The Handel and Haydn Society is set to take on one of anyone’s greatest works with its semi-staged interpretation of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Raphaël Pichon, founder and artistic director of Pygmalion Ensemble, will lead on November 17th and 18th at 7:00 PM at Symphony Hall. World-renowned soprano Ying Fang as Susanna, soprano Jacquelyn Stucker as Countess Almaviva, bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum as Count Almaviva, and bass Krzysztof Baczyk as Figaro will be joining the H+H Orchestra and Chorus. James Darrah, Grammy nominated producer and Artistic Director of Long Beach Opera, will stage-direct and design the performance. We talked with H+H Executive Director David Snead and Darrah yesterday.
FLE: David, how did this week’s Marriage of Figaro come to be?
DS: Raphaël Pichon likes doing projects. His Pygmalion Ensemble from France doesn’t do seasons, they do events projects. He loves doing things at unusual venues. He did a Brahms Requiem in a submarine base, for instance. The idea of doing Figaro was his and it’s also a new experience for our musicians. Raphael had an incredible cast to recommend, so we just thought it would be a great thing to have to in our season.
He was a discovery for me. I had never heard of Pygmalion Ensemble before you sent the press release. I was very impressed with what I heard. He’s very engaged and emotional about his conducting.
It’s been a very big, exciting project to do in two weeks. It’s not just going to be stand and bark. There’ll be interactions and a lot of blocking. There’s going to be strong acting. The singers will be in costume and off book.
JD: I got pulled into this production in early September. So we just went right to manufacturing costumes. I brought a fabulous costume designer from LA, Molly Irelan, and she just started making the clothes right away. She happens to be an amazing draper, and she’s like a total secret weapon.
I don’t tend to do period shows, so I decided that with a period orchestra playing this piece, we needed root the opera in its own time, but with something of a color-blocked twist on 18th century clothes.
Because so much of the story the DaPonte and Beaumarchais story revolves around on le droit du seigneur, any production becomes meaningless if you update it too much.
I really feel the same way. Cosi can be updated well, and I think in Don Giovanni certainly you can update or set in different periods. But in this case, I was more excited to go back to the Beaumarchais put the audience in the right frame of mind. We also decided early not to pretend that Symphony Hall was a proscenium opera house with an invisible orchestra. Cherubino gets her commission from the concertmaster, but then, these costumes locate us in the Mozart’s period.
Are you having the orchestra in the dark with stand lights?
I really felt like my job with this was to create kind of a unique and dramatically fulfilling. concert experience that is staged. Semi-staged to me always just means semi-produced; you would never ask a conductor to semi-conduct. And we want the orchestra to be unhidden.
This is not so much about a mis en scene-like stage picture; this is about seeing the conductor, seeing the orchestra. In the same way, how can these characters be conjured up and take life in that environment?
I gather the players will interact a great deal and make entrances and exits, and I gather there will be some props. Also any lighting?
Each act has its own lighting, but it’s more about conjuring mood and putting the piece on display as a theatrically infused concert. We basically had a day and a half of staging. That’s quite different from the six weeks I would normally have. We’re using everything that’s in the hall, you know, lighting the organ lighting, the orchestra. There’s color in some of the scenes, but we start more as like a concert and it kind of gets more theatrical as we go, I think in an exciting way. The cast is very good and I wanted to really focus on them. It’s almost as if a Handel and Haydn concert takes life and characters appear.
All of the singers know about their stage business and they interact. I’ve been trying to talk to them about some of the background of the piece. We’ve tried create our own version of it that works in this concert world, and also celebrate that we’re on stage with the orchestra as opposed to ignoring them.
Are you updating the libretto in any way?
This is not about my directorial vision. I certainly have a point of view about the scenes and characters, but it was about nuts and bolts of showing how this incredible masterpiece works. That level of authenticity anchored the concept and made it more about Mozart and less about me.
How do you achieve the delicate balance of humor and pathos?
Everything is born out of what you hear in this incredible score. Nothing in the show is flippant and the best people in a comedy don’t know they’re in a comedy, so they’re not playing that aspect of it. Everything in Figaro feels high stakes and it’s the audience’s having information that the characters don’t have that produces those wry smiles. Everybody in the show is as interested in making good music, as in being a good actor and thinking about the dramatic shape and tension and trajectory of each character. All the characters in this piece are played to the height of their intelligence.
All the players believe in what they’re doing. We’ve tried to let the brilliance of Beaumarchais Mozart and Da Ponte guide us. We’re talking during a break in the rehearsals, and it’s really coming to life for me right now. I’m confident we’ll have a very solid, exciting, Marriage of Figaro.
So, have you had any tantrums with conductor Raphael Pichon or the other way around?
Not at all…actually, the opposite. I admire his work tremendously. I’d be excited to do a full opera with him at some point. My, my only regret this time was not having a long rehearsal calendar, due to the nature of orchestral world in concerts. And so, I look forward to having a full operatic process at some point.
See related review HERE
Soprano Ying Fang is an award-winning talent that recently played Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro at Opéra national de Paris and the Metropolitan Opera House. Acclaimed American soprano Jacquelyn Stucker is set to appear in leading roles around the world including at the Opéra national de Paris, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Royal Opera House and Dutch National Opera. American bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum has gained rave reviews around the globe and recently debuted at the Israeli Opera as Figaro in The Marriage of Figaro. Polish bass Krzysztof Baczyk is an in-demand performer set to appear this year alone in New York, Paris, Barcelona, and Cologne.
Thursday, November 17, 2022 at 7:00PM
Friday, November 18, 2022 at 7:00PM
Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro (semi-staged)
Performed In Italian with English subtitles
Raphaël Pichon, conductor
James Darrah, stage director
Krzysztof Bączyk, bass (Figaro)
Ying Fang, soprano (Susanna)
Scott Conner, bass (Bartolo/Antonio)
MaryAnn McCormick, mezzo-soprano (Marcellina)
Paula Murrihy, mezzo-soprano (Cherubino)
Cody Quattlebaum, bass-baritone (Count Almaviva)
Zachary Wilder, tenor (Don Basilio/Curzio)
Jacquelyn Stucker, soprano (Countess Almaviva)
Maya Kherani, soprano (Barbarina)
H+H Orchestra and Chorus