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Pittsburgh Opera keeping 'Figaro' very sharp and witty

| Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Figaro (Tyler Simpson), Susanna (Joélle Harvey), Count (Christian Bowers) and Countess Almaviva (Danielle Pastin)
David Bachman Photography
Figaro (Tyler Simpson), Susanna (Joélle Harvey), Count (Christian Bowers) and Countess Almaviva (Danielle Pastin)

The genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart never burned more brightly than during six weeks in the summer of 1786 when he wrote the comic opera “The Marriage of Figaro.” It is the first of his unsurpassable operas, an astonishing combination of wit and deep beauty.

“I keep on being amazed, humbled and astounded by the extraordinary musical drama that Mozart and (librettist Lorenzo) da Ponte managed to create,” says Pittsburgh Opera music director Antony Walker. “If you have a cast and director who really understand the characters and dramatic flow, the time just flies during the (three-hour) performance.”

Pittsburgh Opera will present “The Marriage of Figaro” Nov. 4, 7, 10 and 12 at Pittsburgh's Benedum Center.

“The Marriage of Figaro” is based on a controversial French play by Pierre Beaumarchais which shows servants outwitting an aristocrat. It is the second in a trilogy of plays that began with “The Barber of Seville,” which had been turned in opera by Mozart's contemporary Giovanni Paisiello in 1782, although Giacomo Rossini's opera far surpasses Paisiello's work.

Figaro is the barber in “The Barber of Seville” who helps Count Almaviva win Rosina as his bride. Just a few years later in “The Marriage of Figaro,” Almaviva is trying to bed Susanna right before her wedding to Figaro. They conspire with Rosina, now the Countess, and others to foil Almaviva's plans. The interplay of these and other characters create confusion including mistaken identities, all brilliantly expressed musically, which justify the opera's subtitle, “the madness of a day.”

American bass-baritone Tyler Simpson loves the fact that his character Figaro is a very relatable, down-to-earth guy. Simpson earned his master's degree from the Yale University School of Music in New Haven, Conn., and has an international career which includes performing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City for the past six years.

“I'm really lucky this role fits me like a glove,” he says. “It feels great to sing. It just feels right. A lot of Mozart's writing is that way. He is a masterclass in writing for the various voices. He knew exactly how to build a singer up to a big moment.”

Simpson loves the approach being taken in Pittsburgh Opera's production because “we're keeping him very sharp and witty, which makes him much more effective.”

Soprano Joelle Harvey has a broad repertoire, ranging from baroque to new music, but says Susanna is her favorite character to play and “The Marriage of Figaro” her favorite opera. She earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and is performing Susanna for the fifth time.

Although Susanna is a servant in Almaviva's home and not a free person, Harvey says, “she tries to be true to herself. She is true to the end. The music is perfectly written – sweet when it needs to be sweet and fiery and it should be fiery. She stands up for what she believes and is not hesitant to share her opinions. I identify with that.”

Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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