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CULTURE | Vol. 7, No. 10, March 8, 2007
(Reviving Brownsville)

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Figaro in Real Life

by Beege Welborn

Author Models Character After Himself

In a packed room at the Pensacola Opera Center, Timothy Kennedy has the audience eating out of his expressive, perpetually-in-motion hands.

Regaling the rapt attendees with the parallels between the real life adventures of  "Figaro" trilogy author Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais and the on-stage life of his creation, the Opera's dynamic director of education and outreach rattles off Beaumarchais' individual accomplishments.

"Beaumarchais was a man of many, many faces," Kennedy says. "A watch-maker, musician, playwright, political prisoner, entrepreneur, spy, arms dealer..."

Then, Kennedy reads aloud the Act V, Scene 3 monologue from the "The Marriage of Figaro" production. Figaro rails against the injustices of birth and privilege, "Because you are a great lord, you think you are a great genius!" And Figaro lists all the occupations he's ever had: Barber, blood letter, poet, and so on. 

Kennedy looks up at the audience and wryly asks, "Sound familiar?" It did, indeed, and there is appreciative laughter all around.

The Opera Talk series brings to life "The Marriage of Figaro" production showing at 7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Saenger Theatre. The talks in an intimate setting are becoming ever more popular. With historical background, plus the related fine art tie-ins, interesting anecdotes and live performances by Opera Studio Artists, theater-goers get a finger on the pulse of the era itself. It also adds tremendously to the understanding and the appreciation of the opera.

For "The Marriage of Figaro" production, along with Kennedy's engaging presentation on the life and times of Beaumarchais and Mozart, Pensacola Museum of Art Assistant Curator Leah Griffin brought along a slide presentation of paintings.  Drawn from the salons of late 18th century France, she opens a complementary visual window to the world of complete abandon and excess flourishing in the courts of Louis XV and XVI.

These rococo canvasses of milkmaids, cupids and idle courtiers are the paparazzi shots of the 1780s, complete with naughty bits of skirt peeping. It's a dissolute Paris without the Hilton, as it were, and ripe for revolution.

The Opera Talk is also a wonderful chance to showcase the vibrant young company of exquisitely talented vocalists the Pensacola Opera nurtures in their Artist in Residence program. From Pensacola native Sheila Murphy's lyrical soprano to Alissa Anderson's animated, mellifluous mezzo to Sean Damm's resonant baritone complemented by his smoldering good looks, they are a company as delightful to the eye as they are easy on the ear.

Pensacola Opera Executive Director Sherrie Mitchell knows she has all the ingredients to appeal to a wider audience.

"We're trying to reach the 26- to 40-year-olds," she says. "The group who says it's too stuffy, too formal…"

If opera is daunting and unfamiliar territory for you, all in the company are vastly approachable and seem eager to share their love and knowledge of their art form with the public.

Kennedy hopes to expand the concept next season with a discussion series. He'd like to note elements of the production and the parallels and relevance to today's world.

For example, with "The Marriage of Figaro" it would be the strong feminine characters, the class resentment and conflict, the duplicity. An expert on one of those particular aspects of the story could lead a stimulating dialogue and examination.

Mitchell says she expects the opera experience to be accessible, as well as hugely enjoyable, for every last patron in a seat. 

"We want them to know that we want them to be comfortable here," she says.

What: "The Marriage of Figaro" by the Pensacola Opera
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 9; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 11
Where: Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox St.
Cost: $25-$90
Details: 433-6737 or pensacolaopera.com

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