MUCH FETED for its innovative approach to opera, Opera Theatre Company come to the Town Hall Theatre next week with a dynamic new production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.
Director Annilese Miskimmon has updated the action to the 1960s and her interpretation rediscovers the vibrancy, comedy, and insubordinate nature of the piece.
Full of love, lust, and laughter, The Marriage of Figaro tackles the deepest human emotions with the lightest of comic touches. The ruthless Count, bored by his wife, is determined to seduce the enchanting Susanna, but she is due to marry Figaro later that day.
Much enjoyable chaos ensues as mistaken identities, cross-dressing, jilted lovers, and vengeful suitors are added to the mix. The cast features Sinead Campbell-Wallace, Martha Bredin, Deirdre Cooling-Nolan, Martin Higgins, Eugene Ginty, Wyn Pencarreg, and OTC Young Associate Artist Gabriela Istoc.
Susanna is played by highly-rated Belfast-born soprano Emma Morwood. After training at the University of Edinburgh and the Royal Northern College of Music, where she was a major award winner, Emma’s opera roles have included Aline in Opera Della Luna’s production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Sorcerer; the title role in Ravel’s L'enfant et les Sortilèges; and Carmela in the Scottish premier of Menotti’s The Saint of Bleecker Street.
During a break in rehearsals she took some time to talk about her part in the production, beginning with the revelation that music has been a big part of her familial DNA.
“My dad was a baritone; he was a primary school headmaster but he was also a singer ‘on the side’,” she says. “He sang in the chorus of Opera Northern Ireland, as did I and my brothers, so I had quite a musical upbringing. I had my first semi-professional engagement at the age of five when I played Gretel in The Sound of Music in the Grand Opera House in Belfast.”
The Marriage of Figaro is the first occasion in which Emma will feature in an Irish opera production and she is greatly relishing the experience.
“I have done a lot of work in the UK but it’s so lovely to come to my homeland and work with great Irish singers and an Irish director and conductor,” she says. “There’s something really nice about returning home to sing, and to be able to travel around Ireland with the show.”
She describes what audiences can expect from this OTC staging of Figaro:
“It’s quite exciting really,” she says. “It’s set in the sixties so it’s not at all a conventional production. It’s going to be very colourful with a great 1960s-style look. It’s quite a farcical opera anyway, it’s funny, a real comedy so it’s very accessible to people who have never been to an opera before.
“We’re performing it in English and it’s been updated quite a lot to this modern setting, so that makes it more relevant to modern day living rather than setting it in a period; it’s almost got a little air of a Carry On movie, it’s quite comical with a lot of visual gags so all that takes it away from the traditional take.”
Interestingly, this is Emma’s second time playing Susanna, having previously performed the role for Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music.
“Susanna is a dream role, it’s probably the longest and largest role in opera because you’re on stage for pretty much the whole time and it’s very high-energy” she observes. “The way Annalise is directing it in this production makes Susanna as a character much more feisty and a really strong woman and I think it really works.
“There’s a sense of one-upmanship when she manages to play a trick on the Count and Figaro; it really helps that character development to see there’s a real feistiness there because sometimes she can be construed as being quite subservient.
“This one is very different to the previous production I did; that was set in the 1920s. I’m really enjoying Annalise’s interpretation of the character, she’s very good at making me think about the person I’m playing.”
The Marriage of Figaro was first performed in 1786 and Mozart was very particular about his choice of plot and librettist, rejecting many texts before settling on an adaptation by Lorenzo Da Ponte of Beaumarchais’ play Le Mariage de Figaro.
OTC’s staging will see Mozart’s glorious score conducted by Fergus Sheil and performed live by the company’s touring ensemble. “It’s a very funny production, a real howler,” Emma enthuses, “I think audiences will really enjoy it.”
OTC’s Marriage of Figaro is at the Town Hall Theatre on Saturday May 15 at 8pm. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777.