I missed the sold-out premiere of ¡Figaro! (90210) last November (though that didn’t stop me from blogging about it), so I am extremely excited about attending the limited run next week.
Note-for-note the music is Mozart’s from The Marriage of Figaro, but with an entirely new English (and Spanglish) libretto by writer Vid Guerrerio. The opera recasts the opera’s title character as an undocumented worker on a present-day Beverly Hills estate, with the debate over immigration reform taking center stage plot-wise.
I caught up with Vid to ask him a few questions about the show:
What was the inspiration behind this rethinking of Mozart’s work?
“It’s funny, but the original inspiration for this piece probably goes all the way back to when I was 12 years old, and had my first experience with theater, which just happened to be as a member of the boys chorus in a production of Carmen at Opera Theatre Saint Louis. What’s really special about the company is that they present all of their operas in English so, not having been schooled otherwise that opera was some kind of rarified, inaccessible artform, I just saw it as really cool theater with great music. From that experience I went on to perform in a number of different musicals and really fell in love with the marriage of theater and music, eventually landing at NYU where I studied musical theater writing as part of the graduate program at Tisch.
“I realized at that time how special my experience at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis had been, in that all of my other colleagues had this view of opera as something that was alienating, academic, and totally antithetical to the populist impulses of musical theater, no matter how hard I tried to convey my enthusiasm for my favorite operatic works. Even when I exposed them to English-language versions of the classics, especially The Marriage of Figaro, which has long been one of my favorite operas, they just complained that the language was stilted, the drama unconvincing, or that everything was just simply too long and drawn out to really engage them.
“While there are certainly a lot of other ideas that have made their way into the show, ultimately the desire to help inspire the same love of opera, and in particular this specific opera, is what drove me to create ¡Figaro! (90210). My primary objective has been to honor not only the music of Mozart, but the original intentions of both Pierre Beaumarchais and Lorenzo DaPonte, so that contemporary theatergoers, even those unschooled in the conventions of opera, can experience the emotions that those creators wanted to inspire in their audiences.”
Can you tell us a little about your involvement with the project?
“In putting together both the original workshop last November, as well as these concert performances, Morningside Opera has been an ideal collaborator. In some ways, it’s almost as if this project was tailor-made for them, with their mission to develop new audiences for opera by bridging the gap between the new and the traditional, even though we really had no contact with each other until after I had finished writing the entire show.
“As far as my involvement is concerned, I imagine it is quite typical of theater writers working with their producing company on a new work of any kind… or at least the positive examples of that kind of collaboration… and what has emerged really is a shared vision.
“I think the greatest contribution that Morningside Opera made was to assemble a creative team right from the outset that included music director Raphael Fusco, who has the musical knowledge and skills to protect the original intentions of Mozart’s music, as well as stage director Melissa Crespo, a newcomer to the world of opera, who has leveraged her experience in creating accessible and culturally-relevant theater, as well as her own Hispanic heritage, to fully realize the intentions of the new libretto.
“Throughout the production process, I certainly have given input on decisions such as casting, and I really could not be happier with the roster of singing actors and musicians that we have onboard, but the real joy of seeing the concert performances come together has been handing over the reins to Raphael and Melissa (as well as our crackerjack production stage manager Elizabeth Goodman) and seeing them build something both wildly entertaining and deeply moving from the blueprints that I adapted from Mozart, Daponte, and Beaumarchais.”
What are you most proud of about this second production?
“I view the shows this coming week as the full incarnation of what started the workshop last November, and the process has really felt like a continuation rather than a second iteration. That said, what I am most proud about is the fact that as a team we were able to put the concert performances up so quickly.
“As I mentioned, my original intention in writing this was to share the joy that Mozart’s opera inspires in me with a broader audience than typically attends original-language operas. At the same time, there definitely is a secondary objective for the show, which is to engage audiences in a dialogue about cultural shifts underway in America, stemming from this country’s increasingly diverse population, and the tensions (both dramatic and comic) that this creates.
“I feel this shift directly mirrors the dramatic change that European culture underwent in the late 18th and early 19th century, and that the unique blend of humor and heart, and wisdom that the original creators managed to infuse into The Marriage of Figaro can really speak to people today as we navigate our way forward.
“The debate over the immigration reform bill currently pending in Congress provides a unique opportunity for us to engage in a larger dialogue about the changing face of America, beyond simply the status of the 11 million or so unauthorized workers living in the United States. I am thrilled that we have been able to put this show up while that debate is still underway, and I hope that audiences will experience ¡Figaro! (90210) as the kind of popular entertainment that I first started envisioning as a 12-year-old watching Carmen dance across the stage.”
Morningside Opera presents ¡Figaro! (90210) at The NSD Theater (151 Bank Street, west of Hudson) in the West Village.
June 11, 12, 14 and 15 at 8:00PM and Sunday, June 16 at 3:00PM (performances last two and a half hours, including a fifteen minute intermission). More information and ticketing can be found at www.morningsideopera.com. All tickets are $30 in advance, $35 at the door and $25 for students and seniors.