BWW Review: FIGARO'S WEDDING is rapturously charming opera for a modern audience
FIGARO'S WEDDING, first staged by Against the Grain in 2013, is a perfect example of how a good story and timeless music can transcend hundreds of years and switch languages, and still be rapturously funny. Featuring an English libretto by director Joel Ivany, the production still utilizes Mozart's original score from "Le Nozze Di Figaro" to great effect via a thematically-appropriate quartet of strings and piano (music direction by Rachael Kerr).
The busy plot is simplified a bit to make for a more concise story. Figaro (Bruno Roy) and Susanna (Alexandra Smither) are about to be married, but Susanna worries that the best man, Figaro's boss Alberto (Phillip Addis), is interested in her. The maid of honour and Alberto's wife Rosina (Miriam Khalil) is concerned about her husband's faithfulness, however she's also caught up as the subject of Cherubino's (Lauren Eberwein) affections. Throw in a team of hired help (Gregory Finney, Maria Soulis, and Jacques Arsenault, who are wonderful individually and as a unit) and plenty of miscommunication, disguises, and dramatic bait-and-switches, and FIGARO'S WEDDING feels at least a fraction as dramatic as any run-of-the-mill wedding can be.
Performances are exceptional across the ensemble - each actor leans into the character aspect of their role with ease, which when doubled with the demanding vocals, makes the acted portion that much more impressive. It might be called FIGARO'S WEDDING, but the main event, and emotional centre of the story, is Susanna - played with perfect comedic timing and heartwarming sincerity by Smither. As her other half, Roy is an endlessly charming goofball, and the pair work together seemingly effortlessly, regardless of whether their character's are on the same page or not.
Khalil pulls a heavier, more emotional storyline to completion wonderfully; even when she makes choices that are a bit unethical, it's impossible not to root for her. As the source of Rosina's trials, Addis is an impeccable antagonist; he nails the entitled, smarmy attitude right down to the agape mouth, and flips between jealous rages and pitiful begging on more than one occasion - but always does so believably. Eberwein is a pure agent of chaos in the role of Cherubino, with the ability to rile up the audience and then break hearts with a gorgeous (English) rendition of "Voi che sapete." The casting of a female actor in a traditionally male role is especially noteworthy; there aren't any major changes to the plot, she is still in love with Rosina just as a male actor would be, but that little bit of representation is an important step in the right direction.
Ivany hasn't just modernized the story, either - the specific references to Toronto and inputting of small asides between characters makes the whole production seem that much more real. I doubt there are many operas in the world that make a York University joke, but this one does. The choice to stage the production in an 1800s schoolhouse makes for more intimate storytelling, and set design (Anna Treusch, who nails costume design simply yet beautifully) transforms the old building into an Instagram-worthy wedding venue. One slight issue was in volume levels - while everyone sounded amazing, there were periods where the orchestra would drown out words, both spoken and sung.
Because of its passionate cast and engaging modernization, Against the Grain's production is a clear example of how to make opera more accessible for modern audiences. Traditional opera, in its traditional languages, will always be beautiful and important art - but without adaptation, it can be difficult to bring in new audiences. FIGARO'S WEDDING might be a wedding where everything that can go wrong, does go wrong - but it also shows everything that's right with modernizing classic stories.
Against the Grain's FIGARO'S WEDDING runs through December 20 at the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse, 106 Trinity St., Toronto, ON.
For more information or to purchase tickets visit https://atgtheatre.com/figaros-wedding/
Photo credit: Taylor Long