Figaro, Figaro, Fi-ga-ro

BY DEVYN YOUNG | MARCH 05, 2015 5:00 AM

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Most people think of operas with large, moving sets, extravagant costumes, and perhaps even a “fat lady” with a horned helmet reciting “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro …”

However, this is not how the stage is set for the upcoming opera at Coralville Center for the Performing Arts — even though this opera happens to be Mozart’s legendary The Marriage of Figaro.

Instead of an over-the-top design, three blue doors hang from the rafters; the stage below is spare, lined with tape and a single green chair. Light effects rather than props set the scenes, said cast member Jonathan Christopher.

“There is this whole thing about the doors,” said artistic director Shari Rhoads. “They set suggest doors, but they’re all miming the doors.”

The Marriage of Figaro will open at 7:30 p.m. Friday, running again 2 p.m. March 8. The opera will be presented by ConcertIA, an Iowa-based nonprofit musical consortium. 

Figaro is an opera by Mozart, following a man named Figaro on his wedding day. Figaro’s overseer, the Count, has a crush on Figaro’s fiancée Susanna and plans to sleep with her on her wedding night. From there, the story takes off, exploring various relationships and social issues. 

Rhoads said she has worked on her own production of The Marriage of Figaro for the last 22 years, and she is grateful to have a cast of classically trained musicians familiar with Italian.

German director Joachim Rathke directs the show. The opera has been updated to take place in the 21st century instead of the 18th century, as usually performed. 

Throughout the show, cast members will use phones and tweeting. In addition, Rhoads and Rathke created a strong female presence in the character of the Countess. 

Heather Youngqist, who plays the Countess, said she acted in The Marriage of Figaro as a freshman at the University of Iowa. Like several of her cast mates, Figaro was the first opera in which she performed.

“Typically, this role is played in a more classical way, where [the Countess] is very upset and delicate,” Youngqist said. “But in this production, we’ve turned that on its head, and the Countess is actually quite strong and fights back, a lot.” 

The show, performed entirely in Italian, will have English subtitles projected in the theater. The cast is backed up by a 24-piece orchestra; all the musicains have Iowa roots. 

Although the opera is being performed in its original language, Rhoads does not think it will limit anyone’s experience; instead, she believes it will enhance it.

“Mozart is like Shakespeare,” Rhoads said. “Would we change a word of Shakespeare? No. We’ve spent a lot of time in orchestra rehearsal, so we have a true Mozart.” 

Cast members said they believe the language demonstrates how relevant the show was when it premièred in 1786 as well as how relevant it is to our society today. 

“[The language] is the core of this show,” said cast member Ivo Suarez. “It’s taking away all the excessive, because it’s really about people.” 

Cast member Sarah Thompson Johansen agreed with Suarez. 

“I hope that people will really be moved by what we’re doing up there by the emotions and the timelessness of the relationships and dynamics,” Johansen said. 

The Marriage of Figaro
Where: Coralville Center for the Performing Arts, 1301 Fifth St., Coralville. 
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. March 8
Admission: $10-$25

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