For its 25th anniversary, Harvard College Opera (HCO) put on a production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” from Feb. 1– 5 at the Agassiz Theater. The production contained a completely undergraduate cast, production staff and orchestra featuring students from Harvard College, Boston Conservatory, New England Conservatory and the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
The performance was unique as HCO President Cristina Bianco stated, “For the first time in our organization’s history, we are performing ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ in its original language with projected supertitles.”
With the leadership of Musical Director Sasha Scolnik-Brower and Stage Director Joule Voelz, HCO pulled off an impressive operatic feat. The quality of vocal and orchestral talent was superb, creating a sense in the theater that the audience felt transported to another world.
“Le Nozze di Figaro” (meaning the marriage of Figaro) is considered to be one of Mozart’s masterworks. At the time the opera was initially written, the play from which the libretto of the opera is based on, Figaro, had been banned from its native France because of its “subversive plotline.”
“Le Nozze di Figaro” surrounds the affairs of two main couples, Count and Countess Almaviva of a Spanish palace and their servants, Figaro and Susannah respectively. The Count is madly in love with Susannah, and on the day of her marriage to Figaro tries to do everything in his power to halt the marriage. Susannah, being loyal to both Figaro and the Countess, tells them both about the Count’s plan. Figaro uses his position as the aid to the Count to figure out the details of his plan, and the Countess and Susannah find a way in which to trick the Count and reprimand him for his unfaithful ways.
The plot itself would put any contemporary soap opera or reality TV show to shame. The number of plot twists and characters intensifies the dramatic nature of the play, but also maintains the comical nature of the opera. Mozart’s genius lies in his ability to illustrate the psyche of each individual character through song, along with his capacity to have his characters laugh at their own absurdity.
Opera has been unfairly portrayed as the least accessible type of artistic performance. When watching students put on a three-and-a-half hour long production, having memorized songs in a language they are not fluent in, it is clear that millennials still have a passion for opera.
According Assistant Stage Manager Spencer Glesby, the performers are all amateurs.
“Singers from the conservatory aren’t allowed to study opera until they’ve finished their undergraduate degree,” Glesby said.
Out of the entire cast, only graduate student James Lesu’I, who played the Count, had received any operatic training. This was shocking considering the quality of singing. There were even cast members who did not study voice at all, and they were some of the most captivating singers of the production.
What is appealing about opera and why young people still want to perform and view it (the last two performances were sold out) is that the lessons that Mozart captures still ring true today. In the screenplay from the movie “Amadeus,” (1984) Mozart proclaims “It’s a piece about love.”
This opera nerd would argue it is a piece that goes beyond love. When the Countess sings her aria about how she still loves her unfaithful husband despite all he has done to her, the audience cannot help but feel a moment of empathy. Bianco does a beautiful job of capturing the forlornness in the Countess’ tone, and the viewer realizes how much one puts up with for love.
During the final scene, she alone forgives the Count for his immoral ways. The production created such an atmosphere that viewers felt she was not only granting the Count forgiveness, but also forgiving herself for her unconditional love towards him. “Le Nozze di Figaro” reminds viewers that where there is no forgiveness, there is no love.