Opera, intimate and Asheville-style

Sequels are often a disappointing flop. Not so, The Marriage of Figaro: Not only did this opera make it, but it made it big. Following in the legendary steps of its predecessor, The Barber of Seville, this stirring sequel is funny and uplifting, says Asheville Lyric Opera's general and artistic director David Starkey.

The theme of ALO's upcoming season is Opera — Asheville style.

The Marriage of Figaro is a comic opera set in Count Almaviva's palace in Spain. Figaro, the count's valet, and the countess' maid, Susanna, are engaged to be married, but no wedding date has been set. The count, who happens to be the officiator, keeps giving excuses because he is making advances towards Susanna. Meanwhile, Figaro finds himself in hot water when a woman from his past appears, reminding Figaro of a promise to marry her. What follows is a comedic tale of confusion, wit and hilarity, featuring music from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and librettist Lorenzo da Ponte.

Figaro was once banned for its satirical content. "Most operas exist in only a few social classes," says Starkey. "The Marriage of Figaro transcends every social class." This sequel had aristocrats of the late eighteenth century squirming in their seats. The time was ripe for a revolution when The Marriage of Figaro hit the stage, and the aristocracy certainly didn't want to help things by showcasing privileged nobility freely mingling with commoners and servants.

It has always been the Asheville Lyric Opera's tradition to incorporate both locals and professionals in their productions. However, as the theme for its 2009-10 season is Opera – Asheville Style, the majority of participators are local. This is true for all aspects of the opera. "Every show will have a design from artisans in Asheville. There are so many amazingly talented people that have moved or grown up here," says Starkey.

Scenic designer Daniel Avazpour is an accomplished visual artist. Photo by Ursula Gullow.

For their first production, ALO is featuring local artisan Daniel Avazpour as the scenic designer. Not only is he designing the set for Figaro; he's building and painting it as well. A relative newcomer (though he's already had a solo show at Flood Gallery), Avazpour brings years of big-city experience. His resume includes a degree from Pratt Institute, an overseas collaboration on the Venice Biennale and experience working on sets for Saturday Night Live, Phantom of the Opera and The Lion King. "Bringing that kind of experience to this small town is a blessing," says Starkey. The scenic designer's collaboration with ALO was actually initiated by Avazpour himself. Eight months after his initial contact, the collaboration was a done deal.

Avazpour's initial foray into theatrical scenic design was accidental. While attending Pratt, Avazpour was on his way to sculpture class when he was stopped by the president of the scenic artists' union. She had noticed his white painter's garb and asked Avazpour to paint a set. The rest, as they say, is history.

Audiences should expect an intimate experience. "It's very exciting because the Diana Wortham Theatre is a very well-designed theatre. There's an intimacy to the experience [which is felt] immediately as people walk in," says Starkey. He explains that usually Figaro is a grand, opulent opera, the European ideal. From beginning to end, it's also a four-and–a-half hour drama. These days, it's rarely performed on such a scale.

"We trimmed it down to make it more intimate," Starkey says. That's reflected in the look of the set as well, he says."Two people are singing a love song and you think you're sitting in your living room."

who: Asheville Lyric Opera
what: The Marriage of Figaro
where: Diana Wortham Theatre
when: Friday, Oct. 9, and Saturday, Oct. 10 (8 p.m. Tickets $28 to $49 adults, $15 to $30 students and children. www.ashevillelyric.org or   236-0670.)

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