By Matthew Gulick
This season Tacoma Opera celebrates their 50th anniversary, a significant milestone for the institution I learned of one week ago. In his opening statements before their first production of the season, “The Marriage of Figaro,” General Director Noel Koran described it as a “remarkable achievement that this spunky little company has been around for 50 years.”
Three performances by the company kicked off the season, the final one taking place last Sunday, 11/5. While Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” premiered in Vienna on May 1, 1786, the opera felt like an impressive work of art you could come across channel surfing at 3 a.m. in an unfamiliar hotel room. This impression came from the its plot twists — misread intentions where no one is given the benefit of the doubt, absurd plots involving elaborate disguises and unforeseen revelations on familial and romantic relations — and thematic concern with an absurdly ineffectual yet still nefarious patriarchal household. The fact that the opera was sung entirely in Italian with English supertitles heightened the artistic, perpetual confusion. Combined, these plot points and delivery meant that I discovered the woman Figaro is almost wrongly forced to marry is actually his long-lost mother by reading it on giant words above the stage.
As should be the case in any work with potential Oedipal fiascos narrowly averted, “The Marriage of Figaro” is a comedy. In all, the production came across as a 3 1/2 hour long (with one 20-minute intermission) double take — a series of absurd mistaken identities, mix-ups and coincidences.
The woman behind me apparently felt this to be slightly excessive.
“That was just the first act?” she said as the house lights came up.
The Opera took place over four acts with the intermission after act two.
In attending I learned where the “opera” part of soap opera comes from, though I remain confused and probably one Google search away from knowing the origin of the “soap” part. I also learned that R. Kelly’s hip hopera “Trapped in the Closet” reflects themes prevalent in Mozart’s piece, namely the “hiding in the closet” motif, which pops up in both works.
This matinee performance proved popular with an older crowd, though the snow falling outside stirred general discontent among the less-mobile patrons. The Rialto, built in 1917 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, provided an intimate setting for audience to experience opera up close and personal.
In all “The Marriage of Figaro” showcased impressive musical and acting talent. Cast and crew worked the Rialto’s close quarters masterfully, manipulating the set into four different settings brought to life through sheer musical ambition and talent. The smallish 20-piece orchestra provided excellent accompaniment for the actors on stage. Audience members overwhelmingly expressed their delight with the performance.
I asked Lisa, the woman seated next to me, for her opinion after the show.
“I’m new to the area so this is the first time I’ve been to the theater,” Lisa said. “I have seen the Opera before in a venue down south, but it’s a lovely theater, it’s a really intimate space and I think it was a great production. They’re quality singers and it was really nice. I would absolutely see another production here.”
Interested parties can find Tacoma Opera’s philosophy on their website.
“Tacoma Opera is intent on redefining opera in this country as an intimate and accessible art form that allows audiences to experience opera in a uniquely personal way, touching the heart and stimulating the mind,” it reads.
The organization provides discounted student tickets by calling Tacoma Opera at 253-627-7789.
Their next production, “Carmen,” premieres Feb. 3, followed by “The Merry Widow” on Apr. 14.
More information available at tacomaopera.com.