The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music interview: Director Scott Parry discusses Madison Opera’s production of Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” — Part 1 of 2

November 1, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

This week, the big musical event in Madison is opera.

Specifically, Madison Opera opens its 50th anniversary season with two performances of Mozart’s classic comedy “The Marriage of Figaro” on Friday, Nov. 5, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 7, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall.

The production features an internationally acclaimed cast, with A. Scott Parry directing and Maestro John DeMain, music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, conducting the orchestra.

“It was important for us to start this milestone season with a perennial favorite to really excite the community,” says General Director Allan Naplan (below), in a prepared press release.

There is a historical component as well: almost 50 years ago, a group of local singers known as the Madison Opera Workshop presented scenes from “The Marriage of Figaro” for the company’s second outing.

Today, the Madison Opera’s full production will feature a professional cast with credentials at leading U.S. and international opera houses, performing on the Overture Hall stage with a striking set design most recently seen at Glimmerglass Opera, Florida Grand Opera and Pittsburgh Opera.

“It just shows how much we’ve grown,” Naplan adds.

Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte based “The Marriage of Figaro” on Beaumarchais’ play of the same title, and it premiered in Vienna on May 1, 1786.

Set in Seville, the opera follows the servants Figaro and Susanna on what is supposed to be their wedding day.  But they work in the Count’s household, and he, too, has eyes for Susanna, triggering a series of events full of laughs, heartache, and ultimately, reconciliation.

Starring as the charming Figaro is bass Jason Hardy (below). A leading American interpreter of the role, the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote that he “turns in a Figaro of charismatic allure, with an elegant bass.”

Soprano Anya Matanovic (below) returns to Madison as Susanna, having triumphed this summer at Opera in the Park.

Soprano Melody Moore (below, in a photo by Dan Demitriad) stars as Countess Almaviva, arriving in Madison directly from London, where the Daily Telegraph recently praised her “thrillingly red-blooded singing” in a new production of Faust at the English National Opera.

Metropolitan Opera baritone Jeff Mattsey (below) sings the role of Count Almaviva, and the young mezzo-soprano Emily Lorini, recently seen at the Santa Fe Opera, sings Cherubino. Michael Gallup and Melissa Parks are featured as Dr. Bartolo and Marcellina.

Madison-based artists Emily Birsan, James Doing and Justin Niehoff Smith complete the ensemble as Barbarina, Don Basilio and Antonio, respectively.

Prices range from $16 to $114, with student and group discounts available.

Tickets are currently available online at, by phone at (608) 258-4141, and at the Overture Center Box Office (201 State St. in Madison).

Director A. Scott Parry (below) recently spoke to The Ear about the upcoming production.

Here is a link to this home website:

Parry’s interview will appear in two parts, today and tomorrow, Tuesday:

Mozart based his opera on a play that was banned because it was seen as dangerous to the aristocracy. What about “Figaro” made it so revolutionary and does any of that still hold true or have comparables today?

The issues of the day dealt with social strata.  The Count (the Lord and Master of his castle and it’s surrounds) had ultimate power and authority over his people. He was the dictator and the full extent of the government in the lands that he owned.  Figaro, as his personal valet and serving at the leisure of the Count, was compelled by law and custom to follow his master’s wishes, which, in both the play and the opera, he does not do.

He in fact uses his wits (as well as the eager participation of his bride-to-be Susanna and the Countess herself) to thwart the intentions of the Count.  And the main intention of the Count in this instance is the right of the “droit de seigneur” (master’s right), a recently abolished custom, which allowed a magnate to take the virginity of each woman under his rule prior to her marriage.

The core issue of the period is thereby seen in microcosm in this Count/Figaro relationship: quite literally, master and servant.  This central tension ultimately lead to the French Revolution, which had its ignition about five years after the premiere of “Figaro” on the stage.

Nowadays, although we have evolved as a society to accept equality among individuals based on a shared humanity, there still exists a sense of this struggle — mostly through the disparity of monetary resources and their distribution across populations.

And so the question persists even today: Where does power lie?  What actual rights do we individually have, either implied or explicit?  Who really controls whom?  And how?

What in the story and the characters keeps resonating today with audiences?

The behavior of human beings.  Although costumes and customs have changed over the course of 225 years, the human heart and the desires of a person’s soul have not.  Each of us continues daily to search for love, control, respect and connection, even as do the characters in this piece.

And more to the point, Mozart’s music imbues this endeavor with such depth of emotion and hilarity of human foibles that he can touch us with the awesome truth of our own human condition moment to moment as we see and hear it unfold onstage.

Why does the music remain so well-known and so popular, even for Mozart?

See what I say above. But also, Mozart is the supreme musical dramatist. His music captures each moment of drama perfectly.  He condenses down the human impulse, be it comic or tragic or even both simultaneously, into a piercingly precise aural experience.

His music has a supreme clarity to both the vertical and horizontal aspects of music: vertical being the tonal colors of harmony, which is indicative of emotional experience; and horizontal being the rhythmic sense of style and pace, which motivates action to occur.

These two planes of action and emotion are so well defined in Mozart that the meaning and the affect of each musical phrase are immediately understood by an audience.  Even if we don’t know exactly why, we feel the sense of drama in every bar of Mozart’s score.

And “Figaro” is undoubtedly his operatic masterpiece.

Tomorrow: What audiences should look for in the Madison Opera’s production of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” and how director Scott Parry ‘fell into’ opera

Posted in Classical music

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