¡Figaro! (90210) is an Address for Success

The Cast of "Figaro 90210." Photo courtesy of LA Opera.
The Cast of “Figaro 90210.” Photo courtesy of LA Opera.

by Bryan Dahl, Guest Contributor

¡Figaro! (90210) was on many levels a glorious and incomparable triumph. Though it sold out each of its four shows, and the fourth a late addition, don’t fret too much if you couldn’t get tickets in time.  There will very likely be an opportunity to see it again.

Superbly conceived and produced, the show comes as a desperately needed answer to many of the questions prompted by the opera world’s ever shaky status.

Vid Guerrerio’s re-imagined libretto is a finely cut gem.  Employing much of the same societal frictions that made Beaumarchais’s story such a scandal and success, Guerrerio sets Mozart’s immortal score instead to the current, explosive debates over immigration and racism.  Representing the growing Mexican, Armenian, and Korean populations of Los Angeles, he writes the first half of the show as an unstoppably funny embrace of stereotypes setting up the deeper issues coming later.

Every character is brilliantly re-conceived and cast, and they literally take turns stealing the show from each other.  E. Scott Levin as the Armenian gangster Babayan is a piece of comic genius.  Paul Colclough as Beverly Hills real estate tycoon Paul Conti is so much fun to watch as he loses his temper over his plotting employees speaking Spanish behind his back.  His wife’s wall to wall shoe racks and recent plastic surgery become less comically superficial and more endearing the more they come to reflect her noble and undying affection for her undeserving husband.  The modern countess is brought to life by Greta Baldwin’s marvelous singing and maintains amidst all the antics her predecessor’s aura of purity.

The iconic pants role of Cherubino is completely outdone by Orson Van Gay’s smooth as silk, equally R&B and operatic crooning as the young gangsta rapper Bernard.  When he falls for Hayden Eberhart’s brooding, gothic rendition of Barberina, he ultimately forsakes his vulgar lyrics for tender poetry, and makes of his raging hormones a more genuine appreciation of women.  The show’s social commentary misses nothing.

The heroic couple, whether in light of their monumental literary characters, or simply as two struggling lovers, are darling together.  Both in their comic scenes and their passionate manifestos of American identity and human rights, José Adán Pérez and Maria Elena Altany shine in giving the show its romantic and political heart.

Though in the end, they’re all trumped by the least expected: the aging gardener, Antonio, now the stoner botanist Atzuko, who in the capable hands and voice of David Castillo, finds the most perfectly timed instrumental moment to spark up a massive doobie before joining in for the finale.

The orchestra with Maria Elena Altany  and José Adán Pérez in "Figaro 90210." Photo courtesy of LA Opera.
The orchestra with Maria Elena Altany and José Adán Pérez in “Figaro 90210.” Photo courtesy of LA Opera.

What’s especially noteworthy is that almost the entire cast and crew made with this production their LA Opera debuts.  Staged in the 300-seat Barnsdall theater, with a greatly reduced but effective orchestra, the show proves that quality opera is entirely possible without a multimillion-dollar budget.

It strikes me as something of a dream field trip opportunity for high school music, English, or history teachers and their classes.  There’s never a moment of inaccessible, hoity-toity opera loftiness.  The show achieves that rare feat of being completely enjoyable from start to finish for any audience.  There actually was a boy of about ten years old sitting behind me, cracking up at every joke.

On so many levels, the show is deeply satisfying.  No matter how bad the traffic was getting there, the finale makes you feel proud again to live in LA, and then inspired for the future — that excellent, affordable opera is entirely within reach with such a promising young cast and crew.

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