Figaro’s Wedding music by W.A Mozart, libretto by Joel Ivany, opened last night at The Burroughes. A full house, many dressed as if attending a wedding as requested, saw an extremely effective realisation of another ambitious project from Against the Grain Theatre. This isn’t just another low budget production of a well known opera. Figaro’s Wedding is a complete rework of the piece. The music is the familiar Mozart in a very effective piano quintet arrangement by Topher Mokrzewski, albeit with cuts to suit the new libretto, The libretto is in English, cuts the chorus (and Barbarina) and reshapes the story around a wedding in today’s Toronto. Gone are aristocrats, servants and hangers on. Instead we have a young couple – Susanna and Figaro, his boss and boss’ wife – Alberto and Rosina, and the various arrangers and functionaries connected with the wedding. Oh yes, and there’s a lesbian grad student called Cherubino living in Alberto and Rosina’s basement. The story unfolds in a way that’s close enough to da Ponte for the twists and departures to add a little extra amusement for those who know the libretto well. It’s very smart, extremely funny and surprisingly singable.
Performances were strong across the board. Miriam Khalil is a Susanna who, for once, belies the word “pert”. She’s sexy, calculating, manipulative and in control; whether dealing with the slightly gormless Figaro (Stephen Hegedus) or the oleaginous self-made man Alberto (Alexander Dobson); a character who could put anybody off Ayn Rand if that were needed. She thinks the world ought to revolve around her and here, to a large extent, it does. She’s helped by her best friend Rosina (Lisa DiMaria), Alberto’s wife, and Cherubino (Teiya Kasahara) who has slightly more than a crush on Rosina. There’s some very fine comic acting from all the principals. The singing too was first class with solid solo performances. Rosina’s two big set pieces were particularly lovely and Figaro’s lecture to Cherubino on adulthood (replacing Non più andrai) a comic highlight. The other characters (played by Gregory Finney, Loralie Kirkpatrick and Michael Ciufo) made a notable contribution to excellent performances of the big ensemble numbers. The arrangement for piano quintet was very effective and beautifully performed by Mozrzewski and the Music in the Barns Chamber Ensemble.
The production itself made very good use of The Burroughes space. It used two rooms with the audience moving between them from act to act. The stage was small and mostly bare and the action mostly took place in and around the audience. This did lead to some balance issues, depending on where one was sitting but nothing serious. Sets probably reflected the budget but costumes were imaginative including a rather striking maroon suit for Alberto and a splendid “baroque hipster” wedding gown for Susanna by Rosemarie Umetsu.
It would take me all day to detail out the many, many felicities in this production but surely I should leave something for those yet to see it. If you have a ticket, enjoy! If not, rush and get one of the few remaining. I’ve rarely seen a Toronto audience as enthused as last night.