Music director Christopher Mokrzewski plays piano in the quintet accompanying Figaro’s Wedding.
FIGARO’S WEDDING by Mozart, adapted and directed by Joel Ivany, musical direction by Christopher Mokrzewski, with Stephen Hegedus, Miriam Khalil, Teiya Kasahara, Lisa DiMaria and Alexander Dobson. Presented by Against the Grain at the Burroughes (639 Queen West). Thursday, Friday and Sunday (May 30, 31 and June 2) at 7:30 pm. $35-$60. againstthegraintheatre.com.
This has been the month for refashioning well-known operas.
Soulpepper's take on The Barber Of Seville blends country music and revolutionary fervour with Rossini's melodies, and now Against the Grain Theatre, known for its intimate presentations of famous and less familiar classical music, sets Mozart's The Marriage Of Figaro in today's Toronto.
Coincidentally, both works involve the same characters, among them the trickster Figaro, his boss, Count Almaviva, and Rosina, carried off by the count at the end of Barber.
Adaptor/director Joel Ivany has updated the Mozart but kept the conjugal celebrations. The new work is called Figaro's Wedding, and it's being staged in the Burroughes, a former department store that hosts special events.
"In fact," says Christopher Mokrzewski, the company's music director, "we're not performing on Saturday night because the space was already booked for an actual wedding."
The audience at Figaro's Wedding will also be guests, but of Figaro and his fiancée, Susanna. The action takes place in various rooms, with performers and viewers moving around the space from act to act.
"Part of Against the Grain's mandate is to present standard and less well-known repertory with a bit of a twist," explains Mokrzewski. "Just as important is to bring artists and audiences together in unusual, accessible places where the staging is intimate and the evening is both engaging and light-hearted."
One of the company's first works was a Toronto-set version of Puccini's La Bohème performed in the Tranzac Club with the audience in the midst of the action. A chilling version of Benjamin Britten's The Turn Of The Screw followed. But it's not just opera that's been given the close-contact approach. The group's also presented theatrical stagings of song cycles and virtuosic piano works in galleries and ballet studios.
"This time we wanted to look at Mozart's Figaro from a different angle, not with wigs and 18th century dress but still focusing on the essence of the story and seeing how it pertains to us now. That gives a dynamic thrust to the work, both for opera lovers and those new to the form."
In this contemporary version, the two-tiered social system of master and servant is revised. In the Mozart, philandering husband Almaviva wants to exercise his right as lord of the manor to have sex with Susanna before the wedding. Here, the character, renamed Alberto, is Figaro's childhood friend and, as Mokrzewski notes, "is really, really into Susanna, though she's engaged to Figaro.
"In our story, Alberto is an entrepreneur and Figaro works for him; the new power dynamic isn't class, but money. Still, as in the original, Alberto finds his marriage boring and looks for excitement elsewhere."
Musically things are changed, too. Mokrzewski, recently appointed resident conductor of the Calgary Opera, discovered a string quartet version of Mozart's score and is using that, performed by the Music in the Barns Chamber Ensemble. He'll also be playing piano, effectively turning the orchestration into a chamber quintet.
"We want this work to be fresh, dramatically and musically, for everyone, whether they've heard The Marriage Of Figaro before or not."