University of Tennessee Opera Theatre: Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro)
Stage director: James Marvel
Conductor: Kevin Class
Friday, Saturday, Sunday—November 10, 11, 12
Bijou Theater, 803 S. Gay Street
Oh, to have been a fly on the wall in the Vienna of 1785 when the talents of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and poet/librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte were pulled together by fate. Amid the jealousies, alliances, connivances, and intrigues of the court and Vienna’s Burgtheater, the two decided to collaborate on an opera—Le Nozze di Figaro—based on the second play of a trilogy by the French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais, Le Mariage de Figaro.
Both Mozart and Da Ponte had experienced difficulty and unpleasantness with previous collaborators—Da Ponte with composer Antonio Salieri and Mozart with librettist Giambattista Varesco on Idomeneo. Mozart, having heard that Salieri wanted nothing more to do with Da Ponte after the abysmal 1784 failure of Il ricco d’un giorno, suggested an adaptation of the Beaumarchais as an Italian opera. Such a proposal came with a high risk factor; Emperor Joseph II had banned the play due to its satire and parody of the nobility.
To avoid a premature refusal by Joseph II and opposition from enemies at court, Mozart and Da Ponte agreed to work on the opera in secret. Da Ponte knew that the characters would have to be simplified and certain political elements of the play would have to be removed along with many of the plot’s side stories and distractions, leaving the general premise of social criticism intact.
By December of 1785, Le Nozze di Figaro was completed and the pair looked for the proper time to propose it to the Emperor. Da Ponte took it upon himself to approach the Emperor personally, bypassing the court theatre director, Count Orsini-Rosenberg, hoping to avoid that obstacle. Da Ponte later wrote that he said of Mozart’s score: “The music, I may add, as far as I may be a judge of it, seems to me to be marvelously beautiful.”
The emperor listened to Da Ponte’s description of his alterations to the plot, then sent for Mozart to play through the music. Delighted with what he heard, he approved a production. Le Nozze de Figaro opened at Vienna’s Burgtheater on May 1, 1786.
The plot, of course, is a continuation of The Barber of Seville a number of years later. Rosina has married Count Almaviva and become the Countess. Unfortunately, Count Almaviva is no longer the romantic hero figure that is so admired in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville; he has become a womanizer and aristocratic bully. Dr. Bartolo, still angry about being tricked out of marrying Rosina himself, is scheming revenge against Figaro for his machinations. The Count has employed Figaro as his chief servant, but is pursuing his droit du seigneur — the ultimate debasement of the serving class—the right of nobility to sleep with a servant girl on her wedding night. In this case, the servant girl is Figaro’s bride-to-be, Susanna, who is the Countess’s maid. Figaro, Susanna, and the Countess conspire to thwart the Count and his attempts at philandering. To get back at Figaro, the Count attempts to compel Figaro to marry a woman old enough to be his mother. But, as it turns out, the woman really is his mother. Eventually, the Count is convinced—by clever manipulations—that he really is in love with his wife.
In the UT Opera Theatre production of Le Nozze di Figaro, casting is once again split into two casts among the four performances this weekend. Due to a singer withdrawing earlier for health reasons, the role of Figaro in one of the casts will be sung by UT alum Peter Johnson. Johnson is well-known to Knoxville opera-goers, having most recently sung with Marble City Opera in a production of Menotti’s The Telephone.
UTOT Evening Performances Cast
FIGARO: Griffen Tracy
COUNT: Brad Summers
COUNTESS: Elena Stabile
SUZANNA: Kayla Beard
CHERUBINO: Leslie Ostransky
BASILIO: Darius Thomas
MARCELLINA: Madeline Hamrick
BARTOLO: Tyler Padgett
BARBARINA 1: Kate Shepas
BARBARINA 2: Hannah Friend
UTOT Matinee Performances Cast
FIGARO: Peter Johnson
COUNT: James Wilson
COUNTESS: Emily Simmons
SUZANNA: Beth Stovall
CHERUBINO: Brynn Johnson
BASILIO: Josh Allen
MARCELLINA: Tori Franklin
BARTOLO: Ian Bolden
BARBARINA 1: Anna Young
BARBARINA 2: Emily Johnson
Stage director James Marvel has indicated that projections will play a major role, not just in this production, but in the future for UTOT.
“In a never ending effort to work within a brutally small budget,” Marvel explains. “I determined that owning fabric that we can project upon and re-use in the future is more cost effective than building hard scenery due to materials and labor involved with constructing a set. It’s safe to say that I will be doubling down on using more projections in the future and have submitted a grant to help the program to afford to own a projector that we can use for years to come.”
Making his debut with UTOT is set designer Eric Allgeier who has worked previously with Marvel on productions at Boston University, Opera East Texas, and San Francisco Opera’s Merola Program. Also making a UTOT debut is video designer Brittany Merenda.
“The guiding principal behind the projections and costumes was “Op Art,” explains Marvel. “So, why op art? The poster gives a “James Bond” feeling. You may notice that we used the legs to give a subliminal nod to the Masonic symbol….as Mozart was a Mason. Like Bond, Figaro is a fixer. He is endlessly inventive in circumventing the libidinous and lascivious efforts of the Count. While we are still staging the piece as a comedy, the world the singers inhabit is greyscale – black and white….with some pops of red for emphasis. The characters are inhabiting a world that is morally nebulous and disorienting. Their journeys are an endless labyrinth of machinations. The Op Art is meant to give emphasis to the lack of clear perspective and bewilderment that they endure.”