/ 15 August 2022

The Opera Virgin attends ‘The Marriage of Figaro’

The cast of Figaro on the wedding day of Figaro and Susanna (Kim Stevens).

Picture this: it’s a cold winter’s evening in Joburg, I’ve just navigated dark, load-shed streets along the hilly slopes of the West Rand and I find myself, suitably attired, standing in a queue at the Roodepoort Theatre, about to attend the opening night of The Marriage of Figaro

It had never crossed my mind to undertake an operatic exploit but the confluence of an ever-increasing appreciation for the arts, augmented by the effects of the Covid-19 lockdowns, and there I stood on a Wednesday evening, ticket in hand. A huge smile on my face, evident for all to see.

Then, like a moment in time straight from the good book, it happened. Bright lights engulfed me, a giggle of seraphim gently took a hold of my hand and led me through the interminable queue and into the theatre. Bubbly beverages were offered and masked ladies smiled profusely. It was a surreal experience, at least in my head. 

 Frustrated Cherubino expounds upon his desire for the Countess, and in the process complicates matters for Figaro and Susanna (Kim Stevens).

And just like that, The Opera Virgin was born.

I knew I wanted more of this. That sense of occasion and good old pomp and ceremony. For a moment, I indulged in fanciful thoughts of the Vienna Opera House, possibly a future attendance at the Royal Opera in London or taking my seat at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, if they would just stop fighting. People were happy and had donned their best couture for the social soiree. The chilly winter evening necessitated a dusting off of leather gloves and fur coats (faux, I hope, but honestly it’s the West Rand so I’m not actually sure), such was the intensity of the evening.

One woman appeared to be reliving a Nirvana-esque state of mind brought on by flashbacks to her recent matric farewell, owing to her particular choice of dress, complete with train. She brilliantly brought the full look together in perfect unison by donning her K-Way puffer jacket. In black, naturally.

Some of the chaps looked rather swanky too. It was quite the spectacle.

Cultures mixed as frivolities played out. Some same sexes mingled too, rather scandalously, in a manner that would have sent HF running for the confessional. If only he was Catholic. Unenlightened soul, he should have notched up a few pride parades on his boere belt to sort that karmic nunu out.

All in all, there was definite energy at the Roodepoort Theatre that Wednesday evening, as The Marriage of Figaro opened, and The Opera Virgin was birthed.

Le Nozze di Figaro – the lowdown

The Marriage of Figaro is the ideal opera for first-time purveyors of the art form. Like myself. In a nutshell, Figaro is a sequel to The Barber of Seville by Rossini, which sees a young nobleman named Almaviva win the heart of his lover Rosina, aided by the machinations of his mate Figaro. Fast-forward three years and Almaviva is now a count, Rosina a countess and Figaro, the count’s valet. This is where we pick things up in Figaro.

As the curtain rises we are introduced to Figaro and his fiancé Susanna (maid to the countess) on their wedding day. The count has graciously given the happy couple a room but Susanna laments that it is dangerously close to the count, who has less than noble intentions towards her. The count plans to reinstate the feudal right which greenlighted a lord to have his way with a servant girl on her wedding night. Bad news for Susanna in 1786, hectic stuff in 2022. 

Figaro is quite rightly incensed and devises a cunning plan to outsmart his dodgy friend the count. He enlists the help of his love Susanna, the countess, who by this stage is all but abandoned by the count, and a young page boy delightfully named Cherubino. Mistaken identities, a myriad disguises and a fair amount of hiding occupy the characters and their exquisite operatic talents, all of which are exacerbated by young Cherubino’s adoration for all women, especially the countess.

With the breath-taking vocal range of sopranos, mezzo-sopranos, tenors and baritones on display in a striking performance by the cast of Figaro, much confusion ensues throughout the performance, with matters coming to a head in the garden in the final act. Seduction, hastily disguised characters and self-righteous accusations are followed by a spate of begging on the part of the count. The countess pardons him and the opera ends with both couples reconciled.

The cast and creative team

The Marriage of Figaro sees the Cape Town Opera collaborate with Sempre Opera and the Roodepoort Theatre to bring Mozart’s famous masterpiece to life. It’s directed by Magdalene Minnaar, with set and costume design by Maritha Visagie and Rabia Davids. Conductor Schalk van der Merwe did an outstanding job of interpreting Mozart’s vision. He was quite a dish too, as confirmed by my fur-wearing neighbour, his flamboyant fringe keeping pace with many of the more complex aria’s performed.

Figaro is played by Conroy Scott, Susanna by Brittany Smith, the count by William Berger and the countess by Siphamandla Moyake. Sexually frustrated Cherubino was expertly played by Megan Kahts and was my favourite on the night.

It intrigues me just how much of the storyline I see reflected in everyday life — challenges faced by young lovers, corruption of the noble class and all-round promiscuity. I wonder if we will ever learn our lesson?

The Opera Virgin wants more and has grandiose plans to take in, and share with you, insights from every opera performance in South Africa. Welcome to The Opera Virgin. Which performance shall we attend next?