Marriage of deceit and desire

By Sherra Hill

Despite the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra’s recent strike, the music for The Marriage of Figaro is phenomenal.

The stand-ins, professional musicians from around the province, demonstrated remarkable talent and won a standing ovation at the end. The singers gained a similar response from the audience, still bowing and curtsying as the curtain hovered uncertainly in the middle of its descent, not sure whether to go back up or down. Granted, many of the singers deserved their own standing ovations, especially Valdine Anderson who wowed the audience with her hauntingly beautiful soprano solos as Countess Almaviva.

The opera’s plot rests on the central theme of servant versus master. Figaro, a servant, underhandedly manipulates his master, the Count Almaviva, to prevent him from exercising his droit de Signeur, a feudal lord’s right to sleep with his servant’s would-be wife, Susanna, before their wedding. What follows is a harrowing comedy full of dramatic irony. The audience is always aware of what the characters are not, essentially making a mockery of the aristocratic Count.

Because The Marriage of Figaro is sung entirely in Spanish, my eyes were absorbed in the English translation hovering above the stage. Consequently, I missed a lot of the nuances in the performance. It was like trying to drive a car and read a book at the same time. Even though dialogue was the primary means of plot revelation, the English text was unfortunately too vague to reveal much. There were hardly any visual cues.

With only a maximum of three different stage sets and little movements or gestures, the story was difficult to follow. Apart from impressive costumes, there really wasn’t much to see on stage and I couldn’t help wondering when more props or characters would appear to fan the fire.

After intermission, I was determined to let go of my need to understand and just relax and enjoy the music. If you go to this opera with ears perked, you will not be disappointed–especially if you’re fortunate enough to understand Spanish. The allure of a romance language along with the singers’ emotionally expressive voices made for a beautiful opera, despite a definite lack of action.

Written by Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais in 1782, it was banned from public viewing by Louis XVI for being too political. Today, however, it won’t be the political edge that draws crowds to The Marriage of Figaro, but instead the magnificent voices and musical talent that grace the stage.

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