By Adam Collier
At the Toronto Opera Repertoire production of The Marriage of Figaro, the seating was unassigned. I took a seat about ten rows from the stage in the Bickford Centre Theatre. I sat close, because I’m not too familiar with opera and wanted to take in as many details as I could, but was too timid to sit up front, because “opera” – even the word – intimidates me.
The lights go down, and three people walk across the space in front of the stage. One of them sits behind a music stand (the conductor, Adolfo De Santis), one sits at a grand piano (Valentin Bogolubov) and behind him stands a third.
The third, as it turns out, turns the pages of the score. The first few minutes we listen to Bogolubov solo, playing the overture, and I immediately feel myself relax. The music is instantly catchy; I love it. This strong beginning is indicative of the night as a whole.
The Marriage of Figaro came across as an upbeat comedy to me and my companion, in part because the plot revolves around some classic comedy set-ups (like the closet sequences of the second act) and because the singers (amongst them, Brad Hoover as Figaro, Christina Lianos as Susanna, and Terence Shawn as Count Almaviva) were expressive and free onstage.
Visually, the show has warmth that came through in the details. The costumes, for example, are in a palette of soft pastels, when stronger colours are on stage, like reds and blues, to my eye, they radiated, rather than bringing a heaviness to the stage.
The singing is all in Italian, and though I found the story a bit difficult to follow at times, my friend, also a first-timer to the opera, caught all the fine points of the plot. I didn’t get the impression that this was a production that took the story too seriously. The words are all projected over the stage, and in a few places, there are parenthetical tongue-in-cheek comments on the emotional text.
“At times I drift off with the music, and I have to tell myself to return to the story” my friend mentioned to me casually at the first intermission (there are two). I thought about this comment as we hovered over brownies, lemon squares and other sugary items at the refreshment counter. What she said was true for me, too.
And though these are clearly strong singers, I always got the sense that they were singing to one another, and not to the audience; they weren’t just blasting one another with sound.
A big surprise came about halfway through the first act (there are four in total, with the last two separated by just a set change): the entrance of about eight women that played the role of a chorus. Every once in a while as I was watching them, I got this pang of, “How can something on such a small scale be so lush?”
The oversized coats, rippling dresses and the sets by Giuseppe Macina – though not elaborate – are appropriately suggestive rather than specific; they indicate a time past in Italy, which is all they really have to do. Indeed, overall, the show reflects a tasteful simplicity with very loving attention to the things that matter.
– It was performed at the Bickford Centre Theatre (777 Bloor Street West, about two minutes west of the Christie subway stop)
– Tickets were $25 for general admission and $15 for students/seniors and were available at the door
– More information is available at http://www.toronto-opera.com/
Photo of the cast of The Marriage of Figaro by James Thomson