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POV's The Marriage of Figaro: ‘Mozart at the peak of his powers’

The marriage of Figaro returns to the Royal Theatre in Victoria this week.
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Megan Latham, Peter McGillivray, Suzanne Rigden and Donovan Singletary in Pacific Opera Victoria’s production of The Marriage of Figaro. DAVID COOPER PHOTOGRAPHY

THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO

Where: Royal Theatre, 805 Broughton St.
When: April 3, 5, and 9, 7:30 p.m., and April 7 at 2:30 pm.
Tickets: $30-$179 from the Royal McPherson box office (250-386-6121) or rmts.bc.ca

The lead up to Pacific Opera Victoria’s “big and complicated” new production was made more difficult by curveballs not even careful planning could have avoided.

Three singers in The Marriage of Figaro got hit with colds during rehearsals, according to founding artistic director Timothy Vernon, and the lighting designer, who was brought in from Quebec, was eventually replaced by a designer from Vancouver, due to extended flu-like symptoms.

“That sends a shiver through everybody, because you don’t want that starting in the crowd,” Vernon said. “We had to move rehearsals around so [the new designer] could have more time. I won’t say at any point we were panic-stricken about these things, but it’s very stressful when your ensemble is disrupted.”

Vernon, who is conducting all four performances of Pacific Opera’s 2023-24 season finale, has the cast readied nonetheless. The celebrated opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is being staged locally for the first time in a decade, and opens tonight at the Royal Theatre amid much fanfare. Vernon said the scale of the production is considerable and befitting of an opera many consider to be one of the best in history, with a “massive set” unlike few others by the company in recent memory.

The Marriage of Figaro, when you’re talking standard repertoire, it is the model of comic opera. It’s a kind of perfection. It’s Mozart at the peak of his inspiration and powers.”

Sung in Italian with English surtitles, The Marriage of Figaro runs for nearly three hours and is built around five characters of equal measure: Count Almaviva (Tyler Duncan), an arrogant noble who preys upon subordinate women; Figaro (Donovan Singletary), an enterprising servant to the count; Susanna (Suzanne Rigden), a servant who rebuffs the advances of the count and hatches a plan for revenge; Countess Almaviva (Sydney Baedke), who takes part in the plan; and Cherubino (Cécile Muhire), the count’s page who is in love with the countess.

It’s an examination of class and social order, and the price one pays to achieve upward mobility. But at its heart, according to Vernon, The Marriage of Figaro is about love. And few are better than Mozart at composing music to an opera with love as a central conceit. The opera is “unquestionably a masterpiece,” Vernon said. “There is nothing else to be said. You can’t imagine changing anything. It’s perfect.”

One of three operas to feature libretti written by Lorenzo Da Ponte and music by Mozart — the other two being Don Giovanni and Così fan tutteThe Marriage of Figaro is built upon some of the best music of Mozart’s operatic career. “The pieces are individually rewarding, and charming, and sometimes funny, and sometimes touching” Vernon said.

”It is a comedy after all, so we’re not talking death and dying and doom and gloom, but at the same time, there’s real drama in it.”

The Marriage of Figaro endures because of its immense popularity, and the music has been used in movies ranging from The Shawshank Redemption to Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. But not every opera with mass appeal has critical appreciation to match. Iconic pieces often cannot live in both worlds for extended periods, but The Marriage of Figaro has managed that feat — and for one very good reason, according to Vernon. “It’s Mozart — he has melodies coming out of his ears. It’s like dandelions on the lawn. There’s just so many.”

That is not to say The Marriage of Figaro is breezy, or even easy at times. Mozart is synonymous with quality, and for the singers and players in the Pacific Opera production, that means the effort and expertise must reflect the source material. “You have to have a polished technique to deliver it, because any discrepancy is immediately apparent,” Vernon said.

“That’s what makes it so hard. That’s what makes it a real challenge to deliver with the clarity and beauty of tone and level of expression that is appropriate. It’s eternally new, and eternally fresh. I can’t imagine tiring of it.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com