Courtesy Chance TheaterI'd be happy to tell you that Chance Theater's Fig:R.O.proves that opera remains ponderous but ultimately relevant. But I'd be telling half the truth. Despite the best intentions of director Robert G. Leigh and the Chancers, this production proves that you can take the archaisms, the corniness and even the fat lady out of the opera, but you can't take the opera out of the opera.
Fig:R.O.is a greatly condensed treatment of Mozart's comic opera TheMarriageofFigaro.Instead of a filibuster sung in Italian, it checks in at less than two hours, and most of the libretto is contemporary American English. The alterations are designed to capture Mozart's story, music and theatrical excitement without inducing catatonia.
The story and music are here, but theatrical excitement is MIA. That's because while Fig:R.O.may not be straight opera—there's dialogue and direct addresses to the audience—it's still musical theater, and, like most musical theater, its concerns and characters are timid, goofy and pedestrian. If light musical theater—say, Gilbert & Sullivan—is your bag, you'll likely appreciate this.
Leigh is one of the county's most talented, iconoclastic directors, but his modest tweaks in Fig:R.O.have the ironic effect of making the play less accessible. Excluding the overall gimmick (the play is set in an Italian café by a bunch of Mozart fanatics who pick their roles out of a hat) and the final image (a single light on a phonograph spinning a record of Mozart's original), the updates are simply too cute.
The cast is game but lopsided: most sing better than they act, or vice versa. Lisa C. Zaradich's Countess Almaviva is the exception: blessed with a superb voice and equal acting chops, she highlights the ensemble's rougher edges.
Fig:R.O.clearly began as a labor of love but winds up merely laborious, calling to mind the observation of Sir Edward Appleton: "I don't mind what language an opera is sung in, so long as it is a language I don't understand."