The Marriage of Figaro – Is Opera a dying art?

I am digressing from my normal posts of design and making things, due to inspirational event  activities.  Last night I attended a live stream of the Royal Opera House’s performance of The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart.  My eldest daughter is studying Voice as a Junior member of the Royal College of Music, so it seemed a very nice idea to be able to pop to the local cinema with her rather than heading to London for the evening in the middle of term time for the screening.

Mozart is a good introduction to Opera generally for a young person , and this opera is comic and with very well known and memorable refrains, so I though she would enjoy the piece.  In fact, it is sort of like the Jeremy Kyle show on speed in terms of content!  Twisting plots, confusing cross love affairs and more, and all executed beautifully in this David McVicar production.  It has been said that Opera is elitist, expensive and a dying art form, but this recently started live streaming format is proving incredibly popular worldwide and making it accessible to everyone.  Opera is just an earlier form of the Musical, and I don’t think it should be relegated to the elitist bin as such.

The set design and lighting are what really stood out for me visually in this production.  A lot of operas and theatre directors tend to reimagine the action into current day, usually some sort of civil war is popular.   I recently saw the RSC’s Othello at Stratford where the main uniform seemed to be combat gear and riot police clothing.  I was a bit disappointed honestly, as I wanted to see the pomp and splendour of Venice in which the play was originally set, not what looked like an Afghan outpost.  That said, it was an amazing production with spectacular acting, but I don’t think it necessary to always try and modernise theatre and opera to make it ‘new’.  If the plot is solid, it will sustain.

The Marriage of Figaro I watched was set in the past, in a cross between French Romanticism, Victorianism and a little bit of Baroque.   The stage design was very simple, with huge tall rooms of faded grandeur, that cleverly slid and flew into different set ups so that transitions became fascinating rather than distracting.  The predominant colours were buff, others and dreams and it all conspired to create a very elegant visual composition.  The furniture was large scale, minimal in amount and slightly shabby, furthering the impression of a faded Palazzo.  I was also furtively coveting the aged paint effects in the wall panelling and wondering how to replicate them at times…you just cannot take the decorater out of the girl….

The lighting design furthered this impression of faded grandeur, with the most realistic use of dappled daylight lighting.  There is a scene when Cherubino jumps out a window, and I could have sworn it was a real sunny day beyond the frame the way the scene was lit.  The night scene in the wood was very effective, with tree shadows simply cast across the stage.

The singers were all, of course, top notch performers.  Figaro was performed by Erwin Schrott with perfect execution, and Suzanna’s part was take that night by Sophie Bevan who did a masterly job in captivating the audience.  The character of Cherubino, the young page, was the most memorable for me.  The singer Kate Lindey managed to come across as a hormonal teenage maniac, literally itching in her pants to jump any available female.  Her comic timing was hilarious, but she also avoided pastiche and sang the pathos notes in Non Si Piu so beautifully that the hairs stood up on my neck.  The ensemble opera company played all of their roles to perfection, bustling around as servants, changing the sets,  eavesdropping on their Master and developing strong characters of their own whilst not in leading roles.

We left the cinema elated, and humming Mozart refrains, (in my case appallingly out of tune which my daughter kindly tolerated).  I so hope that these productions do not die a death whilst young people move into pure poptastic realms.  We were the only people in the cinema under 60, and the only ones who applauded, laughed, gasped and more.  These live streams could be so good at introducing younger people to Opera if they keep going, in fact I think they should be made compulsory as part of the curriculum.  Any 14 year old boy would identify with Cherubino as a starter….in a sort of Kevin and Perry/Beavis and Butthead way.

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