Review: Manitoba Opera’s The Marriage of Figaro

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Manitoba Opera presented The Marriage of Figaro on November 21, 24, and 27. Image courtesy the WFP.

I went to the opera for the first time ever last week! Please enjoy my review that I also wrote as  a part of my journalism class.

As the self-proclaimed queen of musical theatre that I am, having travelled hundreds of miles by bus to see my favourite shows in New York, it feels shameful to admit that I had never been to the opera before. After I heard that one of Manitoba Opera’s productions this season would be The Marriage of Figaro, the overture of which I played in high school band, I decided that this would be the year. On Friday, November 27, the day of the final performance, I walked into the Centennial Concert Hall and prepared myself for a new experience.

The company, led by Gordon Bintner as Figaro and Andriana Chuchman as Susanna, his fiancée, were outstanding in Mozart’s opera. I quickly learned that one of the differences between musicals and operas is that the actors in opera do not wear microphones, which makes the feat of projecting their voices all the more impressive. Though they belted with all their might, there was the occasional time where the sound from the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra won out, most notably during the times when the bass singers hit the low notes.

The Marriage of Figaro was first performed in 1786 and is commonly performed, last by Manitoba Opera in 2006. Although the comedy and music of the show remains timeless, it was difficult to suspend my disbelief for three and a half hours when the plot revolves around fear of non-consensual sex. The show begins with Figaro and Susanna planning out their bedroom for once they get married. Susanna tells Figaro that she’s afraid their room is too close to Count Almaviva’s, who is attracted to, and that one night, when Figaro is working, the Count will enter the room and have his way with her. Figaro brushes this off and tells his future wife that she’s being silly. Perhaps the show is simply dated, but I think it’s time for an update.

The set featured revolving frosted glass mirrors, one on each corner of the stage. Throughout the four acts, these mirrors served as cornerstones of the production as each actor entered and exited through them. A few other simple set pieces, like dressers and shrubbery, completed the simple scenery.

Those who are wary of opera, fear not: there are English subtitles projected on a screen above the stage. They are, however, only projected at certain times, which left me lost. Why is Figaro throwing lemons offstage? I wish I had subtitles to explain that to me.

Though it was The Marriage of Figaro, I left singing the song of Susanna. Chuchman, who has performed with the Metropolitan Opera, was the final performer to take her place during curtain call, and she earned it. The soprano’s arias rung perfectly throughout the hall and she carried the show on her back throughout four acts. To paraphrase the late Howard Ashman, we always cheer for the heroine to get what she desires.

Although the story is dated, the brilliant all-Canadian cast believed in the characters and refused to compromise acting for belting the Italian libretto. Even from my second balcony seat, I was easily able to see facial expressions and actions.

Manitoba Opera is presenting Of Mice and Men, based on Steinbeck’s classic novella, on April 23, 26, and 27, 2016.

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