In Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, Count Almaviva has married his Rosina, now the Countess (Ailyn Pérez), but instead of a first love/true love story arc (from Rossini's The Barber of Seville), it seems the Count has strayed repeatedly in his wedding vows.
“Their love has fallen away. She has remained faithful, but he's messed around with all sorts of women. He's created illegitimate sons and daughters,” says Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins, who plays the Count.
Figaro (Adam Plachetka), Count Almaviva's valet, is finally getting ready to marry the love of his life, Susanna (Heidi Stober). Ah, but the Count has set his sights on Susanna himself. In the traditional opera, the Count had regrets about renouncing the droit du seigneur, a feudal custom giving the lord first rights to bed the bride of any of his subjects. In this updated account, set in 1969 Spain, it's an argument about free love, Hopkins says. It's love, lust, betrayal and fidelity all wrapped up in a brilliant musical score in this co-production by Houston Grand Opera and Glyndebourne Festival Opera.
“Susanna and Figaro try to foil the Count at every turn,” says Hopkins. The revolving set enables quick but definite changes between one act and the next, Hopkins says, and allows him to make a grand entrance driving a car. “There's a really cool car that I get to arrive in during the overture, which is the arrival of the Count and Countess to their summer home. It's this Austin-Healey car which was specifically designed for this show with a golf cart motor in it. I do actually drive it.”
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As for his character: “He's in the position of ultimate power, which is so much fun to play,” Hopkins says. “He has the ability to manipulate whoever he wants who is under his employ. So if he's angered by something, he always finds someone else to blame; it's never the Count who's to blame. He's also extremely horny all the time.”
The countermeasures employed by Figaro and Susanna with the aid of the Countess do finally achieve some success – goodness triumphs in the end – and the Count gets down on his knees and begs pardon, as well he should.
Performances of The Marriage of Figaro are scheduled for January 22 through February 7 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays, Saturday and Wednesday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Wortham Center, 501 Texas. Sung in Italian with projected English translation. For information, call 713-228-6737 or visit houstongrandopera.org. $15-$338.