There is something to be said for the various forms of entertainment available at Yale. On Wednesday night, I caught a breather from the undergraduate madness by immersing myself in another “folle journée”: the Yale Opera’s rendition of Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro.” The swelling presto overture shocked me, an opera virgin, into a state of reverie that would remain unbroken until the end of the performance. While this year marks the 100th anniversary of the historic Shubert Theater, the musicians’ accomplished fingers and the singers’ soaring voices bore me instantly back to the 18th century, when such entertainment was commonplace.
Yet I find uninterrupted music potentially monotonous. Fortunately, “The Marriage of Figaro” is a classic exemple of “opera buffa” or comic opera, injected with just enough witty dialogue and romantic chemistry to complement the instrumentation. Mozart composed the opera as a sequel to Baudron’s “The Barber of Seville,” and it narrates the flagrant attempts of a Spanish count to sabotage the marriage between two of his servants: Figaro (Brad Walker) the valet, and Susanna (Meechot Marrero) the maid.
We watch a day of intrigue, revenge and hyperbolic comedy unfold before us, only to see the opera end just like its prequel: With the union of the count and the countess, leaving Figaro and Susanna free to pursue their own romance. Marrero as Susanna steals the show. She has the most to sing, and I found it hard to wrap my head around the fact that so powerful a voice could emanate from so petite a person.
The entirety of the opera is comfortably vacant, gleefully toying with the roles set forth in “The Barber of Seville”: The count, that story’s hero, is now the undeniable villain, set on spoiling the happiness of his lovable and charismatic servants. More comical than sad, “The Marriage of Figaro” is nonetheless laced with a biting social commentary on the burdens of being a woman.
It’s hard to watch the countess sing that she would rather die than suffer her husband’s betrayal, and her astute observations about the “modern husband” being “jealous out of pride” remain topical. However, there is something undeniably refreshing about the triumvirate that forms between Figaro, Susanna and the countess. It is further edifying when the latter, rather than accusing her maid, lets the blame for her husband’s infidelity fall justly fall on him.
Furthermore, the class struggles explored in an opera where “servants become masters” are of much interest to an audience captivated by television shows such as “Downton Abbey,” which treats similar themes. In an opera written on the eve of the French Revolution, a denunciation of aristocratic privilege lurks between the notes of song and the overtones of comedy.
But however relevant such ideas may be, they aren’t the product of conscious updating. The opera’s stage director, Ted Huffman, maintained absolute fidelity to the original, and in an era when edgy, envelope-pushing adaptations are the mot du jour, this faithfulness is both nostalgic and comforting.
I left the theater with much to contemplate. On one hand, I had witnessed my first opera, and was still in awe of Mozart’s composition. On the other hand, the more I thought about it, the more I understood the political messages tucked between the lines. Together, they made for a thought-provoking but digestible performance.
The authenticity of the adaptation, combined with the finesse of the performers, renders this classic true to the artist’s intention, and makes for a very different, if lengthy, way to spend one’s evening.