a music composition student who plays the role of Bartolo’s housekeeper, Marcellina. While the audience laughs along with the ridiculous love schemes carried out by Susanna and the countess, they are also watching the lower classes try to out-wit the higher.
“It’s about the silliness of people when they let their pride or their desires rule them,” McCoy said. “It’s a comedic opera, so some of the lower class characters poke fun at the nobility. It’s not a big deal to Americans in the 21st century, but at the time I’m sure the humor was a bit more scandalous.”
And she’s right — class struggles were a touchy subject in 1876, the year of the show’s premiere in Vienna, Austria. The Marriage of Figaro was banned by the aristocracy in France and even made the Austrian nobility nervous. But that didn’t stop the opera from soaring in popularity and remaining so even today.
“It’s been done so many times by the best opera companies in the world, so sometimes when I would have a bad day with rehearsals, I’d feel almost hopeless,” McCoy said. “A lot of performers feel the pressure to be the best, or original, or at least bring one new aspect to the table.”
However, for the cast and crew of the production, the task of taking on The Marriage of Figaro seems more manageable the closer opening night approaches.
“Now that we’re about to do the opera ‘for real,’ I think it feels less daunting, but no less exciting. We know the notes, we know the words, we know the story. Now we get to do them and have fun with it,” McCoy said.
The reputation of the opera is not the only challenge the theatre class faces but the play is also entirely in Italian.
“The hardest part has been doing a show in a language I don’t actually understand,” McCoy said. “First there’s the issue of pronunciation, then you have to memorize lines of text and translate them in your head. Plus it’s extremely difficult to act and react onstage in new or fresh ways when you have to be thinking about the English translation of what everyone is singing or doing. It’s not easy, unless you’re fluent in Italian.”
Although the dialog may be difficult to understand, McCoy still believes that the message the production sends will reach its audience.
“This opera makes fun of the old and wealthy, so in that way it’s incredibly modern even though it’s a standard opera that’s almost as old as this country,” she said. “Opera is like any form of theater: it tells stories about people doing incredible things or enduring terrible fates. It’s dramatic and larger than life, but it’s meant to entertain and make audiences think.”
“Le Nozze di Figaro” is showing Nov. 22 and 23 at 7:30 in the Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium.