Los Angeles Opera Preview: ¡FIGARO! (90210) (LA Opera at Barnsdall Park in Hollywood)

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by Tony Frankel on January 11, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles


An updating of The Marriage of Figaro took New York by storm in 2013. Taking the debate over immigration reform, a multi-cultural English/Spanglish adaptation by Vid Guerrerio turns the title character into an undocumented worker at a present-day Beverly Hills mansion owned by a slimy real-estate tycoon. Having been given concert and semi-staged productions, Figaro! (90210), which tightens the opera to two and a half hours with intermission, will receive a world premiere staging at Barnsdall Park for three performances only, January 16-18, 2015.

Robert Balonek as Conti, Carlos Monzón as Figaro, Sophia Benedetti as Susana and Donata Cucinotta as Roxanne in Morningside Opera's ¡Figaro! (90210)

Certainly it’s subjective, but many opera lovers will tell you that Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro is one of the most perfect operas ever written. Even detractors from that belief must admit it is one of the most popular. Though nominally a comedy, Beaumarchais’ play on which it is based is a fierce indictment of the nobility in which Figaro and his betrothed, Susanna, battle the schemes of the philandering Count Almaviva—mainly his feudal right to sleep with new brides. The play was banned by Emperor Joseph II of Austria, a dictatorial patron of the arts (a.k.a. “enlightened despot”). Librettist Lorenzo da Ponte promised that he and Mozart would clean up the objectionable parts, so the ban was lifted. Volkmar Braunbehrens, in his book Mozart in Vienna, suggests that Joseph may have deliberately encouraged the production of Figaro as part of his own program against the feudal power of the nobility. In the end, just under the jolly surface of the opera, the rage at social injustice remains.

Anthony Chatmon as Li'l B-Man and Sophia Benedetti as Susana in Morningside Opera's ¡Figaro! (90210)

228 years later, as the “99%” are still outraged by the inequality with the “1%,” opera as an art form is at a crossroads. Purists want operas delivered as they were written, but modern day bohemians are itching for a renaissance. Newer operas, many atonal and minimalistic sounding, are not reaching a large audience, so opera companies continually update the veneer of older operas in design only. Few are the companies who challenge the old guard with updated supertitles and reinterpretation.

Elizabeth Tapia, Masami Morimoto, Jonathan D. Morales, Leandra Ramm and Carlos Monzón perform in Morningside Opera's ¡Figaro! (90210) at The NSD Theater

Fortunately, smaller companies with a love of opera and a desire to bring it into the 21st century are sprouting up around the country. L.A.’s own Pacific Opera Project, for one, is packing them in by offering intimate, accessible and rethought productions. Coming up on March 6-8, Artistic Director Josh Shaw brings his English language Star Trek-version of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio to the El Portal.

Even LA Opera is supporting this movement, creating Off Grand, which is dedicated to new and unusual repertoire presented in a wide range of venues. ¡Figaro! (90210) is an adjunct to the company’s 2015 productions of the Figaro Trilogy, and one of the many events in the Figaro Unbound programming around the city.

Vid Guerrerio“As a teenager, I first fell in love with The Marriage of Figaro as a musical comedy,” said Mr. Guerrerio. “It had great tunes, it was funny, and it never really occurred to me that it was any different than Bye Bye Birdie or The Fantasticks: it just had a lot more interesting music. I also loved the idea that it wasn’t just funny, that back in the day it was actually considered political and ‘dangerous.’ The idea that you could make people hum, laugh and think at the same time is pretty much what inspired me to start writing in the first place.

“I wrote ¡Figaro! (90210) as a great, big love letter to my adopted hometown of Los Angeles…Since the first moment of inspiration, which came while walking Hollywood Boulevard with Mozart in my headphones, it has been my dream to bring it to life in the amazing city that inspired it.”

The word is out about this production, and advance ticket sales are so strong that a Sunday evening performance has been added. Act fast.

¡Figaro! (90210) will be conducted by Douglas Kinney Frost and directed by Melissa Crespo. Sybil Wickersheimer is the set designer and the costumes are designed by Project Runway season 12 finalist Bradon McDonald. Projections and lighting are designed by Thomas Ontiveros. The cast is led by baritone José Adán Pérez as Figaro and soprano Maria Elena Altany as Susana, with bass-baritone Craig Colclough and soprano Greta Baldwin as their employers Paul and Roxanne Conti (based on Count and Countess Almaviva), and tenor Orson Van Gay II as teenage troublemaker Li’l B-Man (based on Cherubino).

Cast of LA Opera's ¡Figaro! (90210).

photos of Morningside Opera’s production by Karen Almond

¡Figaro! (90210)
presented by LA Opera
Barnsdall Gallery Theatre in Barnsdall Art Park
4800 Hollywood Blvd.
Friday January 16, 2015 at 7:30
Saturday January 17, 2015 at 7:30
Sunday January 18, 2015 at 2:00 & 7:00
for tickets, call 213.972.8001 or visit www.LAOpera.org

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