An Opera With Sexting? In ¡Figaro! (90210), Mozart Goes to Beverly Hills
José Adán Pérez and Maria Elena Altany
Photo by Ben Gibbs
Imbued with numerous memorable melodies and presciently inventive arrangements, the music to Mozart’s 1786 opera The Marriage of Figaro remains timelessly delightful, even if Lorenzo Da Ponte’s once-provocative comic libretto about an amorous Spanish count who interferes in the lives of his servants might seem quaint by today’s standards.
But in Vid Guerrerio’s irreverent new interpretation of the opera, ¡Figaro! (90210), which had its world-premiere staging by L.A. Opera over the weekend at Barnsdall Gallery Theatre (it closed Sunday night), the count is re-imagined as Paul Conti, a sex-mad Beverly Hills real estate tycoon (portrayed with charismatic bluster by Craig Colclough) who blackmails his Mexican immigrant housekeeper Susana (Maria Elena Altany) and her lover, Figaro (José Adán Pérez), by threatening to turn them in to the INS. Susana is in debt to a hard-hearted factory owner (Miki Yamashita) and Mafia type (E. Scott Levin) who smuggled her into the country, but Conti claims he will help her if she sleeps with him, much to Figaro’s dismay.
Conti’s perpetually dour and gloomy goth daughter, Barbara (Hayden Eberhart), is even more annoyed by her father’s antics, despite the distraction of her gold-chain-wearing boyfriend, a fraudulent wannabe rapper named Li’l B-Man (Orson Van Gay II). Meanwhile, Conti’s wife (Greta Baldwin), an elegant former TV actress, resorts to subterfuge, disguises and fake identities to win back his love and attention.
Even as Guerrerio retains Da Ponte’s thematic structure, the local lyricist ditches the original Italian libretto for a bawdy, purposefully outrageous English-language (mixed with a little Spanish) storyline that ultimately centers on the stoned observations of a slacker gardener (played with deadpan aplomb by David Castillo). Seldom, if ever, have gerunds like “sexting” and “sucking” (Barbara’s favorite word) been layered so thoroughly over Mozart’s music.
A couple of Guerrerio’s recitative phrases are rhythmically awkward, but his rapid-fire blur of pop-cultural references and silly (if only occasionally pointed) jokes generally aligns cleverly within Mozart’s tunes, thanks in part to director Melissa Crespo’s lively pacing. A compact, dynamically empathetic septet, conducted by Douglas Kinney Frost, replaces the opera’s usual horns with Iren Arutyunyan’s subtle flourishes on acoustic guitar.
The cast all have great comic timing, especially a wide-eyed, flexibly limbed Altany. Van Gay unleashes a seductively smooth pop voice when Li’l B-Man transforms an ode to Barbara from a sexist rap into a soulful love song. Levin is a vibrant presence in a cartoonish role, while the regally poised Yamashita sings with a sterling tone. The grandest vocal fireworks emanate from Baldwin, who poignantly laments lost ideals during a heart-catching solo in the second act and twines her voice beautifully with Altany’s as they commiserate in a duet about unfaithful men.
Despite the absurd plot twists, ¡Figaro! (90210) closes in an unexpectedly moving fashion when the singers brush away clichés about life in L.A., even as they collectively wonder, “How did we wind up so connected?”
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