250 years on, Marriage of Figaro still a comedy with a conscience

Based on a play banned for seditious content, Mozart’s classic opera changed the art form forever and became one of the world’s most successful operas. Opening at QPAC, Opera Queensland reimagine The Marriage of Figaro to hold a mirror to the modern world.

Jul 15, 2021, updated Jul 15, 2021
The Marriage of Figaro (Image: Opera Queensland)

The Marriage of Figaro (Image: Opera Queensland)

The Marriage of Figaro was first written and performed in 1786, three years before the outbreak of the French Revolution.

Based on a play of the same name, it is the second in a trilogy written by Pierre Beaumarchais, and was banned by King Louis XVI for stirring up revolutionary sentiments between the classes.

The classic opera follows servants Figaro and Susanna on their wedding day, which is about to be thwarted by Count Almaviva who wants Susanna for himself.

In 2021, life imitates art as Opera Queensland takes on what is now one of the world’s most successful operas, a romantic comedy which conceals threads of political unrest in the years leading up to revolution.

Opera Queensland’s Chief Executive and Artistic Director Patrick Nolan directs this play for the second time in his career.

“Our new production sets the story in a time where what was understood as power is crumbling as a new world emerges,” Nolan said. “It could be 1786, or is it 2021?”

“The chaos and madness of recent world events in many respects epitomise Mozart’s depiction of a dysfunctional society that can no longer hold itself together. As a composer Mozart had a profound understanding of how music can illuminate a story for maximum dramatic and comedic tension.

“Our role as modern interpreters of the classics is to spark conversations about the relevance of the story to the here and now and The Marriage of Figaro holds a mirror to our most burning issues in 2021.”

Katie Stenzel, who plays Susanna, said she had immense gratitude to be able to perform an opera that is so well loved, an enduring work for modern audiences.

“I think the humanity of the characters still rings so true to a modern audience. Their virtues, flaws, and relationships are incredibly real. It could be straight out of a sit-com.

“This is a sharp, funny piece of theatre with a wonderful mix of frivolity and beauty. Plus, you’ll definitely walk out humming a tune or two!”

Stenzel said Mozart’s score perfectly elucidates the drama of the production.

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“From the very first note of the overture, Mozart’s music paints the emotion of each scene so vividly. The music cleverly depicts each character and their entanglements along the way.”

Patrick Nolan said that Figaro’s enduring legacy was due to the dramatic human nature of the story, bringing about a switch from heaven to Earth.

Up until this point, opera traditionally focussed on ‘inaccessible characters’ such as gods, demigods, and mythical creatures.

“This is the opera that changed the direction of the art form. When it premiered in 1786 audiences were intrigued as they watched real people wrestling with feelings of desire, betrayal, remorse, unbridled lust… feelings they knew well themselves,” Nolan said.

“In Figaro, Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte introduced us to a unique musical language that is driven by the drama of the story. It is full of real, emotionally rich characters – flawed, funny, tragic, witty and very relatable.”

“There’s a reason The Marriage of Figaro remains one of history’s most enduring operas and one of the world’s most performed,” Nolan said.

“Mozart serves up the comedy of Fawlty Towers, the Italian energy of La Dolce Vita and the emotional potency and epic drama of The Sopranos. What’s not to love?”

The Marriage of Figaro opens 15 July and runs until 31 July at QPAC’s Playhouse Theatre, for more information and tickets visit QPAC’s website.

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