On the surface, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” is a bubbly, romantic comedy, but percolating below are ideas that would eventually lead to the French Revolution and a new attitude toward Europe’s aristocracy.
The Lyric Opera of Kansas City presents Mozart’s masterful “Marriage” in a production that preserves the rococo charm while bringing the class struggle into focus for four performances beginning Saturday, Nov. 5, at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
The opera, which had its premiere in Vienna in 1786, is the comic tale of the servants Figaro and Susanna and their lecherous employer, Count Almaviva. The Count has been making advances on Susanna and plans to bed her on her wedding night, as was the ancient feudal lord’s right. The Lyric’s production, directed by Stephen Lawless, highlights these class tensions. Even the beautiful and elaborate set, designed by Leslie Travers, brings the Count’s aristocratic privilege into sharp relief.
“We know that the French Revolution was just around the corner, so I took that very literally and created a sort of organic family tree, which is very decorous and has a sense of decay,” Travers said. “There are cameos of the Count’s ancestors within it. As well as being a family tree, it also allows us to have corridors, secret entrances to create the idea of low status rooms for the servants and more opulent spaces for the Count and Countess.”
“The Marriage of Figaro” is a co-production of the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Opera Philadelphia, San Diego Opera and Palm Beach Opera. It’s a testament to the Lyric Opera’s facilities and craftspeople that the complex sets and intricate costumes are being created in Kansas City.
Travers, who has a distinguished career of designing sets for, among others, Opera Australia, Norwegian National Opera and the Royal Opera House, has designed “Marriage of Figaro” twice before. Both previous productions gave the opera a modern setting. But Travers believes the original 18th century setting is actually the most revolutionary.
“My first ‘Figaro’ was modern dress, and the last one was set in the beginning of the 20th century,” Travers said. “But the piece gains a lot from being in period, with the French Revolution coming.
“I often think that really great pieces of art are prophetic of what’s to come, and there’s a sense of the world changing within ‘Figaro.’ When a gardener can walk into a countess’s bedroom, you feel the social order breaking down. So setting it back in period feels absolutely the right thing to do.”
Bass Adam Lau, who sings the role of Figaro, originally studied to be a marine biologist and is a certified scuba diver. He sees similarities between the aristocrats of “The Marriage of Figaro” and denizens of the briny deep.
“There are predators underwater that actually allow smaller fish to clean their scales and remove small parasites, and in exchange for that, they don’t get eaten,” Lau said. “And in ‘The Marriage of Figaro,’ especially in Act 3, all of a sudden there’s this dynamic shift and reshuffling of teams, where suddenly people who were fighting against each other are now on the same side, working in harmony. It’s a stunning revelation.”
But beyond any political message, “The Marriage of Figaro” is first and foremost a delightful opera, full of sublime vocal writing. Running a little more than three hours, it requires a lot of stamina from the cast. But Lau says that in spite of his vocal demands, Mozart was keenly aware of how to write for singers.
“Mozart is healthy for the voice,” Lau said. “It keeps singers singing in a healthy, honest way that requires finesse.”
KC Chorale sings Brahms
In 1997, Charles Bruffy and the Kansas City Chorale recorded a lovely disc of Johannes Brahms choral music and in 2011, he directed the Kansas City Symphony Chorus in a performance of Brahms’ Requiem with the Kansas City Symphony.
Now Bruffy is bringing his love and knowledge to a more intimate version of the German Requiem accompanied by two pianos. He’ll conduct the Kansas City Chorale and pianists Kurt Knecht and Robert Pherigo in Brahms’ choral masterpiece Sunday, Oct. 30, at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral and Tuesday, Nov. 1, at Asbury United Methodist in Prairie Village.
“I have so many favorite choral works, but this Requiem has to rank toward the top of my list,” Bruffy said. “And to be able to perform what I’ll call the ‘chamber version’ with our 26 voices is very exciting for us.”
Brahms was not a doctrinaire Christian, and his Requiem does not promote a hell-and-damnation view of death. In fact, he assembled his own Requiem texts, emphasizing biblical passages to bring comfort to the living. “Although the idea is the Lord is the source of the comfort, a sympathetic humanism persists through the work,” Bruffy said.
Behzod Abduraimov recital
Can’t make it to Behzod Abduraimov’s Carnegie Hall recital on Nov. 17? Not to worry. The 26-year-old virtuoso and artist-in-residence at Park University is performing the same program Thursday, Nov. 3, at the 1900 Building.
It’s a benefit concert, with all ticket proceeds supporting student scholarships at Park’s International Center for Music.
The program includes music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Schubert and Sergei Prokofiev. A highlight of the recital is Ludwig Van Beethoven’s “Appassionata” sonata. The stormy sonata, one of Beethoven’s most difficult, is the sort of work Abduraimov eats for breakfast. Capping things off is another finger-buster, Islamey by Mily Balakirev.
7:30 p.m. Nov. 3. 1900 Building, 1900 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Mission Woods. $100. tinyurl.com/z3fmkb2
Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
Live from New York, it’s the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
The Friends of Chamber Music will present the esteemed group of musicians Friday, Nov. 4, at the Folly Theater in a program called “Destination Vienna.”
The concert will explore Viennese music from the classical and romantic eras and also give a taste of the expressionist music of Arnold Schoenberg. Besides a Quintet for Strings by Mozart and a String Sextet by Brahms, the ensemble will perform the string sextet version of Schoenberg’s “Verklärte Nacht” (Transfigured Night). Even in its chamber music form, Schoenberg’s work aches with lush romanticism and an almost orchestral sound.