At the Hopkins Center,
An Updated ‘Figaro’

Published: 8/8/2016 9:22:15 AM
Modified: 4/9/2015 12:00:00 AM
Imagine Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro , one of the best loved and most performed operas in the r epertoire, set in Beverly Hills in the present day, and you have ¡Figaro (90210) , which arrives today at the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College for a two-night run.

The musical direction is by Opera North Artistic Director Louis Burkot, who also teaches voice at the college; and the stage direction is by Melissa Crespo, who has staged it in previous, highly praised productions in New York and Los Angeles. The cast includes 10 singers from Dartmouth, both current and recent undergraduates, and singers from Opera North, as well as other companies around the country.

Vid Guerrerio, who graduated from Dartmouth in 1996, has updated Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte’s story of rascals, rakes, schemers and naifs, and set the opera in present-day Los Angeles, where it takes on a distinctly 21st century, multicultural American spin. It’s still Mozart’s glorious music, and it’s still a sly look at class differences, but the cast is diverse, in keeping with a multi-ethnic United States.

The barber Figaro and his paramour, Susana, are now undocumented Mexican immigrants who work for vulgar real-estate tycoon Paul Conti and his wife, Roxanne, who, desperate to keep her husband’s affection, treats herself to all the detox and Botox that Hollywood can offer. Dartmouth College voice teacher and vocal coach Erma Mellinger plays Roxanne, while Lee Velta, a New York-based singer, plays Conti.

Susana must invent ways to fend off Conti’s unwanted advances, while Figaro rages at the disrespect shown him by the Contis. The page Cherubino in Mozart’s opera, usually sung by a mezzo-soprano, here becomes L’il B-Man, a hip-hop and rap singer who is played in this production by Dartmouth grad Nathaniel Graves. The maid Barbara becomes, in ¡ Figaro 90210 , the Contis’ daughter Barbara, who is played by Emma Orme, a Dartmouth senior, as a slightly petulant young woman used to getting her way. L’il B-Man and Barbara fall in love, and, yes, make beautiful music together.

Guerrerio wants his generation, and younger, to “understand Mozart and have a go at it,” said Burkot at a rehearsal in Spaulding Auditorium, where the opera will be performed. So he’s taken liberties that end up paying cheeky homage to the genius of Mozart and Da Ponte in the kind of street language people are used to, while also sending up race and class in a fresh, comic way, Burkot said.

In one scene, Conti clumsily woos Susana, calling her a “spicy little senorita.” Susana pretends to play along with him. “What’s wrong? Have I vexed you?” sings Conti. Susana replies, “I’ll choose the occasion. Then I’ll text you.” A few moments later, Roxanne congratulates Susana on setting the trap with which they’ll humiliate Conti. “As for us, my husband took the bait,” she sings; “Yes, we even set a date,” Susana replies.

“The libretto is so funny and clever I have to reach the height it’s demanding of me,” said stage director Melissa Crespo. Audiences have responded warmly to the production, as have critics. When the production ran in New York in 2013, Th e New York Times called it both brilliant and blasphemous. Blasphemous, maybe not so much (not that Mozart or Da Ponte would object, particularly); but bold and inventive, yes. And it’s been drawing in people who may not have been to the opera before, or who think they don’t have much interest in opera.

“It creates new audiences, which I think is really important,” Crespo said.

¡Figaro (90210) will be performed this evening at 7 p.m. and Friday evening, April 10, at 8 p.m. in Spaulding Auditorium, Hopkins Center for the Arts, Hanover. Tickets are $9-$10. For tickets and information call the Hopkins Center Box Office at 603-646-2422 or go to hop.dartmouth.edu/Online/figaro_90210.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.




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