Minneapolis Star Tribune – ‘Figaro’ feasts on tale of disillusionment;
A sense of loss permeates an accomplished but occasionally wobbly Jeune Lune production.
by Michael Anthony, Staff Writer, April 16, 2007
And they all lived happily ever after.
There’s a fun old parlor game where people imagine what happens to their favorite literary characters after the book ends. Theatre de la Jeune Lune’s current revival of its successful 2003 production, “Figaro,” evokes some of that fun, though the dominant tone of this engaging, multimedia production is a kind of wistful sadness, an aura of dashed hopes and missed opportunities.
These, of course, are characters we know not from books but from two perennially popular operas – Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” and its sequel, Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” – both based on plays by the 18th-century playwright, watchmaker and sometime spy, Pierre-Augustin Beaumarchais. Familiar scenes from these operas, along with their glorious music, are recalled by Figaro and his former boss, Count Almaviva, from the perspective of a later time, 1792, at the height of the French Revolution, the Terror, as it came to be known, when thousands were being guillotined, when everything was in flux and nothing was certain.
Much of this comes from Beaumarchais’ third play, the sequel to “Figaro,” “The Guilty Mother,” wherein the teenage Cherubino goes off to war and dies in battle, but before that conceives a child with Rosina, the heroine of “The Barber,” who becomes the Countess in “Figaro.” “The Guilty Mother” is seldom performed, though Darius Milhaud based an opera on it in the 1960s, and, locally, a decade later, Barbara Field and Hiram Titus, created their own version of the tale for Minnesota Opera.
So while the basic material here is hardly new, Jeune Lune’s take on it is intriguing: these two sad and disillusioned characters – bewildered in the case of the Count – looking back on their lost youth, arguing over the incidents they remember so imperfectly and, at times, interacting onstage with the younger versions of themselves, who are, in fact, the accomplished singers in the cast: Bryan Boyce (Figaro), Bradley Greenwald (the Count), Christina Baldwin (Cherubino), Jennifer Baldwin Peden (the Countess) and Momoko Tanno (Susanna).
Dominique Serrand, who also staged the show, and Steven Epp, are wonderful as the elder Count and Figaro. Serrand’s Count is an aged, disheveled rake – he looks like an unmade bed – grasping at his pre-revolutionary privileges (“Can’t we just be the way we were?”), while Epp’s Figaro, whose Susanna has fled to America, is already disillusioned with the revolution that had promised so much (“I’m just a drop in the bucket. I’m nobody”). What’s funny is that they hate each other, but they can’t let go. They’re still master and servant. Their old roles represent stability in an atomized world.
Interesting as all this is – enhanced, too, by live video on some of the scenes – the second act wobbles a bit in terms of dramaturgy. The basic story plays out, but then we go back to more arias from Mozart, as if they were encores, and finally (as if Serrand and Co. were thinking, “Boy, we need some kind of ending here, preferably a big one”) the entire cast assembles and, in standard Brecht fashion, moves downstage, threatening the audience as the bombs go off in the distance. That’s heavy.
“Figaro” is a considerable accomplishment, nonetheless, despite the frazzled ending. (It will be performed at the American Repertory Theatre in Boston next fall.) And other performers should be cited: Dieter Bierbrauer and Bryan Janssen among them. Conductor-pianist Barbara Brooks paces the music skillfully, leading the very fine members of the Pentimento String Quartet.