More than a year after “Castor and Pollux” took the stage, The Opera Theatre of Yale College is returning to perform one of Mozart’s masterpieces.
“Le Nozze di Figaro,” translated as “The Marriage of Figaro,” opens Friday night at the Yale School of Medicine’s Harkness Auditorium. Consisting of roughly 50 undergraduates, the production features a 27-member instrumental ensemble with student musicians from more than four of Yale’s undergraduate orchestras. Ashby Cogan ’14, the show’s producer, said that OTOYC chose to stage “The Marriage of Figaro” because the opera’s neoclassical style distinguishes it from most other musical works being performed at Yale.
“There is a lot of baroque music that happens on campus, so we wanted to do something different this year,” Cogan said.
Beau Gabriel ’14, the show’s musical director, noted that the popular opera contrasts sharply with OTOYC’s 2013 production, “Castor and Pollux.” “The Marriage of Figaro” is currently one of the most frequently performed operas in the United States, while “Castor and Pollux” had not been staged in this country since the 1990s before last year’s production.
“We pretty much went from performing the most obscure opera to performing the least obscure opera,” Gabriel said.
Cogan said OTOYC productions have been growing in size of over the last three years as a result of a gradually increasing interest in opera at Yale. She explained that when she arrived at Yale as a freshman, the Iseman Met Opera broadcasts — free screenings of Metropolitan Opera shows online and at Sprague Hall — did not exist. Cogan added that in the last two years, the time commitment required of all OTOYC members has increased considerably, which has led to more ambitious and more expensive productions. She said that the budget for “Castor and Pollux” was roughly 30 percent larger than that of a typical OTOYC production budget.
Brooke Lamell ’16, the show’s stage manager, said the production team is making an effort to stage the show in the same manner that it would have been staged in the 18th century, when it was written. She explained that many of the strings players in the orchestra are using baroque bows to play their instruments, adding that the ensemble also rented a baroque timpani for the performance.
Cogan said that the strings players will all equip their instruments with ‘gut strings’ — strings made of sheep gut — instead of modern steel strings, noting that orchestras in the 18th century sounded lighter and more mellow gut strings. She added that the production team has rented costumes for the actors that resemble the types of clothing people wore in Edwardian England when the opera is set. Starting roughly three decades ago, ensembles began to perform centuries-old works in their original fashion because the modern methods of staging such works had drifted away from the intentions of composers from earlier periods, Gabriel said.
“Figaro” follows the story of the title servant, set to marry another servant named Susanna, as he attempts to thwart the romantic advances of Count Almaviva toward Susanna. Cogan said the play from which the opera was adapted — written by Pierre Beaumarchais — reflected many of the revolutionary beliefs of the Enlightenment period. Cogan noted that the storyline’s political message was so anti-authoritarian that the original play had been banned by the French government. Lorenzo Da Ponte, who wrote the libretto for the Mozart adaptation, had to make many of the story’s political undertones less pronounced.
Lamell said that the opera also features an unlikely collaboration between nobles and servants, further making the work unique. Lisa Zhang ’15, who plays the wife of Almaviva, explained that her character helps Figaro work against her husband despite the difference in their social ranks.
“We have become so used to hearing Mozart interpreted in a 20th century style,” Gabriel said. “Ironically, by performing a piece like this in the old fashion, we are doing something that’s new for our time.”
The Opera Theatre of Yale College was founded in 1992.