Opera is certainly tricky. Foreign-language librettos, endless recitatives and
laughably implausible and convoluted plot lines are not very easy to stage, and sometimes no easier to sit through. And this is why Oxford’s very own student-run Heartstrings Opera Company have decided to put on a more
accessible production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro.
The opera takes place in the house of Count Almaviva (Louis Geary). His valet Figaro (William Pargeter) is happily preparing for the Count’s marriage to Susannah (Betty Makharinsky), the Countess’s maid. However, the love rat Count, bored by the constraining bonds of marriage, indulges his roaming eye, which happens to fall on none other than the pretty bride-to-be.
Cherubino (Abigail Finch), a local prankster, starts to cause problems of his own, while Figaro, Susannah and the wronged Countess conspire to expose the Count’s lecherousness. The mayhem that follows includes cross-dressing,
wardrobe hiding places and Oedipal revelations of parenthood.
In the Heartstrings Opera Company’s daring production, LorenzoDa Ponte’s original Italian libretto is replaced by a modern-day English translation, which
is the work of one of the cast members, Betty Makharinsky. The Countess singing Hannah Montana’s catchphrase ‘say what’ to the accompaniment of Mozart’s magnificent ariosi is unexpected, and yet somehow it works. Courtly Italian dress becomes Hawaiian shirts and silk corsets. And to top it all, instead of a conventional stage, the setting for one of the performances will be the elevated platform in “Camera” – a favourite night-time haunt for many Oxford students.
I was shown a snippet from Act II during which the Countess and Susannah disguise Cherubino as Susannah using a great deal of red lipstick and quite possibly the biggest bra known to man. Geary, playing the Count, gave a particularly strong performance as the bullying, scheming, skirt-chasing baritone. The production promises to be an absolute treat and will certainly inject a bit of (much-needed) culture into the weekly FOMO Friday night at Camera. And perhaps opera will finally make its leap into the mainstream.