The Marriage of Figaro, Knoxville Opera, Bijou Theatre, Knoxville, April 2023
Tonight and Sunday afternoon, Knoxville Opera presents “The Marriage of Figaro,” at the Bijou Theatre. A few tickets remain for each performance. The performance offers what has been a rare opportunity in recent memory for audience members to experience a performance by Knoxville Opera in such an intimate setting. Typically, performing in the much larger Tennessee Theatre, the performance draws the entire audience much closer to the action.
I’m always as much enchanted by the visuals of opera as I am the music. While the music is wonderful in “The Marriage of Figaro” (Thank you, Mr. Mozart – you might make a career with this music thing!), I fell under the spell of the costumes and colors at the final dress rehearsal. So much so that I made the terrible rookie mistake of overshooting to the tune of 777 photos of the three hour performance. Massive editing and culling ensued, which lead to this later than normal article.
The opera delivers a fun romp that requires a complete suspension of belief as deception happens in every direction in plain sight on the stage in this delightful comedy. The libretto, written by Lorenzo Do Ponte focuses on the efforts of Figaro (performed by Nicholas Davis) and Susanna (Flora Hawk) to get married. As servants, they suffer the whims and decisions of their masters, embodied in this case by Count (Richard Ollarsarba) and Countess (Bizhou Chang) Almaviva.
The Count, bored with the countess, longs for a side thing with Susanna which, obviously, makes him not a fan of this proposed marriage. He plots, they plot, the Countess works her angle, lots of lies are told, and hilarity ensues. All against the shimmering backdrop of one of the world’s greatest composers. The vocals, as always for Knoxville Opera, soar, with strong vocal performances from the lead characters and secondary characters alike. When the harpsichord joins in with Mozart, I’m done. I love hearing that instrument.
The opera, based on a play by Pierre Beaumarchais, debuted in 1786. One of the most performed and beloved operas, it engendered controversy from the beginning. The play, censored by Emperor Joseph for portraying the underclass outwitting the noble class, was softened for the opera. A speech railing against inherited nobility was replaced by an aria railing against unfaithful wives. Mozart personally conducted the first two performances.
While the underclass making fools of nobility will spark little contemporary controversy, one element might a Tennessee legislator pause. The role of Cherubino (wonderfully performed here by Eliza Bonet), written for a soprano, was intended from the outset to have a female cross-dressed as a man in the role. It gets worse. At one point a female, portraying a male character, cross-dresses as a female. Legislative heads would explode! Hide the children!
As always, any performance by Knoxville Opera comes highly recommended and this performance, directed by Eve Summer with orchestra conducted by Laurie Rogers is no exception. From the lead roles to the chorus and all points between, the performance is wonderful. (Special shoutout to Teyah Young who’s vocals I particularly enjoyed in her role as Barbarina). You might want to grab one of those remaining few tickets.