Getting intimate with Figaro and Susanna

rachaelkerrI chatted this morning with Rachael Kerr; music director of Against the Grain’s upcoming Figaro’s Wedding.  I saw the original version back in 2013 and was wondering what might be different this time.  I also wondered whether there might be some insights to be gained by approaching it from the perspective of the music rather than the libretto.  Hence my decision to talk to Rachael rather than other members of the team.

I think I lucked in.  It proved to be a most interesting conversation which ultimately turned on why this would be an engaging show and how that turned on “intimacy”.  So first let’s review the elements of the show:

  • Joel Ivany’s libretto is a radical rewrite of the Beaumarchais/da Ponte to produce a story relevant to a modern wedding and it’s in English.  So no droit de seigneur but rather the terrifying cost of modern weddings and all those fun things that happen with dysfunctional families.  It’s also been “tweaked” to reflect changes in sensibility since 2013.  We’ll see what that means I guess.
  • As in 2013 the “orchestra” is a piano quintet.  But like the libretto the arrangement has been somewhat modified (by Rachael) from the original Mokrzewski version.
  • The staging is immersive in that the audience form, for example, the attendees at the wedding and the reception.  The room/set will be reconfigured for the various stages of the story.

So what does this mean and what does it have to do with “intimacy”?

  • There’s no conductor in the conventional sense.  In fact Rachael is behind the strings and the singers can be just about anywhere relative to the musicians.  This means that the musical teamwork is more like a chamber ensemble; cueing off each other rather than the conductor.  This aspect involves the singers too.  So the relationship between a singer and the “orchestra” is direct rather than being mediated by a conductor and the players are better placed to cue off the singer and give support (more like a song recital).
  • The relationship between audience, singers and instrumentalists is also subverted by a bit of fourth wall breaking.  The quintet for example interacts with the wedding planner around the music for the wedding.
  • The audience is often very close to the singers.  It’s staged like two parties and a wedding so there isn’t the barrier of pit and proscenium between the action and the observers.  It’s also in English with dialogue rather than recits so it’s less formal and there’s no need to be glancing up at surtitles all the time.

There’s another musical thing to look out for too.  Mozart’s instrumentation is very deliberate.  If one listens hard one can hear a particular relationship between the Countess and the woodwinds for example.  There are also things like the use of horns in Non più andrai to create a martial effect.  For this production the piano has to “do” for all the non string instruments but the arrangement doesn’t just mimic Mozart’s sound world.  For example, Cherubino isn’t off to the army and the words in Figaro’s Wedding are quite different at this point.  So the arrangement reflects those changes.

In many ways I think Figaro’s Wedding is the most successful of the Ivany transladaptations and it was received with considerable enthusiasm last time out.  I’m curious to see how it fares six years on.

Figaro’s Wedding plays at the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse from December 3rd to 20th.  Tickets here.  Cast and details here.

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