On November 4, 2017, I entered the Benedum Center to experience Mozart’s comic opera, The Marriage of Figaro. It was opening night, and I arrived at the theater an hour before the opera began to take advantage of their free Pre-Opera Talk. I like the background information given in these presentations. The story in this work is timeless and the music beautiful, but unless you understand the people Mozart was initially composing for and the culture in which he lived, much of this work could be misunderstood.
The story is a complex one. Count Almaviva wants to have his way with Susanna, who is about to marry Figaro. Figaro is Count Almaviva’s valet. There was a custom that the Count recently abolished that gave noblemen the right to have their way with their servant’s wife on their wedding night. The Count now seems to regret rescinding this right. The Count is upset. Susanna is upset. The Countess is upset. Figaro has signed a contract to marry Marcellina. Figaro is upset. Marcellina discovers she can’t marry Figaro. Marcellina is surprised. Dr. Bartolo is surprised. All of the above and more, so much more. If you thought zany comedies were created by our TV and movie industries, you have to see The Marriage of Figaro.
It’s a smartly written tale about how the humble servant Figaro and his friends try to outsmart the handsome and powerful Count Almaviva in such a way that all can live happily ever after. You might be put off a bit because it’s in Italian. But somehow with the text above the stage, the mode of the music, and the artistic lighting, I’m sure you’ll understand every word and feeling. It’s been over 200 years since this work had its premier, and yet it almost feels like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is standing in the wings.
Almost as amazing as the opera is the talent brought together to make this production a reality. As I watched, I felt like everyone on stage had been singing and performing together for years. However, after reading their biographies, you realize that these extremely talented individuals have traveled many different paths to find themselves in Pittsburgh for our enjoyment.
The audience was made up of opera lovers of all ages from teens to retirees. There is no dress code for going to an opera. A small percentage of those in attendance wore jeans and another small group were in formal attire. The Benedum is a gorgeous and an extremely comfortable venue for enjoying any kind of performance.
Every time an opera singer takes a part in a production as famous and popular as The Marriage of Figaro, they are compared to the many talented performers who have sang that same part in days gone by. Let the experts compare. All I want to do is to say thanks to all the talented folks that gave me an evening I won’t soon forget.
A special thanks to Tyler Simpson, who played Figaro, Joelle Harvey, who sang the part of Susanna, and Christian Bowers who brought to life Count Almaviva. All three were making their Pittsburgh Opera Debut. And a special thanks goes to Pittsburgher Danielle Pastin, who sang the roll of Countess Almaviva.
I have always enjoyed opera music, but I sort of kept it to myself. I started to believe being an opera fan must be a cool thing when I learned that the great race car driver, Mario Andretti was an opera fan. Now, I don’t need someone else to validate my appreciation of the art form; I simply enjoy it. And I’m sure you would too.
By: Tom Pollard
*Photos provided by David Bachman Photography