Theater

Rich Man, Poor Man

Indulging in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro

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Just a few short blocks from the bedraggled, damp campers at the Occupy Portland protest, the city's well-heeled gathered on Friday at the Keller Auditorium for one of the city's legitimately highbrow cultural events: the premiere of Portland Opera's 47th season. The choice of opera was fitting, if inadvertent: Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro is a subversive farce about the inefficacy of the aristocracy. Based on a 1778 play that caused unrest in Revolution-era France, it's a lighthearted but biting condemnation of the ruling class, centered on the cheerfully wily Figaro (Daniel Mobbs), who upsets each of his employer's mean-spirited efforts to thwart his upcoming wedding.

The character of Count Almaviva (an excellent David Pittsinger) is a vindictive and immoral heel, wanting Figaro's fiancée Susanna (Jennifer Aylmer) for himself. The threat of the droit du seigneur, in which a nobleman can sleep with anyone in his employ on the night of her wedding, is grossly suggested. But Mozart's opera doesn't get bogged down in politics, either sexual or feudal; rather, this production of Figaro is a chipper, red-blooded romp, surprisingly vulgar and legitimately funny.

It's also incredibly long. Running well over three hours plus intermission, Figaro feels indulgent and excessive in all of its delights, like a piece of cake that's so large and sugary that it results in an almost immediate bellyache. Characters pop in and out of the scene at a dizzying pace; subplots and conspiracies stack up faster than one can reasonably keep track of. There are double crosses and triple crosses, and characters' affections change on a whim. Basically, everyone is lusting after something or someone, and the most covetous of all is the lecherous Count Almaviva.

It's worth gluttonously absorbing all of Figaro's charms, though. The staging is among the best Portland Opera's offered, rarely succumbing to static tableau. The costumes and set are dazzling. Mozart's music is absolutely phenomenal (no surprise there); only a few stretches in harpsichord-accompanied recitative are anything less than supremely melodic. And there's that overture, quite possibly the most famous piece of music ever composed. It's topped by the gorgeous, graceful finale at the end of the fourth act (yep, that's fourth act). While Figaro takes aim at the wealthy, it's best enjoyed as a sumptuous feast for the senses, no expense spared.

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