Review: Mozart's Beloved Comic Opera THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO Takes A Gloriously Chaotic Turn At Canadian Opera Company

The COC production runs through February 18

By: Feb. 02, 2023
Review: Mozart's Beloved Comic Opera THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO Takes A Gloriously Chaotic Turn At Canadian Opera Company

The Canadian Opera Company presents this production of THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, originally created by the Salzburg Festival, as part of its 2023 season. Directed here by Claus Guth, some of Mozart's most recognizable operatic works come to life through the COC Orchestra, conducted by Harry Bicket.

The comic opera follows servants Figaro (Luca Pisaroni) and Susanna (Andrea Carroll) on the day ahead of their wedding. Both are employed under Count Almaviva (Gordon Bintner), who's determined to take Susanna for himself. Fortunately for the protagonists, it's easy enough to stay one step ahead of the Count as their plan to expose him gets more and more intricate. They team up with the jilted Countess (Lauren Fagan), as well as the easily swayed page boy Cherubino (Emily Fons) for what is, at times, a laugh-out-loud romp playing with the ideas and restrictions of class.

This production of THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO leans heavily into desire and chaos - wanted and unwanted - which is uniquely visualized through the Cherubim (Eli Kirsch), a silent character adorned in an outfit similar to Cherubino's with the addition of feathery white wings. When plans begin to change, or situations get unruly, Cherubim steps in to puppeteer the characters in the direction they want. Aside from Cherubim's manipulations, power comes into effect throughout the story through Count Almaviva, however his attempts to seduce Susanna always fall flat as she and the majority of the estate's staff seem to be working together. Despite her cleverness, she and other women in the story are still subject to suspicion (albeit sometimes deserved) and assault at the hands of the Count and other male characters. In the end, the team up between Figaro, Susanna, and the Countess exposes the Count's true character in a somewhat forced, cliche ending.

The acting and singing make this THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO remarkable. As the titular character, Pisaroni has a nerdy, goofy charm that ensures the comedic bits of the role land each time, and the bass-baritone's voice adapts to the tone of each performance, from a rough, threatening performance alongside the Count as they send Cherubino off to war to softer, more vulnerable moments late in the story. He's also got fantastic chemistry with the entire cast, most notably Carroll's Susanna. The two are subtle enough in their quieter moments, or when not In Focus, that they make the couple seem authentic in a show where there are lies bouncing off every plot point. Carroll is a dynamic Susanna, flipping between roles and relationships while delivering clear, impressive vocal performances consistently throughout the three-and-a-half hour opera.

Bintner imagines the Count as a frazzled mess of a man for the most part, but in certain moments swaps that demeanor for something more predatory. Watching him attempt to win the game his wife and staff have set is entertaining, and Bintner's warm, natural bass-baritone lends itself beautifully to his vocal performances. As Cherubino, Fons sells the wide-eyed, youthful boy with ease. The character's problems are all self-made here, but it's no less fun to watch Fons navigate the character through his issues time and time again. Fagan's Countess begins morosely, and watching her rise to have some semblance of autonomy over her situation is fulfilling; even if her ending is tragic, the autonomy is still there. She leans into the inherent sadness of the character with a haunting performance of "Dove sono i bei momenti".

Costumes (costume design by Christian Schmidt) evoke an early 20th century tone, which works well with the class-focused story. The set is made up of looming, aged white walls and an impressive staircase - doors open and close at Cherubim's will, and the set reveal in the fourth act is a simple yet stunning reimagination of the Count's estate that quite literally turns it on its head. Mozart's vivid music is brought to life beautifully by the COC orchestra under Bicket's leadership, with the bright colours of the score breathing life into a comedic opera that takes a more serious, dark tone than other adaptations might.

This is a heavier THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, but for what it adds in uncomfortable, tense moments it also knows how to bring a sense of levity as well. There's plenty to unpack in this production, which is just as much a part of the fun as the comedy and music are.

The Canadian Opera Company's THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO runs through February 18 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St W, Toronto.

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Photo credit: Michael Cooper