By Jane Rosenberg
Hollywood. In a love letter to multicultural America and specifically Los Angeles, librettist Vid Guerrerio creates an hilarious, timely, and heartfelt rendition of Lorenzo Da Ponte’s take on Beaumarchais’ The Marriage of Figaro. One need go no farther than Barnsdall Park in Hollywood to find a delicious musical confection worthy of the Broadway stage and the LA Opera’s continuing “Off Grand” series.
In a fast paced two-hour version of Mozart’s beloved opera, Guerrerio rewrites Da Ponte’s libretto in English and Spanish and transplants the characters from eighteenth century Seville to modern day Los Angeles. Reflecting the concerns of the social upheaval of Beaumarchais’ times, yet moving beyond them, this clever libretto deals with the struggles of immigrant communities working to stay afloat in an occasionally beneficent but often hostile America.
Guerrerio conjures Figaro as a Mexican handyman employed on the estate of a Beverly Hills tycoon, Paul Conti, and his aging Hollywood starlet wife, Roxanne. Guerrerio tackles issues of immigration, assimilation, racism, political correctness, capitalism, and liberal and conservative politics with a heady mixture of intelligence, compassion, wit, and slapstick.
The basic outlines of the plot are still intact but in this scenario, Figaro owes money to a Korean businesswoman and sweatshop owner who paid Susana’s way across the border. Susana, maid to the Contis and Figaro’s fiancée, has only served one of the two years of her contract. This sets the ball rolling. Conti has promised to pay the money but Susana knows he expects to be sexually rewarded for his generosity. As in the original, scheming, flirtations, mistaken identity, and a long lost baby drive the plot; but the lure of a green card and a legalized life in America often propels the narrative.
Contemporary references abound. Plastic surgery, Botox, boobs, Big Macs, hip hop, cell phones, “sexting,” selfies, Coca-Cola, El Torito, the Dodgers, and the Lifetime Channel are but a sampling. With Melissa Crespo’s directorial skills and Sibyl Wickersheimer’s simple but effective set, we journey through a landscape, not unlike one of a film parodying the rich in Beverly Hills. Add to that Mozart’s incomparable music and the effect is thoroughly engaging.
Under the baton of conductor, Douglas Kinney Frost, the seven-piece ensemble of piano, guitar, violins, viola, cello, and bass create an intimate yet vibrant atmosphere and beautifully support the very talented cast of singers. Figaro as sung by José Adán Pérez is a delight. The Susana of Maria Elena Altany is as adorable as any soubrette has a right to be. As Roxanne, Greta Baldwin plays the actress striving to reclaim her youth and the love of her philandering husband. Both funny and touching, she sings in her melting soprano while unwrapping bandages on her face from a recent procedure: “God, looks like I’ve been cast as the bride of the Mummy.” Then as an afterthought she adds: “I should have also had them tuck my tummy.”
Every inch the lord of the manor in both bearing and singing, Craig Colclough, in his creamy baritone, delivers a spot on, modern day version of Count Almaviva. As Bernard, who longs to be a Rap singer (Mozart’s Cherubino), Orson Van Gay manages to merge the classical with hints of R&B. In love with Bernard, Barbara, sung by Hayden Eberhart, is both petulant and touching as the Conti’s disillusioned daughter, especially when she sings: “Love’s a fairy tale; one big epic fail.” And in one of the funniest and most potently sung arias of the evening, E. Scott Levin as Babayan, a shady businessman, sings of the faults of the ethnic groups of LA, claiming that the Armenians are best. For Los Angelenos, the stoned gardener played by David Castillo and sung in a Valley accent was beyond hilarious.
As for the audience, there were smiles on every face and laughter that could be heard for blocks from the hilltop of Barnsdall Park. Now if LA Opera could only make a film or TV version of this romp, perhaps the whole country could join together in embracing, not only opera, but also the diverse ethnic spirit that makes this nation unique.
“Figaro! (90210)” continues at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre through tonight (Sunday, Jan. 18).
Photos courtesy of L A Opera.
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To read more opera, dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.
Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children. Jane is also the author and illustrator of DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.