Classical opera opens at Emens

School of Music takes 1970s twist on 1780s piece.

This weekend, Emens Auditorium audiences will get to see an example of what was too "dangerous" for 1780s Europe.

The Ball State School of Music will be presenting "The Marriage of Figaro,"a full-scale opera that was originally banned from performance due to its depiction and criticism of European nobility, tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

"This was very difficult for the aristocracy to handle back then," said director Craig Priebe, who serves as coordinator of the Ball State opera program. "Some people say 'The Marriage of Figaro,' in a sense, was the start of the French revolution."

The comedic opera, which features a Mozart-penned score, continues the story of Figaro, a Spanish servant first introduced in the opera "The Barber of Seville." Figaro plans to marry his love, the maid Susanna, but he hears that their master, the Count Almaviva, has been making advances on her. Figaro then finds himself trying to thwart his master's plans and avoid a possible forced marriage of his own with another woman.

Great efforts were made to ensure the Ball State production would be accessible to those who had never seen an opera before, said Priebe, although they aim to please experienced viewers as well.

For example, the original four-hour score has been pared down to just over two hours, and some of the pieces will be sung in English. The arias that remain in Italian will have English supertitles projected on a screen onstage.

The famous opera will also be treated to a new setting: the 1970s.

"It makes it more fun to be able to set in a time period you can relate to," said Priebe.

Mark Boyle, who plays the role of Basilio, has enjoyed working under Priebe's direction.

"The really fun thing about Dr. Priebe, is he gives you direction and then expects you to go somewhere with it," said Boyle. "That really gives the cast a lot of freedom."

Many of the roles in "The Marriage of Figaro" were double-cast so that more people could be involved in the production. In the roles that were double-cast, one actor will perform on Friday and the other on Saturday.

"We're in a university setting, and the point here is, beyond presenting something that is enjoyable for the public, it's an educational experience for those involved," Boyle said.

The opera also will utilize the musical abilities of the Ball State Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Leonard Atherton.

"We've had a few rehearsals with (the orchestra), and they sound fantastic," Boyle said. "They're really going to be an integral part of this production."

Priebe commented that the number of people involved with a typical opera production makes it difficult to break even financially.

"Historically, this is why opera has never been a money-making venture," he said. "Operas always depended on patrons of the arts."

To help with the cost of production, donations will be accepted in the Emens foyer at the performances, to which admission is free.

"It's going to be a great night of entertainment, for free, and you don't get that very often," Priebe said.


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