Opera buffs never seem to get enough of that sweet stuff the little laddie Mozart left behind, and “Figaro” is arguably the most recognizable name in opera — whether you first heard it from Bugs Bunny, Luciano Pavarotti on the Tonight Show or, legitimately, in one of myriad productions by companies large and small around the world.
Now Asheville Lyric Opera is staging the namesake work, Le Nozze di Figaro (Marriage of Figaro).
Back in 1785, the Emperor Joseph commanded his court musician, a youngster named Amadeus Mozart, to write an opera for Vienna. Also in Joseph’s stable was a librettist who’d taken the name Lorenzo Da Ponte (Gannon wasn’t the first writer to flack for an imperial government under a pseudonym). Beaumarchais’ play, Le Mariage de Figaro, was the latest buzz in Paris, and the Viennese duo simply helped themselves to the story — sort of a Napster move in the pre-digital age. The result was hailed as a triumph, and has remained popular through the centuries.
Appropriately, the stolen tale centers on a cast of duplicitous lovers, characters who hide in closets and switch identities. Figaro is a complicated comedy, chock-full of lechery and plot twists, but carried throughout by witty and lyrical music.
The scene is set at the country house of Count Almaviva, who is determined to bed the Countess’ maid, Susannah. Meanwhile, the Countess has her hat set for Cherubino, the Count’s page, the walking embodiment of libido.
Baritone Matthew Singer, based in New York, will play the role of the Count. Reached between rehearsals, Singer was enthusiastic. “Almaviva has been one of my favorite roles. It’s such a fantastic opera, and the characters are drawn so well.” The singer has been performing professionally, nationwide, since graduation from Juilliard in 1998. This is his second visit to the Tar Heel State (he performed with the Opera Company of North Carolina in Raleigh, singing Yamadori in Madame Butterfly).
Although the work of staging an opera goes on for months, performers typically only work together for two weeks. “[ALO General and Artistic Director] David Starkey had sent us the cuts and edits that we’re going to do,” Singer explains. “In New York, I worked through it with a teacher and a coach. Then I sit at home with my wife [also a professional singer] and drill the lines until I’ve got the language down and know what I’m saying.”
He adds, “I’ve been working at this, hardcore, for about a month.”
There are as many plots and subplots at work in Figaro as in the city/county water war, though they’re played out with considerably more humor. In a somewhat unusual real-life twist, the two lead roles, Figaro and Susannah, are sung by local artists: Bryan Franklin, a native of Swannanoa, and Amanda Horton, a graduate of Asheville High.
Horton, who went on to Furman University and the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music, won that school’s 2000 Bach-Handel competition and became a member of the voice faculty at the Conservatory before beginning her professional career.
“Susannah is the longest soprano role in the operatic repertoire,” she explains. “I’ve always wanted to do it, not only because it’s challenging … but also because this opera is done so often. It’s a really good thing to have in your repertoire and on your resume.”
Also, Horton notes, “This is a chance to do it in Italian. It’s a fun role. There’s comedy, there’s romantic pathos — a little bit of everything.”
Asheville Lyric Opera presents Marriage of Figaro at 8 p.m. Friday, April 1 and Saturday, April 2 at Diana Wortham Theatre. General-admission tickets are $37 and $28 (discounts are available for children and students). A dress-rehearsal performance will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 30. Proceeds from that show — tickets are $10/general, $5/students — will support the school-outreach component of ALO. Call 257-4530 for reservations.