this Lyric Opera of Kansas City production of "The Marriage of Figaro" has me thinking of a number of things...somehow the film "Rachel Getting Married" keeps rolling around in my head...
photo of Andrew Gangestad (as Figaro) and Sari Gruber (as Susanna), is by Aaron Lindberg
The commercial media narrative for this, the last opera piece performed at the Lyric, is a farewell party to the performance space, a love letter, a Valentine as the director expresses so lovingly in his program notes. Next year we’ll be walking into the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, five blocks from the venerable Lyric. You’ll also read around town how this rendition of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro receives a contemporary treatment. An opera that takes place behind the stage of an opera, placed in the setting of the Lyric’s offices and dressing rooms, the unmasked stage, a wedding ceremony onstage or rather on the stage where the characters work and perform.
Mozart’s operatic version of Piere Beaunmarchais’ 1778 play collided with the gentrified audience of Vienna at the Burgtheater around this time of year in 1786, three years before the Bastille received a barbeque’ing. This was a time of revolutions. We should know, as things sparked after our declaratory letter we Americans dispatched to mad King George III from Philly. Mozart, like Lorne Michaels, had to be mindful of his patrons and tone things down a bit to slip past the censors and ensure his salary checks continued.
All this historical stuff reeling around the art, then and now. Some things seem unchanged. Art forms with a contemporary feel become museum pieces later on, only to be re-shaped centuries later. We love to hold a mirror to ourselves. And yet sometimes we hesitate to mess with a classic that has stood the test of time with that mythical ingredient of “posterity”.
As in contemporary music, we see cover bands and tribute bands. Cover bands play someone else’s composition with their own interpretive creativity. Some bands cover songs but endeavor to sound exactly like the originals; love those Elvis and Beatles costumed and coiffed interpreters. Classic stuff indeed.
This farewell opera, this “Figaro getting married” contemporary patina interpretation has old Mozart humming (and probably smiling) in the background. The company changed a few lines…how does one say “email” in Italian?…the English language Twitter-like feed above the stage broadcasts the status of the players. Figaro sends emails, one which is a crafty note that get’s his boss in a pickle, one that could get him fired from his Stage Manager gig if the IT person traces it to his IP address. Office romances abound, too. The Executive director’s casting couch gets a workout. I was thinking The Office (the original rough-hewn hand-held Ricky Gervais BBC version) blended with Jonathan Demme’s film Rachel Getting Married...sprinkle a bit of social-networking in this, too.
On this opening night of The Marriage of Figaro, this past Saturday, I had a great deal of fun. People laughed in more places than the “right ones”. This felt to be approachable sitcom with a classic soundtrack. Fun choreography and acting anchored in gorgeous singing, harmony, and energetic projection without microphones. Mozart always feels fresh to me, and this blend of theatre, opera, artistic design, and music literally rocked the house. A few aficionados overheard at intermission verbally presented dissertation like philosophical analysis of the update. And for those seeing Figaro getting married for the first time, it was a joy to imagine their wonder, their connection with this piece in years to come. For the wonderful long-time patrons I felt a bit of their poignant bittersweet melancholy as the stage became bare to the bones at the end. The end of the beginning which begins this Fall five blocks south. Memories over forty years at the Lyric.
This was a swirly night for me. The wind swirled strong as we all made our way home out the front entrance on to 11th Street…whoosh. I headed on foot to see some friends perform their eclectic punk-ish music at a little bar called Coda across the Street from the Kauffman. I walked down Broadway, dodging cars and cheating on the stoplight cues. I’m used to the choreography. This downtown is my home now. As I approached the beautiful looming shape of the Kauffman from its north face, I sensed a feeling of continuity after seeing the bare black skeleton of the Lyric. I saw this new organism-like space, metal vertebrae and all. Then further to the south, looking back at the glass mirror south face absorbing the lights of my city twinkling as the wind whistled. I tried to take it all in, this night, these artists, these builders, this architect, that director, and all the people who make us feel what I felt at that moment in the wind on our Kansas City Broadway.
My mind and heart seemed too small. I tried really hard. Then I smiled and trotted down the last block to Coda, opened the door, and felt the warm rush of authentic contemporary music and raucous poetry of my four friends collectively called The Brannock Device. It’s fun to be in a city to experience the spectrum of art forms. There’s quite a variety from an amazing collaborative opera production creatively presented with contemporary comedic irony…to a four piece mind-twisting post-punk orchestral abstract.
That’s was my night. This is an attempt to share what I felt. This kind of stuff is what we feel when we allow our senses to absorb this thing we call art. This is what artists do. For as much as this night was a farewell to a building, a place, and as much as that new building is on our minds, what keeps me grounded and inspires me are all the magnificent people that create and fill these buildings.
The most wonderful slice of those folks?...the audience...art resides in us.
Saturday, April 9th was opening night...the opera's next three performances are:
Wednesday April 13 at 7:30pm
Friday April 15 at 8pm and
Sunday April 17 at 2pm
purchase tickets here