While Australia is home to world-class opera companies and artists, opera remains a genre of live performance seen as less accessible than other theatre forms.
But Lyndon Terracini, Opera Australia’s artistic director, is said to be on a mission to make people fall in love with opera and believes it’s vital to reinvent productions regularly, in order to ensure the works are contemporary and engaging for different kinds of settings.
With that in mind, Opera Australia is presenting a brand new touring production of Mozart’s eighteenth century masterpiece, The Marriage of Figaro, created by award-winning duo Michael Gow (Australian playwright and director best known as the author of play Away) and designer Robert Kemp (whose credits include set and costume design for Opera Australia’s 2014 regional tour of The Magic Flute).
The tour encompasses stops in regional New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT, and in each performance, a live touring chamber orchestra will be accompanied by a chorus of local children and some of Opera Australia’s finest singers.
Theatre People had the good fortune of speaking to director Gow on the eve of the tour’s commencement. Not only is the accomplished playwright and director at the helm of this new production, but he’s also been charged with responsibility for its adaptation.
So, what precisely about this new production of The Marriage of Figaro sets it apart from earlier stagings, and what makes it more accessible to Australian audiences of today?
“Between the singing numbers, there’s dialogue, which I’ve written,” Gow explains. “It’s in English, and it’s not ‘Aussie’, but it’s very clear Australian English. And I’ve cut the show and shaped it because I’ve always found Figaro, as a story, really confusing because there are too many people called Don-something and there are too many plots that are all going on at once. So, I’ve tried to make it really clear what’s going on.
“This is the third touring show I’ve done, and one of the rewards I’ve always had is that people have come up and said, ‘Finally, I understand what’s going on in this show!’ It’s sort of an obsession of mine. I don’t think it’s enough to say, ‘It’s an opera. It doesn’t matter’.
“I think the story will be really clear and delivered like it’s really fast-paced, and the characters are really well delineated and that it’s a lot of fun.”
Why does Gow think The Marriage of Figaro is a work that remains a great piece to bring to the stage in 2016?
“Firstly, it’s got the most amazing music. Every day, you come out amazed by it from rehearsals. I just think you can’t get enough of it,” he says.
“But I think the reason people loved it at first – and still love it – is that it’s an interesting view of the way the people at the bottom of the social heap have to work very hard to keep their heads above water and deal with the vagaries of the people at the top. I think that’s something that never goes out of date.”
And does Gow agree that this production of The Marriage of Figaro will be a good introduction to opera for newcomers to the art form?
“I hope it is,” he says. “It’s not long and boring and confusing. It looks amazing, it’s got the most beautiful design, and it completely embraces the audience in the way this ensemble of singers is saying, ‘Here’s this amazing story about servants and their masters’. I think there should be no sense of, ‘We’re in for a long night of obscure stuff!’”
On 19 August, The Marriage of Figaro arrives in Western Sydney at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres – a venue with which Gow is well acquainted.
“I love that theatre because it’s reasonably new and well-equipped, but it’s designed like a really classic old theatre,” he tells Theatre People. “The auditorium and the stage have a great relationship, so the shows always look really good in there, and it’s easy for the performers to make contact with the audience.”
According to Gow, Opera Australia’s touring production of The Marriage of Figaro affords audiences across regional towns the opportunity to partake in an experience often reserved for those attending venues in major metropolitan centres.
“One of the things we wanted to do on this particular show was to give regional audiences a sense of the splendour of a production that they’d usually only see at the Opera House,” Gow says.
“It’s got this amazing design, so that even before the music starts, it looks incredible. There are great costumes, and the set is really simple and beautiful, so there’s this great experience to begin with. And it’s a great opportunity to see some young singers who are on the way up… It’s this whole opera package, but without all the other issues of getting there and, ‘Will I understand it?’, ‘Will I feel out of place?’
“The whole spirit of these shows is embracing, and I think if people want to feel like, ‘Here’s a hurdle I’ll get over – I’ll go to the opera’, this is the one.”
THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO – PARRAMATTA SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Riverside Theatres – Corner of Church and Market Streets, Parramatta
Dates: 19 to 20 August at 7:30pm
Tickets: Adult $59 / Conc $54 / 30 & Under $45
Bookings: From the Box Office (02) 8839 3399 or www.riversideparramatta.com.au
For dates and details for the remainder of Opera Australia’s regional tour of The Marriage of Figaro, click here