With a three-hour-plus running time, ‘Le Nozze di Figaro,’ is not for the text message generation, and that’s part of the appeal.
‘ In a time when High School Musical 3 is the supposed height of musical theater, Mozart’s comedic opera, one of the current offerings of CSUN’s theatre department, harkens back to a forgotten time in entertainment when audiences delighted in far-fetched folly and listened with delight to the Italian libretto, without ever checking their iPhones.
I could almost see an 18th century audience delighting in the comedy of errors, irreverent revenge, and mistaken identities. The smiles that played upon those faces more than 200 years ago must have been so like the grins that stretched from ear to ear in Friday’s nearly sold out house.
The comedy written into every line of the four-act opera, literally ‘The Marriage of Figaro,’ was brought to life by the cast of players that inhabited each of Mozart’s characters.
Though the audience may not have understood the booming Italian emanating from the talented cast, they had more than a little help from the English subtitles projected above the stage, reminding the audience they were not in fact in 18th century Seville.
Mozart’s music was enough to make you cringe at the thought of what dominated your own iPod and the Botticelli ‘-bodied actresses made you realize that true womanly beauty is sorely lacking from today’s media. None of the High School Musical cupcakes could hold a candle to the women on Figaro’s stage.
Christy McClarty exuded beauty in both look and sound as Susanna, maid to the countess and the main female figure in the play. Though she was in nearly every scene, her voice was powerful and pitch-perfect throughout the marathon running time. Anyone who is under the mistaken impression that Lindsay Lohan can sing has only to listen to McClarty for a few moments before being cured of such ridiculous notions.
Susanna’s paramour and the play’s titular character, Figaro, was presented with comedic flair and quick-wittedness by Jason Retana, who miraculously performed every one of the six shows over two weekends. Though his voice may have been overshadowed by the women in the play, his affable charm and modern presentation of the timeless character was entertaining, and he was at his best when acting the fool, which he most certainly was not.
The supporting roles of the Count and Countess, Josef Pleuss and Rebecca Lohnes respectively, became much more than second best in the hands of the talented actors.
leuss’ jealous and illogical Count was one of the most fun characters to follow in no small part because of the audience’s indecision about whether to sympathize or pulverize the crooked cuckold. Lohnes’ Countess was a well of nervous energy and manic movements frosted with a lusty veneer. She nearly pulverized her hand-fan while trying to talk her way out of her husband’s clutches and sent many would-be suitors swooning with her striking visage and voice.
Though the production was not lacking talent in the least one light shone particularly bright. Julia Aks, as the flagrant-flirty and always in trouble Cherubino, displayed an otherworldly combination of vocal talent and brilliant comedic timing ‘-even in operatic Italian. The casting of Aks in the role of the most unabashedly lusty skirt chasing young man in the production only added to the comedy of mistaken identities and double meaning; and it helped that she was a magnificent songstress as well as ridiculously charismatic.
Though Aks, playing a man, may not have benefitted much from the confections created by costumer Paula Higgins, the leading ladies sure did. The sewn and stitched bonbons would have any girl throwing out her juicy sweat suits to jump into a corset and hoop skirt.
The production value, elevated by Higgins costumes reached new heights with the simple but remarkable stage design. Each piece interlocked like a puzzle, some serving multiple purposes, others being hoisted to the heavens to make way for a change of scenery.
Though the play was a showcase of the merits of thoroughly un-modern ways, the contemporary addition of racial diversity was more than welcome and even added another layer to the multiple identities bandied about onstage.
Though modern times may lack the theatrical integrity of Mozart’s era and boost more technological than artistic advancements, CSUN’s production of ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ proves that even classics can be improved upon.
Four stars out five.