Opera Theater Begins New Season, New Venue

Article excerpt

Opera Theater begins a new era Tuesday evening when it presents "The Marriage of Figaro" at its new performing home, the Byham Theater, Downtown.

After presenting operas around town at sites as diverse as The Andy Warhol Museum, an armory in Shadyside and a North Side mansion, Opera Theater's leaders see the move to the Cultural District as being complementary rather than competitive with the much bigger and more prestigious Pittsburgh Opera, which presents its major productions at the Benedum Center.

Opera Theater's artistic director, Jonathan Eaton, says, "We felt that in the first year or two (in the Cultural District), we should program relatively well-known popular material. And, hey, in my opinion, 'The Marriage of Figaro' is the highpoint of Western civilization, so why not start at the top?"

Eaton's extravagant praise of the opera is based on his opinions of the story and the music. He says there is no better drama of manners and morals than the French play by Pierre Beuamarchais that Lorenzo da Ponte used to create the Italian opera libretto -- with suggestions by composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

But it is the music that makes "The Marriage of Figaro" transcendent. Eaton says the finale Mozart wrote for the first part of the opera, which will come just before the first intermission, "is the most extraordinary ensemble ever written. The continuing evolution of music drama is a series of marvels."

"The Marriage of Figaro" is a domestic comedy set in the 18th century at the estate of Count Almaviva, who wooed and won his wife in the earlier Beaumarchais play "The Barber of Seville" that is best known operatically in Gioachino Rossini's setting.

Figaro and his fiancee, Susanna, are the centerpiece of Mozart's opera because they conspire to resist the Count's attempts to have her sexually before her marriage, an ancient aristocratic privilege of lords of the house over their servants.

There also are a series of other intrigues going on to keep the comedy frothy. But the opera's decisive moment comes in the last act when the Countess, who has conspired with the servants against her husband, forgives him after he begs her to. …