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Arts and Culture

Figaro! Figaro!

Vancouver Opera is on a roll this year, even during hockey playoffs. Want to join me for 'Madama Butterfly'?

David Tracey 26 Apr

David Tracey is a Vancouver-based journalist and music writer. He is attending each of the four Vancouver Opera productions this season, taking a different guest to each one, and sharing the evening's experience with Tyee readers.

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Some call 'Marriage of Figaro' the perfect opera.

Poor Figaro had already spent nearly two hours trying to convince his boss the Count not to hump Figaro's fiancé Susanna before he had a chance to marry her when I couldn't help thinking: wouldn't a cross-check to the throat help make the point?

I don't normally confuse the aesthetic pleasures of opera and hockey, but the newbie I'd taken to Vancouver Opera's "Marriage of Figaro" was Ralph, a sports fan.

I'd already introduced a homeless guy and a hipster punk to opera for this series. This time I wanted a hoser, someone who would rather be at the game.

Ralph showed up Saturday evening looking the part with a Seahawks cap and hoodie, long hair and a goatee. He said he'd been thinking of trying opera and was grateful to get the chance. He looked even more impressed when we reached our seats in the pricey section 17 rows from the stage.

We had only a few minutes to chat, but Ralph struck me as a likeable guy. I pegged him as someone who had sipped often from the bitter cup of tragedy and pathos upon which opera feeds, after hearing he grew up in Ontario where the Leafs play, but he said he actually rooted for all the Canadian teams. A quick cell phone call to his partner revealed that Game Six of the Ottawa-Washington series was in overtime, then the music started.

From the grandeur of the overture to the elegant architecture of the character portrayals wafting up from the orchestra pit, the Vancouver Opera continued their winning season on opening night (remaining performances of Figaro are on April 27 and 29, May 1 and 4). "Nixon in China" may well be the high water mark for this year, but this is a solid effort that will reward Mozart fans and anyone else whose tastes tend toward the traditional.

All-Canadian pipes

The singers in the all-Canadian cast were a tribute to fine teamwork. There were standouts to be sure, particularly Calgary's Daniel Okulitch as Figaro, together with Abbotsford's Aaron St. Clair Nicholson and Aldergrove's Rhoslyn Jones as the Count and Countess. One might have awarded the trio the three stars of the evening, but it wouldn't have been fair. Everyone was on their game for this performance. With not a weak spot on the roster, all contributed to make the production seem not only fun but effortless -- perhaps just what Mozart intended. Kudos to music director/conductor Jonathan Darlington for coaching the campaign.

I particularly admired the wit. I feared the kinds of things they considered funny in Europe in 1786 would not translate well. Now we have sit-coms and stand-ups and remotes. We demand our funny people to be hilarious as soon as they walk in the door.

What a pleasant surprise to discover the pacing spot on. The clever libretto (by Mozart's best-ever collaborator Lorenzo da Ponte) and the intricate musical structures drove each other forward. Amid the madcap and slapstick episodes emerged moments of real sentiment.

Was it perfect for you, Ralph?

Among the reasons this remains the world's most performed opera is the fact the characters are instantly recognizable for their all-too-human needs and flaws. It could also be because the work is on some level political: it took gall for Mozart and da Ponte to create an art piece in which servants get to outwit a lecherous master.

Some consider Figaro to be the most perfect of all operas. I don't believe Ralph is one of them. After Act II, when the house lights came up for the intermission, he may have glanced at the program and realized there were another 90 minutes of frilly cuffs and collars to go.

He stood up, joined the crowd streaming into the lobby and, I suppose, just kept walking. I never saw him again.

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Join David Tracey at the opera for free!

Do you want to attend the fourth and final production of Vancouver Opera's season, "Madama Butterfly" with Tyee opera buff David Tracey end of May/early June? If so, send a shortish email to [email protected] explaining why you fear the opera, and why you are open to just one try at being converted. We'll publish the best five and randomly pick from those the winner of a free seat right next to David (he's charming, by the way). Please make the subject line on your email "Take me to the opera."  [Tyee]

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