Preview: The Marriage of Figaro

Photos by Kyle Wong © talks to the task and crew of Durham Opera Ensemble’s upcoming production of ‘The Marriage of Figaro’, taking place at the Gala Theatre, 21st & 22nd of February.


‘The Marriage of Figaro’ is one of Mozart’s most famous operas – what significance can it hold for the average Durham Student?

Rebecca Meltzer (Director): Well this is very much an opera that focuses on the characters – their personal development, their emotional relationships with one another – far more than the plot itself, which is fairly complex! It’s all set in one day, and the on stage relationships are entirely relatable to anyone and everyone.

Lewis Whyte (President of DOE, and Antonio): Plus it’s in English, which is a big draw to students as well! We’ve chosen the translation by Jeremy Sands, which is extremely funny.


Were the successes of ‘The Magic Flute’ last year a big draw for performing another Mozart opera?

LW: We had quite a tough decision choosing a show for this year at the Gala. But I think Mozart’s operas, despite their age, are still wickedly funny and lend themselves to reinterpretation really well.

Marnie Blair (Cherubino): It’s one of the most popular operas, so it’s a real crowd drawer.

Will Ford (Assistant Musical Director): Most people know the overture as a piece of music in it’s own right.


How do you feel about more modern operas?

Ambrose Li (Assistant Director): With young singers, there is a limited repertoire we can perform, as lots of operas require a vocal maturity that students don’t have. Plus some of them require a huge orchestra, which can be done, but it’s difficult.

LW: We try and include more modern music in our Michaelmas show, as it’s a compilation of different scenes, meaning we can choose less challenging songs from difficult operas without having to perform them in their entirety.

RM: We have always talked about a Britten Chamber opera in our third term, but there are time constraints with exams etc.


Photos by Kyle Wong ©


How do rehearsals work?

RM: Well we’ve miraculously managed to block it [The Marriage of Figaro] in three weeks. That was always my plan, but I hadn’t expected it to actually happen! In terms of individual rehearsals, there’s usually a scene with several musical numbers that we look at individually, and then we work on what’s around the songs and how the scene develops as a unit.

WF: The difficulty of the music dictates how long the musical rehearsals take. We’re at the lovely ‘fine-tuning’ stage now though; the blocking and notes are done!

LW: I’ve never been in a show that has been so ready with three weeks to go! It’s a real testament to the hard work that has gone into it; we’ve had 107 hours of rehearsal according our latest tally!

WF: We’ve also arranged an exciting master class with the university Chancellor, Sir Thomas Allen; he’s one of the most famous English opera singers, so it will be a really amazing opportunity to learn from him.


Is this known for being a particularly challenging opera to sing?

MB: Bits are hard, especially for singers of our age. Learning the music itself is themost fundamental stage of the process: then it’s about engaging with the character and their physicality. Emotionally, my character is particularly challenging. Cherubino is a teenage boy [the part is written for a mezzo soprano, and so is supposed to be performed by a woman], so I’m trying to convey the constant changes of emotion that he experiences; in one song he claims that ‘I’m Ice’ but then says ‘I’m fire’.

Tara Love (Countess): Life experience is really needed to convey some of the emotions of the Countess; experiences that young adults don’t necessarily have, which is an added challenge.

AL: When the cast rehearse, they need to think about what is going through the character’s mind. It’s not just about the singing. The interaction between the ensemble is just as important.

WF: The scores were given out before Christmas, with the expectation that the cast would listen to recordings etc. to gain an understanding of the music itself. The best rehearsals are when we work ‘beyond’ the notes; it’s nice to go beyond the technicalities of the music itself.


Photos by Kyle Wong ©


The Gala Theatre is an exciting space to be performing in Durham; how will you adapt your performance to make the most of it?

LW: Our ultimate ambition is to establish a yearly show there, as DULOG have done – it’s very exciting.

RM: We’ve been lucky to find Mike Brown from the Gala who is making the set from scratch, which is very exciting and really lends itself to the vibrancy of the aesthetic. Although it is unfortunate that we can’t use microphones to boost the sound, which is how most shows work within the space, opera just can’t operate like that.

MB: The main concern is definitely going to be projection. When you study opera at a conservatoire for example, one of the main things that students work on is projection – we don’t have the same training. But we’re trying to work around it, with staging bringing us further forward to compensate for this.

WF: It’s a very dry acoustic in the venue but we’ve done a sound check and it works.


Are there any other challenges a performer might face doing this?

TL: Not laughing at my [on-stage] husband.

RM: Your chemistry is almost too good!


Photos by Kyle Wong ©



You plan to update the setting of the opera to the 1960s; how well does Mozart transcribe to different eras? When else do you feel would be an effective setting for it?

RM: You can apply it to any period, any era – as I’ve said, it’s so much about character development that it is really flexible and I immediately knew I wanted to set Figaro in a contemporary era. The ‘60s works well because it was a transformative decade: the woman’s role in the family was being redefined, and society was undergoing complete reconstruction. It felt important to emphasise the power and strength of women, as well as moments of their oppression in the story. It’s also an exciting time visually, which lends itself so well to opera. We’re going to have a very simple, effective set; entirely monochrome and very exciting, colourful costumes, which have been so much fun to work with! It just lends itself so well to Mozart.


What would you recommend an audience member should look out for?

RM: The Act II finale, various mind-blowing arias, and the scenes where everyone is one stage together; we have a particularly fun dance scene at the end of Act III.

 MB: and watch out for the ‘60s moves…


Photos by Kyle Wong ©


Which members of the cast are ‘ones to watch’?

RM: There are four leads, and I’ve just been so impressed with them: Tara Love, Janelle Lucyk, Tom Rowarth and Crispin Lord. The way they have approached the sheer volume of music, and the complexities of their characters, is really impressive. Plus they’ve been so easy to work with.


How can a newcomer to opera prepare themselves for a show?

RM: You don’t need much preparation to see a Mozart opera. The story is so funny, and the music is easy to listen to.

LW: Last year our buzzword was “accessibility”, and we want to uphold this; it’s easy to get sucked into the snobbery that surrounds opera, but don’t be put off, it will definitely surprise you.


Photos by Kyle Wong ©


Are there any comparisons to be drawn with popular culture and the action of the opera?

RM: It’s a very typical ‘husband jealous of wife’ story line, where the husband is actually to blame.

TL: It’s quite like a ‘soap-opera’.

MB: It gets a bit far fetched – it could be from an East Enders plot line.

WF:  And there’s lots of cross-dressing!

Holly Brunskill (External Producer): The emotions and sentiments are so easily transferable. We all still fall in love and have difficulty with relationships and human emotions – meaning it’s still watchable, because it explores themes that are still being explored in contemporary culture today.


Photos by Kyle Wong ©


Photos by Kyle Wong ©

Photos by Kyle Wong ©


Photos: Kyle Wong.

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