True to the Dunster House Opera Society’s credo that opera can and should be accessible to the general public, the libretto is adapted into English and the action is transported into 1930s America.
The creative team, led by producer James R. Salzmann ’02, director Sarah E. Meyers ’02 and music director Michael A. Schuler ’03, presents a vigorous but faithful retelling of the tale of Count Almaviva, his valet, Figaro, and the beautiful women and mischievous boys that people their aristocratic world.
In this adaptation of the opera, Meyers, Salzmann and Schuler have emphasized the story’s universality in an attempt to involve the audience more fully in the characters’ plights. Understanding the content of the libretto, including the banter between characters, also adds to the music an emotional component that may not be possible when the opera isn’t in English.
However, an emphasis on accessibility, does not require a compromise on quality. The production has an abundantly talented cast and orchestra, who manage to take those features inherent to the opera—particularly its comic appeal—and make them shine more brightly than they usually do.
With the libretto in English, more attention shifts to the acting, but the cast is up to the challenge. They offer cleverly nuanced performances that energize the characters’ dialogue.
The two male leads, Scott P. Asher ’02 and Thomas P. Lowe ’05, who play Governor Almaviva and Figaro, respectively, both carry their scenes ably, communicating the opera’s inherent comic appeal. Lowe’s wickedly clever yet playful Figaro is particularly memorable. He brings roars of laughter from the crowd, and his mischievous glances charm the audience to no end.
Both female leads, Karoun A. Demijian ’03 as Susanna and Georgia E. Walle ’04 as the Governor’s wife, Rosina, also offer appropriately appealing performances.
This Figaro, though, is a team effort, and the supporting cast merits recognition, including the precious portrayal of Marcellina, Figaro’s middle-aged pursuer-turned-long-lost-mother, by Emily Ludmir ’03.
The star of a Mozart opera, though, is always its score, and the orchestra, directed by Schuler, performs the original score with polish. The solid orchestration grounds the adapted opera with a familiar sound that provides the necessary foundation for liberties with the libretto.
The setting of Dunster House’s dining hall is also utilized to its fullest, as its elegant windows and high-ceilings are the perfect backdrop for the Governor’s opulent mansion. In one particularly playful use of the set in Act II, Cherubino, played by Kathleen A. Stetson ’02, tries to escape imminent capture in the Rosina’s boudoir. Stetson pops open the dining hall window and climbs into the adjacent courtyard to the delighted gasps of the audience.
But despite the merits and strengths of the performance, it is impossible not to miss the richness of the Italian Libretto. The production does offer a small taste of the original language in the duet in Act III between Susanna and Rosina, in which Rosina, in a wonderfully ironic twist, suggests writing a note to the Governor in Italian. The ensuing duet between the two superbly talented singers recalls the historical and emotional associations the original libretto is able to conjure. These qualities are what Salzmann defines in his Note on the Translation as ties “to a world of aristocratic titles, hard-ridden horses, and first night privileges.”
In the end, however, maintaining these ties to a long-past world is not the intent of the production. Instead, seeing the links to the immediate world of the audience is the intent and supreme achievement of this innovative, heartfelt and moving production.
The Marriage of Figaro
Dunster House Opera
Written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Produced by James R. Salzman ’02
Stage Directed by Sarah E. Meyers ’02
Music Directed by Michael A. Schuler ’03