Humor and heartbreak will tango with mischief and mayhem Saturday at Century II Concert Hall. The Wichita Grand Opera is set to stage Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” one of the most famed operatic works. It’s the first time the company will put on the amusing production. A seasoned cast of performers will bring to life colorful characters during the four-act opera.
“It’s one of the most complicated stories to tell,” stage director Stanley M. Garner said. “At any given moment, though, I know exactly what’s going on, and so does the audience. When you are watching it, you are able to follow it so easily and enjoy the comedy. There are things that the characters don’t know, but that audiences do know. The audience is often one step ahead of the people onstage. That always makes for a lot of fun.”
The story of Figaro
The work originally was a play by the same name and is a follow to “The Barber of Seville,” a story about a love-struck Spanish count who enlists the help of ex-servant, Figaro, to reel in the woman he wishes to marry. Both were adapted into opera buffas (comedic operas).
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“Figaro” takes place in a summer palace outside of Seville a few years after its prequel. It centers on a single day of madness. As the opera opens, Figaro and Susanna, Count Almaviva’s servants, are preparing for their wedding later that afternoon. Susanna divulges that the Count has attempted to seduce her, prompting a plot of revenge from Figaro. Matters quickly get out of hand, leading to irrational actions and hilarious reactions. People jump from windows, disguise themselves in costumes and hide in closets as they attempt to unwind the truth. The Count eventually is caught in his own scheme.
Conductor Dean Williamson points out that the production isn’t merely fun. Mozart, he notes, has a way of piercing through layers of comedy to glean intense emotions.
“This has a phenomenal score. It’s like a giant puzzle that fits together perfectly,” he said. “You have to conduct it like theater, not like a symphonic piece. The piece for me is all about the human condition. It’s one of the first operas where you don’t get stock characters. They are real. It’s like a play because you are watching real actors, real people on stage. In that regard, it’s quite multi-faceted.”
The theme of class looms large throughout the production, with the plight of servants pitted against the masters they serve.
“It’s really about the 1 percent and the 99 percent,” Garner said. “There was a lot of resentment toward the upper class at the time, and it plays out here. It’s a theme that still has some relevance today.”
Patrick Carfizzi, who plays Figaro, said he agrees.
“The discussion of class is still something that is very effective in a modern conversation,” he said. “The way Mozart plays with those ideas musically, texturally and dramatically is really incredible.”
Parvan Bakardiev, the opera’s general director, president and chief executive, noted that the third offering of this season’s shows brings with it a cast and crew with impressive credentials. Many are veterans of other “Figaro” productions.
Garner’s operatic directorial debut was for this show more than 20 year ago, and he has been involved in eight different stagings since. He is among the most respected stage directors nationally, with experience with the Los Angeles Opera and Washington National Opera, among others.
Williamson, too, has a solid reputation for his commanding style and experience with this show.
“It’s magical,” he said. “I’ve done this production probably 40 times, and every performance I still have a moment where I either notice something new or I notice something so beautiful that I have to fight back tears. In the stand, it can be overwhelming to have the orchestra and the singers on stage coming at you. It’s so human, so real….that’s the amazing thing about Mozart.”
Margaret Ann Pent, Wichita Grand Opera’s artistic director and executive vice president, created the concept and set designs for this production, which she described as classical. The four sets, one for each act, were made in-house by European scenic artist Stefan Pavlov.
Bass-baritone Carfizzi leads the cast as Figaro, the fourth time he has starred in the role. He’s a veteran of the opera, with 15 seasons and more than 275 performances at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. He calls the role a “life’s work” — one he is seasoned at playing but always working to perfect.
“This opera has been with me throughout my entire career,” he said. “Figaro the role is just a dream to play. As with a lot of Mozart, you get to play such a range of emotion, and he writes it so exquisitely. As a singing actor, how could you not want to do a role like Figaro? He has a lot of depth. He isn’t simply a villain. He isn’t simply a baboon. He is so incredibly human. The dimension is what really draws me to this character.”
Grammy-nominated soprano Ava Pine plays the role of Susanna, Figaro’s fiance. This is her second time in the role.
“Susanna is one of the hallmarks of the soprano cannon,” she said. “It’s one of the longest roles in terms of stage time. There are maybe 10 minutes where she is off the stage in the three hours of the production. She is the smartest character on the stage. She has her eye on everything. She and Figaro are very much a match made in heaven.”
Metropolitan Opera soprano Zvetelina Vassileva stars as Countess Rosina Almaviva alongside Jason Detwiler as Count Almaviva. Kaitlyn Costello plays the page Cherubino, while Erin Mundus and Charles Turley are in the roles of Marcellina and Bartolo. Wichita native Brian Frutiger is the music teacher Basilio.
This show is the first performance with the Wichita Grand Opera for Frutiger, who also is on the roster at the Met. For him, it’s a homecoming of sorts.
“I love my home city. I’ve seen this company grow, and it’s really created a reputation for itself in the business,” he said. “I was recently having coffee at the Met and mentioned that I would be coming here to do this. The people I was talking to knew about the company’s solid reputation for high quality shows and bringing in big stars.”