It’s hard to get away with infidelity, even if you are a count. The characters of Dunster House Opera’s new production of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” find out just how true this maxim can be. Directed by Stewart N. Kramer ’12 and continuing its run from Feb. 9th to 11th, “Figaro’s” plot features people jumping out of windows, cases of mistaken identity, and revelations of unknown familial relationships. Its hilarious plot, combined with some wonderful performances by the DHO’s singers, makes “Figaro” an extravaganza for both those knowledgeable about opera and those who have yet to experience one.
The plot of “The Marriage of Figaro” may not be as incomprehensible as, say, Verdi’s “Il Trovatore,” but it still borders on the absurd. The opera’s main plot concerns a butler by the name of Figaro (Thomas C. Wilhoit ’13) who attempts to protect his wife Susanna (Liv A. Redpath ’14) from the lecherous advances of his boss, the count (Eric Padilla ’14). They are aided in their efforts by the countess (Allison A. Ray ’14) and, between the three of them, hatch a plot to catch the count “in flagrante.” These plans are almost upended by the meddling of several secondary characters, such as the Count’s youthful, philandering page Cherubino (Elizabeth K. Leimkuhler ’15) and the old maid Marcellina (Amelia H. Ross ’14), who attempts to force Figaro into marrying her as punishment for an unpaid debt.
The DHO’s production of “Figaro” embraces the opera’s pre-existing absurdity and builds its production around it. Perhaps no part of the production exemplifies this better than Leimkuhler’s absolutely stellar performance as Cherubino. Her combination of physical comedy, acting talent, and serious singing chops make her the clear star of the show. Her rendition of Cherubino’s aria in the second act is perhaps one of the opera’s highlight. While others stand and sing, Leimkuhler cavorts on stage, her expressions often revealing more than her lyrics. But her acting does not distract her from what really counts: the singing. Leimkuhler’s free singing style is a perfect fit to the youthful Cherubino, and her rendition of Cherubino’s aria in the second act is one of the production’s highlights.
“The Marriage of Figaro” is well served by all of its actresses. Redpath gives an admirable performance as Susanna, playing the straig-laced and serious woman who watches as complete chaos unfolds around her. Her stage companion, Ray, gives an equally impressive performance as the Countess. There is not a single bad note sung by any of the female leads, and the songs in which they harmonize together are some of the stand-out moments of the opera. Wilhoit settles into the role of Figaro nicely, and his acting ability is matched by his powerful singing. Padilla, as the Count, performs his role with the right amount of sleaze; seeing him slide his hand along Redpath’s arm in the first act is enough to give anyone the creeps. Unfortunately, he lacks Wilhoit’s singing ability, and his perforance suffers for it.
The performers are backed by the DHO’s able orchestra. “Figaro” begins with the orchestra barreling into an energetic rendition of the opera’s famous overture. Such energy is not sustained throughout the opera itself, but the musicians capably support the characters and time their accompaniment. The pit does have some issues with balance. The brass section sometimes intrudes rudely in the middle of arias, and there are a few points where the orchestra overpowers the singers; these are, however, minor quibbles with their performance.
The set is sparse. It consists of only a few doors, a window that features prominently in Act II, and a few props, such as the sofa used by many characters as a hiding place. The costumes give an ambience of shabby elegance, which is a perfect fit for “Figaro.” Despite the main characters’ aristocratic pretentions, none of thesm are particularly chivalrous; and it is this lack of morality that gives “Figaro” most of its humor. They not only hide from each other but also dress up as each other, all in a farcical game of cat and mouse that drives the plot foward. The protagonists are both deceitful and vindictive, but the storyline is so ridiculous that their various antics are more entertaing than cruel.
The new English translation by Kramer and music director Matt Aucoin ’12 represents the largest divergence from the original opera. Translations often fill operagoers with some trepidation: Mozart’s music was designed to be sung in Italian, and it is difficult to fit the same music to a different language. This is evidenced by Wilhoit’s and Kramer’s—who also plays the laywer Bartolo— stumbling over forced syllables in the faster parts of the opera. However, by halfway through the first act, the English begins to feel almost as natural as the Italian.
With “The Marriage of Figaro,” the Dunster House Opera continues its tradition of providing student-led opera that approaches professional quality. The DHO’s consistently strong singing enables the gracefulness of the new translation to shine through to the audience. This group performance, combined with Kramer’s stellar stage direction, make this newest production a total success.