Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro is one of the world's most beloved operas. The delightful tale of mistaken identities, twists of fate and quests for love is a charming celebration of music and fun storytelling. Vancouver Opera (VO) offers a fresh new take on this classic opera while still maintaining its wit and charming spirit.
The concept of this production is interesting. It doesn’t take place in a specific time period. Rather, the show lives in a somewhat abstract world. The set design embraces this concept and is beautiful. Each of the scenes look like they’re based in a historical setting – shades of Vienna in the 18th century – mixed with today. The sitting room and the Countess’ bedroom in the first two acts are flooded with luminous light, clean lines and an overall sense of chik.
But the best comes later in the nighttime scenes. The courtyard is a sophisticated blend of majestic pillars, and celebratory balloons set to softly glowing lighting. The final set is the most exquisite – so exquisite that literally gets its own applause. It’s a garden in the middle of the night with a whimsical, dream-like effect. A reflective, rectangular stage surface, set off-angle towards the audience serves as the show's storytelling platform. It’s mirror-like effect helps emphasize the chick and abstract world the characters live in.
The costume design is not quite as successful. While some of the costumes are aesthetically pleasing, such as the summer wedding dresses worn by the bridesmaids, and the handsome, smart-looking costumes worn by Figaro and Count Almaviva, sometimes the costume design appears to be confused. Susanna suffers the most. Her simple white uniform in the earlier acts would be fine if it wasn’t strangely uneven in the skirt. And her wedding dress looks like a bizarre alien outfit. Countess Almaviva’s outfit at the wedding is also rather bizarre, as it looks like she’s wearing a modern take on a Marie Antoinette meets Chinese-themed dress. Marcellina’s first act costume seems much too modern looking and sticks out like a sore thumb. This is especially apparent since the scene takes place in a morning/daytime atmosphere, and her dress and heels scream evening wear.
In general, the costume design works well for the male characters and much less so for the female characters. The exception to this is Barbarina and her girlfriends who look great in their simple yet elegant summer-inspired dresses.
Mozart’s fun and timeless score sounds great, beautifully played by the VO orchestra, conducted by Leslie Dala. The show features two different sets of casts. At the performance I attended, the role of Figaro was nicely played by Iain Macneil. His masculine and slightly goofy portrayal of the title character is fun to watch. I also quite enjoyed Rachel Fenlon’s portrayal of Susanna. Her beautiful soprano voice really shines in this show, and her acting is outstanding. Fenlon’s version of Susanna is humourous, personable and engaging.
Lara Ciekiewicz brings sophisticated maturity to the role of Countess Almaviva, and Aaron Durand’s sexy portrayal of her cheating husband makes it a little harder to completely hate his character. Leah Giselle Field’s sassiness and enthusiasm helps make the role of Marcellina likeable, quite a feat for a role that is overly bitchy in the first half of the show. Taylor Pardell was my personal favourite performer to watch. Playing the role of Barbarina, Pardell’s combination of cleverness and charisma is very refreshing. Also worth noting is Peter Monaghan who is hilarious as Antonio, the gardener who always seems to be in the mix of the action.
But the performance of the day goes to the amazing Pascale Spinney, a young woman who absolutely kills it in the role of Cherubino – a male teenager. Spinney’s mannerisms and body language are so adolescent boy-like it’s uncanny. And her voice soars with emotion and personality.
I wasn’t a fan of the weird fake tattoos worn by the actors portraying Figaro and Susanna. They seem unnecessary, bizarre and very distracting. This is especially true of Figaro’s tattoos, which cover most of his torso.
However, overall the show is quite wonderful. Vancouver Opera’s The Marriage of Figaro captures the timeless spirit of young love, along with the spirited adventures, mishaps and lessons learned along the way. All of this, in a luminously beautiful package. The perfect choice for a refreshing yet fulfilling summer opera.
Vancouver Opera’s (VO) The Marriage of Figaro runs at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre until May 18. Visit VO’s website for ticket information.