The University of Memphis’ Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music presented its first opera of the year at Harris Concert Hall Friday night.
“The Marriage of Figaro” was also performed on Sunday afternoon following Friday night’s show.
Composed in 1786 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, the opera takes place in one day and tells the story of servants Figaro and Susanna, who are planning to get married. However, the Count who is in charge of the couple tries to pursue Susanna. The two servants must outsmart the Count in order to proceed in getting married.
Sung in Italian, English supertitles were provided and the recitative was replaced with English.
The opera was directed and produced by UofM’s Stage Director for Opera, Benjamin Smith. It was his first time directing “The Marriage of Figaro”.
“I’ve been somebody else’s assistant director, but I’ve never actually been the director,” he said. “So, I know the music well and have a lot of affection for this piece.”
Smith noted that another factor that helped in directing the opera is the detailed writing of Mozart.
“Mozart was a great composer, but he was also a really great man of the theatre,” Smith said. “He gives you musical space to do the dramatic things you need to do.”
Work on the opera began in late January of this year. It was originally planned to produce the opera two years ago, but it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With this extended gap of time occurring between working on an opera, Smith said that everyone had to learn how to get back into the process of it.
“Normally, we would be doing an opera every year all of the time, and now we’ve had this weird break,” he said. “It’s a little bit of a discovery to just remember how all of it works.”
For U of M junior Camden Kegley, it was his first full stage production of an opera. He played the role of Antonio, the Count’s gardener and Susanna’s uncle.
Kegley said it was exciting to get to work with other talented colleagues and professors. A lot of the students that were in the play are masters and doctoral students, so he was able to learn a lot from them.
“It’s really awesome to work with them and see what it is like when you’re at that level of artistry, musicianship and professionalism,” Kegley said.
He stated that “The Marriage of Figaro” is not only an excellent written opera but one of the greatest operas ever created.
“If there’s one opera for everyone to hear or choose, I think there’s a strong argument for this one,” he said.
“The Marriage of Figaro” is one of the most praised and performed operas. In 2017, BBC Music Magazine asked 172 opera singers what their favorite opera was. “The Marriage of Figaro” was listed number one as the greatest opera ever written.
Kegley acknowledged that when a lot of people think of classical music, particularly an opera, they believe it is super distinct from normal, ordinary people.
He hopes that when people hear about or watch the opera, they see it is not so far removed from normal people and capture the moments of emotion and humor in it.
“I think the beauty of opera that often times gets overlooked is that opera is for everyone. I hope people take that away from the production.”