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We all call for Figaro – and he for us

January 15, 2009

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    January 15, 2009
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    Press
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    Opera Carolina News

We all call for Figaro – and he for us

He may be the hardest-working character in opera. He certainly lets loose with opera's most recognizable outcry:

Fiiiiigarooooo! Fiiiiiigaroooo! Figarofigarofigarogfigarofigaro Fiiiiiigaaaaaarooooooo!

He's describing how everyone in town clamors for him. But he could expand that to include the entire music world. Figaro is so energetic that he's the centerpiece of not one opera, but two. Opera companies come running to him whenever they're eager to sell tickets. And with the economy in the state it's in, that means now.

So Opera Carolina will soon treat its audience to both of Figaro's incarnations. Rossini's “The Barber of Seville” opens Jan. 24, and Mozart's “The Marriage of Figaro” will follow in March.

Hit parade

Long before Hollywood made sequels to capitalize on a success, the French playwright Beaumarchais blazed the trail. In 1775, “The Barber of Seville” introduced the quick-thinking Figaro, who helps a Spanish count win the hand of the woman he loves. That led to “The Marriage of Figaro,” in which Figaro uses his ingenuity to stop the count – who has developed into a philanderer trying to get his hands on Figaro's fiancee. With the French Revolution brewing, the rebellious overtones of having a commoner battling a nobleman got “Figaro” banned in France and beyond. But that, like the monarchy, didn't last.

Beaumarchais was busy

In a 21st century that's becoming an era of second careers and personal reinvention, Beaumarchais could be a model for all of us.
Starting out as a watchmaker, he devised a timepiece mounted on a ring that was given to King Louis XV's mistress, Madame de Pompadour. He gave harp lessons to Louis' daughters. After being taken under the wing of a French entrepreneur, he made a fortune in business. That helped him land a position in government, with duties that grew to include diplomatic missions abroad. He set up a publishing company that printed the first complete collection of the writer and philosopher Voltaire. Utilizing his skills in business and diplomacy, France and Spain secretly hired him to sell munitions to the rebellious British colonies in North America. When he died in 1799, the young nation still owed him 3 million francs.

Rossini steals the show

By the time Beaumarchais died, an Italian-opera “Barber” by Giovanni Paisiello was popular across Europe. But everyone forgot about it after the 23-year-old Rossini unveiled his “Barber” in 1816. In a mere three weeks, Rossini had dashed off an opera whose sparkle and fleetness made it an almost-instant hit. The only hitch was the premiere, which was a fiasco. Legend has it that the mishaps included the antics of a stray cat that got loose onstage. Another legend has it that Paisiello's fans caused some of the trouble.

Pizazz and power

Figaro's famous look-at-me aria is just one example of the speedy and tuneful music that gives “Barber” its pizazz. The characters have a parade of arias showing us exactly who they are. The count starts things off with his serenade, focusing all his longing into the melody that carries his caresses through Rosina's window. Rosina lives under the jealous eye of her guardian, Bartolo, but she tells us flat-out that she won't let anyone push her around. Her vocal fireworks drive home the point. When Rosina's conniving music teacher, Basilio, recommends that Bartolo tell tales about the count to get rid of him, Rossini unleashes his trademark crescendos to illustrate the cannon-fire power of slander.

The leads

Opera Carolina will bring back baritone Ryan Taylor as Figaro. He sang nimbly in another Rossini gem, “Cinderella,” in 2006. Mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala, entrusted with one night as Cinderella in 2006, will portray Rosina. And tenor Victor Ryan Robertson, whose ringing tones lent intensity to last season's production of “Don Giovanni,” will play the count.

By Steven Brown
Sbrown@charlotteobserver.com
Posted: Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009