The overture starts off with a buzzing and an empty stage. As the strings whisper busily to each other, several characters dressed as servants appear, carrying various pieces of the set—boxes and trunks—that they proceed to arrange, their hectic movements echoing the frenetic progression of the music. Then there is silence, and the servants vanish: La nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) has begun.
Figaro is fueled by a smart, high-octane libretto of class warfare, hidden motives, and a series of escalating, potentially explosive confrontations. The Opera Theatre of Yale College’s (OTYC) production brings the work to life with energetic, expressive singers as well as with the richer, more dissonant tonal palette that comes from using gut-string instruments rather than the normal steel strings. Despite many solid individual performances (especially the arias of Andy Berry, ES ’14, as Figaro and Sylvia Leith, ES ’16, as Marcellina), this production’s strengths are really in the mixed ensemble: pairs singing simultaneously about opposing feelings, small groups of singers forming and disbanding and reforming again. In the finale of act two, character after character enters the stage, and the scene gradually builds both narrative and musical complexity in a kind of cumulative chaos. The OTYC cast does a masterful job with these difficult group pieces, and displays an impressive depth of vocal talent in addition to performing wonderfully insane ensemble scenes.
In a good production of Figaro the music and the plot are interconnected; one can’t tell if the characters are frenzied because the music is frenzied, or vice versa. OTYC brings this confluence of song and story to a heightened pitch, and I think you will be just as excited by it as I was, whether you are a stranger to or a fan of the original work.