The McCarter production would seem to be the novelty here: Beaumarchais’s play (1778) isn’t performed very often in the US, and I’d never seen it before, though I have read it. It was an ambitious undertaking for this regional theater, performed in rotation with Barber of Seville, premiering new adaptation by Stephen Wadsworth (highly colloquial but only occasionally anachronistic), who also directed. Wadsworth has much experience in opera, one of the actors was a singer (Naomi O’Connell, the Countess, her day job made obvious by her formal, regal bearing and the rather unvaried use of her [speaking] voice), and most of the audience, like me, spent most of the performance comparing the play to the opera.
|Barber set (play)|
|Sua madre? (Play)|
|Count, Countess, Cherubino (play)|
|This production is available on DVD.|
In the McCarter production of both plays, Rosina/Countess emerged as the central figure, an aristocrat reduced to modest captivity and then, after considerable tribulations, finally back on top. Had the theater as planned also produced the third play, The Guilty Mother, this may have made a full arc, but as it was we were left with a restoration of sorts. Despite Figaro’s long monologues and incomparably colorful backstory (and even the rubric under which these productions were promoted as The Figaro Plays), he is not allowed this same sort of development or progress; this is the very point he makes in that monologue. And in Mozart, the Count-Countess relationship is the one which receives musical and dramatic precedence at the opera’s end.
McVicar is a clever director and knows how to end with a striking image, here an anonymous cleaning woman who finally takes center stage in the final bars. But it hasn't been her opera, and it couldn't be. As a dramatic move it’s a bit of a cheap shot in comparison with the more complex action which preceded it--a complexity which is not only McVicar’s but also Mozart’s and Da Ponte’s. In comparison, Wadsworth ends his production with an extended dance, a production number which seems less a restoration of order and harmony than a last salvo at providing some entertainment. It was, after all, only the folly of a single day.
The Figaro Plays: May 2 and 3, McCarter Theatre, Princeton.Photos copyright McCarter Theatre/T. Charles Erickson and Royal Opera House/Mark Douet.
Le nozze di Figaro: May 15, Royal Opera House, London.
*Sorry, no Mercadante.