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Opera Santa Barbara’s Opening Night a Smash for ‘The Marriage of Figaro’

Pre-performance reception and information-gathering sessions for guests part of new community outreach efforts

The widely considered masterpiece of mayhem, The Marriage of Figaro, had a smashing opening night at The Granada on March 23 as the second production of Opera Santa Barbara’s 2011-2012 season greeted excited guests with another fully-staged opera performance.

A pre-performance lecture by Simon Williams began the evening as guests filtered through the lavish Granada entryway. Meanwhile, VIP guests from the Santa Barbara Athletic Club strode upstairs to the Founders Room for a reception that included delicious appetizers and cocktails as part of a new community outreach program for Opera Santa Barbara.

“We started affinity group campaigns where we go to existing community groups and we basically package an opera night for them, such as a local gym or a Kiwanis club,” said Steven Sharpe, general director of Opera Santa Barbara. “And you can come to us and we’ll put together a whole package for your group. It’s a great opportunity for people who normally just meet in one kind of a setting to get all dressed up and come together in another setting altogether.”

Part of this new community outreach is a push to encourage new audiences to participate in the opera with group packages that include discounts and a cocktail hour with an information-gathering session for those eager to learn more.

“We’ve started to reach out to a kind of younger, broader audience through the groups that we’re bringing in, and I really love seeing opera reach new and more diverse audiences,” Sharpe said. “We’re really accomplishing that, and I’m really proud to have that happen.”

With their newfound knowledge, guests headed to the theater for The Marriage of Figaro, staged in four acts over three hours on its Friday opening night that also included a Sunday matinee for those unable to make opening night or those eager to see more of Wolfgang Mozart’s comic opera about class and privilege that premiered in Vienna, Austria, in 1786.

Based on a stage comedy by Pierre Beaumarchais, The Marriage of Figaro is the theatrical sequel to The Barber of Seville that reunites Figaro and the Count Almaviva and for the opera includes an Italian libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte.

A lively orchestra and rousing chorus joined this fully staged opera based at a country estate in late 18th century Seville that takes place over the course of a day.

Figaro really wants to get married to Susanna, but as servants of the Count Almaviva, who has his own ambitions to spend a night with his maid, Susanna, the wedding “day of madness” (la folle giornata) proves contentious as each of them, including the Countess, tries to thwart the others’ plans. But in the end, the story ends happily as Figaro and Susanna marry after all.

Artistic director Jose Maria Condemi was proud of the accomplishments from cast and crew in staging this special evening with a timeless topic.

“It’s a comedy, but at the same time it has a lot of human dimension to it, and I like that combination of very lighthearted moments and very deep poignant ones,” Condemi said. “But still today, even though the class system has changed, the nature of power and use of power unfortunately remains the same so there’s still a lot of correlation even 300 years later.”

Director Kelly Robinson, director of opera and theater arts at the Banff Centre, staged his Opera Santa Barbara debut joined by maestro Valery Ryvkin, who has conducted for the San Diego, San Francisco and Chicago Lyric opera companies.

The stunning classic sets and lavish period costumes were designed by Susan Benson and the Banff Centre to wonderfully set the mood and tone for the evening’s performance, which was sung in Italian with English subtitles clearly in view of those interested in the option.

During the VIP pre-reception information sessions, guests learned about the wonderfully detailed costumes.

“You won’t see these heavy lines in her makeup when you’re seeing her from the audience, so this is her full stage makeup and this is not her own hair,” Sharpe said. “She has a lovely wig, and actually these wigs are made with a little mesh screening, and near the forehead those hairs are put in hair-by-hair and piece-by-piece as we get closer to the forehead.”

Guests were also treated to background on how the singers embrace the costume details to use them in their favor from one of the evening’s performers, Alissa Anderson who played Marcellina.

“I am in a corset and it’s actually nice because you sing against this area of support, and you have something to push against and this is where most of your breathing happens,” she said.

A collection of established professional singers and gifted young singers seized the moment for this classic performance, including internationally recognized Canadian soprano Rhoslyn Jones as Countess Almaviva; baritone Jason Detwiler as Count Almaviva, who has more than 30 lead roles to his credit; soprano Karen Vuong as Susanna; bass baritone Brandon Cedel, who has won first place at George London as Figaro; and soprano Evgenia Chaverdova as Cherubino.

For established opera-goers and new members, it was another performance to remember and one that Sharpe and Jose hope will draw even more people to experience the magic of the opera.

“You just have to come and try it because people have a lot of prejudice against opera,” Condemi said. “But, it is just stories told through music and in a foreign language but we have supertitles, so just come and try it. You might like it.”

The excitement and the season continues later this month with the upcoming Orpheus and Eurydice by Christoph Willibald Gluck on April 27 and a Sunday matinee on April 29.

Other theatrical events on the schedule later this year and into 2013 include Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini on Nov. 2 and No. 4, Aida by Guiseppie Verdi on March 1 and 3, and Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti on April 26 and April 28. All performances will be held at The Granada.

Another community outreach program includes an Opera Lip Sync Competition scheduled for June 7 at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club that’s limited to 12 competitors with each competitor allowed one four-minute aria or duet for a chance to win a $1,000 cash prize.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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