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The SFCM Opera Program concludes its ‘Figaro project’

1785 illustration of the final scene from Beaumarchais' play
1785 illustration of the final scene from Beaumarchais' playby Jacques Philippe Joseph de Saint-Quentin, from Wikipedia (public domain)

Last November I reported on the first part of a two-part production entitled The Crazy Day, presented by the Opera Program at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). As I observed at the time, the title is the English translation of the subtitle of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 492 opera The Marriage of Figaro and the primary title of the play by Pierre Beaumarchais from which Lorenzo Da Ponte wrote his libretto. The November performance was subtitled The Afternoon, the time frame for the first two acts of the opera, during which all of the problematic elements of the plot unfold.

Last night the Opera Program gave the first of two performances of the second part, The Wedding Night. (The second performance will be tonight, March 20, at 7:30 p.m.) The prevailing meme on the audience side of the SFCM Concert Hall was that the longest intermission in opera history had finally concluded. For this reason Stage Director (and Associate Program Director of the Opera Program) Heather Mathews felt the audience needed to be reminded of “the story thus far.” She did this through a two-minute mimed sequence (performed to an abbreviated version of the opera’s overture) reminiscent of the abbreviated Hamlet performed by the Reduced Shakespeare Company.

As I observed last November, comedy seems to be Mathews’ strong suit; and the more physical the comedy gets, the more elaborate (and hysterically funny) her approaches become. Visually, the staging suggested that we were in the world of P. G. Wodehouse; but Mathews’ ability to keep her characters moving all the time was more reminiscent of the Marx Brothers, if not Loony Tunes cartoons. Last night, however, Mathews found yet another source to cultivate.

The third act provides the “family reunion” scene. This is where we discover that the aging Marcellina, who has been scheming to marry Figaro since the first act, and her accomplice Bartolo (assisting her in order to get her off his hands) have another dimension. It turns out that they are Figaro’s parents, turning all the plot complications on their heads and allowing Figaro’s plans to marry Susanna to resume. Marcellina’s response to this revelation was to hug everyone in sight. She did so with an iron-clad grip that was highly reminiscent of Uncle Goopy in Sid Caesar’s parody sketch of This is Your Life, one of Mel Books’ more ingenious brain children. (Marcellina was a bit big, compared with Howard Morris’ Uncle Goopy; but Mel Brooks’ comic spirit still reigned.)

This, and any number of other comic sequences, made for an evening in which the delights of Mozart’s music were liberally spiced with humor at its most raucous, which is precisely the spirited treatment that K. 492 deserves.