LA Opera's Figaro 90210 - Hilarious and Sublime Modern Masterpiece

 

Figaro 90210 is librettist Vid Guerrerio’s updated, multicultural adaptation of Mozart’s masterpiece The Marriage of Figaro.  It is the first outreach event (part of LAOpera Off Grand) in LA Opera’s  three-month celebration and exploration of the spirit of Figaro, which they are calling Figaro Unbound. Presented at low cost at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre in Hollywood, the opera production only lasts three days. The short run is a shame because this adaptation is a masterpiece in an of itself.

 

Jose Adan Perez as Figaro and Maria Elena Altany as Susana

The original Figaro, as explained in the playbill, is an 18th-century revolutionary character first created by Pierre Beaumarchais, who expresses in three operas daring new ideas about freedom and equality, near the time of the French and American Revolutions. The character spunkily challenges the upper classes and expresses class resentments of the day, couched in funny and timely comedies.

Figaro

Guerrerio, who loved The Marriage of Figaro as a youth, saw that it had great tunes and was funny.  “It never really occurred to me that it was any different than Bye Bye Birdie or The Fantasticks, with more interesting music,” the librettist explains. Later he came to appreciate even more the political and social setting of the piece and was impressed with how it managed to “both engage and transcend the immediate political situation to get at the human experience of those changes.”

 

Orson Van Gay II as L'il B Man

In Figaro 90210, Guerrerio compares the status of unauthorized immigrant workers with that of serfs in pre-revolutionary Europe, and thus he feels his work is in keeping with the original piece, as he uses it to further discussions about “the tremendous cultural shift currently under way in my own country.”

 

E. Scott Levin as Babayan with Miki Yamashita a Soon-Yi Nam

All this may be true, and at its core the new version also is a hilarious, farcical, creative, masterful piece about the City of Los Angeles, to which it is dedicated. The melding of every note of Mozart’s music with the English and Spanglish dialogue shows what a fine ear and craftsmanship Guerrerio has.  He follows the storylines and themes brilliantly, too, and the characters are fun to watch as well as being great opera singers.

 

Figaro and Susana

We had to drive through heavy traffic on a Friday night for nearly two hours to get to the Barnsdall. But that grueling experience has melted away, and we are uplifted and happy from experiencing this wonderful production.  I truly believe it could have a long run on Broadway or Off, and I would love to see it continue here in Los Angeles. Particularly here, it calls out to well-to-do, immigrants and youth who are trying to find their way.  The jokes and references are so up-to date. I was floored there were even references to Classic Coke and McDonald’s.

Susana, Barbara ( Hayden Eberhart), Roxanne ( Greta Baldwin) and Li'l B-Man

The cast is exquisite, from the two LA Opera regulars, Jose Adan Perez as Figaro and Craig Colclough as Paul Conti (his archrival), to all the newcomers who debuted with a bang: Maria Elena Altany as Susanna, Figaro’s coy fiancé, and Greta Baldwin as Roxanne Conti, the bored and dejected wife of the meandering Paul.  I especially laughed at E. Scott Levin as Babayan, the Armenian mobster whose comic looks and timing were hilarious, in addition to his great baritone.  Hayden Eberhart as Barbara Conti was onstage with much action but didn’t really sing until the end. But when she opened her throat, she delivered a powerful and rich soprano.  Orson Van Gay II as Li’l B-Man and Miki Yamashita as Soon-Yi Nam were also good.

 

Susana, Roxanne and Figaro

The small orchestra and chorus conducted by Douglas Kinney Frost were excellent, and at times it was fun watching Frost with his colorful style of conducting. Director Melissa Crespo was successful at keeping the action going.  Every note and movement has to keep pace with Mozart’s brilliant score, and everything seemed delightfully flawless.

 

Paul (Craig Colclough) and Susana

Bravo to the LA Opera for putting together this three-month program of Figaro Unbound, which includes not only three operas at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion but also many artistic celebrations around town with the same theme. There are art exhibits at many of the local museums, along with ArcLight film presentations and  related operas in several other venues.

 

Photos: Ben Gibbs / LA Opera

 

Georja Umano is an actress and animal advocate.

 

Remaining performances (Limited availability. Call 213.972.8001 if no seats available online.):

 

Sunday January 18, 2015 02:00 PM

Sunday January 18, 2015 07:00 PM

 

Performances of ¡Figaro! (90210) take place at Barnsdall Gallery Theatre, at the Barnsdall Art Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90027

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