Considered the greatest opera that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ever wrote – and, to some, the most perfect opera ever written – the truth is that “The Marriage of Figaro” nearly didn’t happen.
Mozart’s opera was adapted from Pierre Beaumarchais’ stage comedy “La Folle Journée, ou Le Mariage de Figaro,” a work that initially was banned in Vienna for its anti-aristocratic overtones. It was, after all, written a mere decade before the French Revolution took place. But Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart’s librettist, was able to get approval for his adapted version by replacing the play’s political references and class resentment with sexual rivalry.
The result was an opera buffa that melds breathtaking arias, an entertaining plot, and a melodic score that reveals the emotions of its characters. This weekend, Virginia Opera’s production comes to the Dominion Arts Center.
Taking place at a castle in Spain, the plot revolves around Figaro, valet to Count Almaviva. Figaro is set to marry Susanna, the Countess Almaviva’s chambermaid, but the Count wants to exercise his feudal right to bed Susanna on her wedding night. Over the course of 24 hours, it’s up to the other three to foil the Count’s plans.
Kyle Lang, the show’s director, notes that while the opera removes the play’s overt criticism of nobility, it’s still evident that the French Revolution is only a few years away.
“We know that the class system is not working and the nobility is definitely afraid of what’s coming. At that time, the nobility started to give up rights that they had possessed before,” Lang says. “The count has agreed to give up certain rights that he had once had and just let the wedding take place. Meanwhile, he is trying to subvert what’s happening because he has an affection for Susanna.”
Though the opera is a comedy from nearly two-and-a-half centuries ago, Lang says it sheds light on the mysteries of love and is relatable to today’s audiences.
“We see the development of young love, true love, but we also see a 14-year-old boy first discovering what is love, what is sex. Then we see a couple that’s been together for a long time that’s sort of lost something,” Lang says. “It really offers audiences several different viewpoints to see themselves in the mirror, reflected onstage.”
Erik Earl Larson, who plays Figaro, says the show has special meaning to him; the first arias he sung as a 17-year-old high school senior were from “Figaro.”
“It’s always been a dream of mind to sing it professionally,” says the baritone. “The characters are so imperfect, and it’s paired with music that is beyond flawless.”
Larson, who is having his role debut with this production, says the show is a lot of fun.
“The opera is watching how they try to trick the Count, how the Count tries to foil their plots and how matters of circumstance see all of their plans fall apart, and they have to scramble in the moment to get them back together,” he says. “At the end of the show, we see some really profound, beautiful moments, not only between Figaro and Susanna, but between the Count and Countess and between the four of them as humans that can relate to one another.”
Adam Turner, Virginia Opera’s artistic director and the show’s conductor, says there are many reasons why “Figaro” is one of the most performed operas in the canon.
“There’s infidelity, there’s a power trip, there’s all kinds of emotions at play that provide for this crazy, twisted plot,” Turner says. “It’s a timeless story, the music is sublime, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Turner notes that Symone Harcum will be debuting in her role as the Countess as well. The soprano got her start with Virginia Opera by singing in the opera’s chorus while in college at Norfolk State University.
“I have seen her come so far in this industry and in her artistic journey. She’s debuting her role of the Countess, which is truly one of these amazing feats of vocal athleticism and endurance,” Turner says, noting that the role is difficult to cast because it’s so challenging. “It’s such a great privilege and source of pride for the entire company to be part of her artistic path.”
Turner notes that it’s been roughly two years since Virginia Opera had to shut down its planned production of “Aida.” “Figaro” will be Virginia Opera’s biggest show since the pandemic began, and the first to feature a chorus.
“Don’t miss this chance, because we’ve had to wait two years to do it,” Turner says.
Lang says “Figaro” is Mozart at his finest.
“You see all these different stages of love and sex and infatuation,” Lang says. “It can be rather complicated, but I think that the beauty of this piece is that, as funny as it is – and it is a comedy – what makes it funny is that there’s the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s the other side of it that’s very dramatic and earnest and very deep.”
Virginia Opera’s “The Marriage of Figaro” plays April 1 and 3 at the Dominion Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 600 E. Grace St., 23219. For more information, visit vaopera.org or call 866-673-7282.