If the dress fits, wear it!
Against the Grain’s modern adaptation of The Marriage of Figaro, namely Figaro’s Wedding accomplishes almost everything it set out to do:
- tell the familiar story in a new way
- give us all that amazing music with a great cast of singing-actors, in delicious proximity
- keep everything that’s good in the original
- …all while shining some new light on the story
Joel Ivany and Topher Mokrzewski have bragging rights in Toronto for the moment. The regular opera season may have ended, but right now their show is the one to see. Hurry and get your tickets while you still can (i bought tickets to closing night during intermission… Friday’s sold out).
The edgiest change about their Figaro (“altared” as in taken to the altar, as well as some alterations as well) is something decidedly Toronto, and arguably part of the opera’s subtext anyway. Cherubino is usually a trouser role, or in other words a young man played by a woman. We usually watch a woman pretend to make love to another woman, as we work through all the possibilities:
- that maybe Cherubino is not a mezzo-soprano (a woman) but the young boy he’s signifying in the story
- but maybe the women he’s pursuing don’t mind the pursuit, and even maybe like it a bit…
And so Cherubino is a gay woman living with the family of Alberto & Rosina (usually the Count & Countess Almaviva), a woman playing a woman. This brings the subtexts right to the surface.
The most spectacular thing about Figaro’s Wedding is –HELLO! — the wedding. Wow, what an amazing conceit, even if we knew it was coming from the publicity, showing us so many aspects of the story. Given chick flicks such as My Best Friend’s Wedding or anti-wedding movies such as Bridesmaids and the Hangover trilogy, our popular culture is now saturated with this subject, a topic close to the hearts & minds of most of us. It’s a natural especially considering that Against the Grain are of that age, possibly about to have a few weddings of their own in the next few years.
The last act reminded me a bit of the last part of Nutcracker, as if we were watching an opera within an opera, the performances like the entertainment at the big event. And all this happens inches away from your face, the cast regularly dipping into the audience as if to greet their family members (indeed, i may be related to someone in the show… she was very warm when she grabbed me…it was nice!).
Mokrzewski & Ivany perform something almost impossible: that is, we’re listening to witty English text delivered at breakneck speed without surtitles. Ivany’s translation is stunning. I won’t spoil any of the jokes by repeating them. But Mokrzewski stays out of the way with his piano plus the discreet players of the Barns Chamber Ensemble, so that we can hear everything.
There are really two different spaces; acts I & III being in one space, while II & IV are in the other. Where the I & III space is very tight & resonant, with the players mostly right beside their conductor, we’re hearing something more strung out in the second & fourth acts, making co-ordination miraculous (for instance in the accelerating exhilarating wildness at the end of II).
There are casualties. Barbarina’s gone, La vendetta (Bartolo’s aria in I) is gone, but so what,….No harm done. The class struggle that’s so central to Beaumarchais’ source plays, originating in the cultural foment that would lead to the French Revolution, is harder to portray when you’ve modernized the opera. Even so they manage quite well.
And i have to say, the performances are scintillating.
As a guy who knows the men’s parts better than the women’s perhaps i am biased. I was fascinated by Stephen Hegedus’s Figaro and Alex Dobson’s Alberto (usually known as The Count). It’s very hard to be heard when you’re singing lower, especially the way Hegedus does, easily touching every note bang on pitch. For me the magic of Dobson’s portrayal is that he manages to be likeable in a role that’s least likeable.
I couldn’t take my eyes off him and Lisa DiMaria’s Rosina in the final reconciliation. DiMaria had me wondering –in this updated version– whether Rosina really will forgive her man or not. Their eye contact at the end is stunningly real, and a bit scary. Miriam Khalil as Susanna is a proper comic partner for Figaro; while her singing is delightful, she always makes us feel that there will be a happy ending to this chick flick / opera.
And as I mentioned, we’re watching something very original in the portrayal of Cherubino, invented brilliantly by Teiya Kasahara. In this production there’s a special edge to the usual questions we ask, pondering whether Rosina reciprocates Cherubino’s advances, and to Alberto’s jealousy. That’s all because of the solidity of Kasahara, DiMaria & Dobson.
Figaro’s Wedding plays at The Burroughes, (6th Floor) 639 Queen Street W. until this weekend. Click for further info.