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November 12, 2009 - Image 11

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Thursday, November 12, 2009 - 3B

The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom Thursday, November12, 2009 - 39


"The Marriage of Figaro" is being performed in Italian with English supertitles projected overhead.

Operatic matrimony

University Opera Theatre takes on
Mozart with 'The Marriage of Figaro'
By Sharon Jacobs I Daily Arts Writer

As the orchestra dives into a
bouncy, upbeat tune, the curtain
rises on Edward Hanlon. He is
crouched on his hands and knees
center stage in what can hardly be
called an ideal
singing pos-
ture. But when The Marriage
Hanlon, a sec- F ro
ond-year opera
specialist in At the Power
the School of Center
Music, Theatre Today through
& Dance, opens Nov.15
his mouth to Ticketsfrom $9
sing, his awk-
ward posture
doesn't matter. The resonant open-
ing of "The Marriage of Figaro"
radiates from the stage throughout
the theater, bathing all 1,400 of the
Power Center's seats in melody and
There are no microphones at
work here - this is opera. That
means it's the performers' jobs to
project their voices all the way to
the back row without electronic
enhancement. And in Hanlon's
case, playing the title character in
the University Opera Theatre's pro-
duction of "The Marriage of Figa-
ro," the material he has to project is
more than 200 years old and written
in a language most Americans don't
This weekend, "Figaro" pre-
mieres at the Power Center for the
Performing Arts. And at $9 for stu-
dents, it's a great opportunity to see
a group of talented singers before
they graduate and join their peers
- Michigan alumni have gone on
to perform with the Metropolitan
Opera, Chanticleer and the San
Francisco Opera, among others.
Composed by Mozart with libret-
tist Lorenzo Da Ponte back in 1786,
"Figaro" still resonates with audi-
ences, particularly young people.
"Sexual tensions, love (and)
betrayal" are elements that occur
in "Figaro," Hanlon explained,
describing the interaction between
characters in their mid-20s. Audi-
ences can look forward to comic
confusion, mismatched period-
slash-contemporary costumes (one
character wears a pinstripe suit
over his classical-era tights) and hot
makeout scenes between hormonal
Director Robert Swedberg,
associate professor of voice in the
School of Music, Theatre & Dance,
is no stranger to this opera. He has
directed several opera productions,
the most recent in Germany. He also
starred as Figaro at California State
University, Northridge.
Swedberg places a particular
emphasis on the politics behind
"The Marriage of Figaro." Premier-
ing just a few years before the start
of the French Revolution, this opera
is sometimes assumed to be con-
nected to France's violent peasant
"('Figaro') presented a perspec-
tive that allowed for (the represen-
tation of) the servant class just as
the servant classes of Europe were
becoming restless," Swedberg said.
"Figaro" mocks the absurdity of
extreme upper-class power, chan-
neling political undertones that
are even more meaningful in times
of revolution and change. A main
theme in "Figaro" is the Droit de
Seigneur (a master's legal right to
sleep with his employee's fiancee).
"(The Droit de Seigneur) can be
compared to some of the corporate
arrogance that we have (today)

you can still draw the parallel
between Figaro and his master,
and us and our masters," Swedberg
Revolution, excitement (in more
than one sense) and love are all key-
words for this work, which is often
lauded as "the world's most perfect
opera" with its lush, multidimen-
sional characterizations and its
skillful balance of drama and music.
The plot of "The Marriage of
Figaro" centers on its title character,
a recently engaged servant whose
fiancee, Susanna, has caught the eye
of Figaro's master, the Count, who is
himself stuck in a rocky marriage.
Figaro and Susanna must outwit
the Count, who plans to execute his
legal right to sleep with his employ-
ee Figaro's bride-to-be on their
The pair's plight provides the
opera with many laughs and ample
subplots. One such story involves
Cherubino, a restless teenager por-
trayed by Monica Sciaky, a second-
year master's student in the School
of Music, Theatre & Dance.
Cherubino pops up unexpect-
edly throughout the show to cause
trouble and is "filled with horny
energy (and) sparkling daring-
ness," according to Sciaky.
A counterpoint to Cherubino is
found in Bartolo, a crotchety old
doctor bent on ruining Figaro's
plans. Midway through, though,
Bartolo is discovered to harbor a
secret that will transform his rela-
tionship with his nemesis. Figaro's
rich personalities are one of its
many highlights - the characters
rise above mere class caricature.
"The Marriage of Figaro" is a.
particularly fitting show for Uni-
versity Opera Theatre, which must
find at least one operatic role for
every voice performance major. In
this production, two actors were,
cast for each role (they switch off
each night), and the opera features
a 21-person chorus, so plenty of
students get their chance to shine.
Rounding out the student partici-
pants are the University Symphony
orchestra, conducted by Kenneth
Kiesler, Director of University
Orchestras and Professor of Con-
ducting in the School of Music,
Theatre & Dance.
Most of the backstage crew is
also made up of students, among
them stage manager Mitchell
Hodges and lighting designer Craig
Kidwell. Both senior theatre
design and production majors in
the School of Music, Theatre &
Dance, Hodges and Kidwell are
taking on jobs usually handled
by University Productions staff
Kidwell describes the show as
"an honor because of the chal-
lenges of opera and working in a
large venue."
The backstage crew has its
hands full with props,block-
ing and an unusual set piece.
The University Opera Theatre's
production of "Figaro" uses a
rotating set, which spins around
between the scenes in Figaro's
bedroom, the Countess's boudoir,
the Count's study, a garden out-
side and all the stops in between.
The rotating set adds more
dimensions to the action.
"You can play in different
areas," explained second-year
specialist Nicole Greenidge.
This set design means a lot of
work backstage, but it pays off in
the added action and excitement

of the finished production. The
rotating set also means actors will
be prancing and clambering on a
veritable moving obstacle course,
all while singing their hearts out.
Developing the kind of lung
capacity required to belt out a song
while on the go is a daunting task.
Swedberg recommends a movement
class like ballet or yoga for his cast
and for anyone who wants to suc-
ceed in opera. Opera's big departure
from other singing styles is its lack
of microphones, and the hardwork-
ing "Figaro" cast promises to fill the
Power Center with pure human-
made noise for the entirety of its
three-hour runningtime.
Opera can be considered "an ath-
letic kind of a procedure," accord-
ing to Swedberg. Vocal endurance
doesn't come easily, and most pro-
fessional companies take at least a
day off to recover between shows.
Since it's double-cast, "Figaro" will
be able to realize four back-to-back
shows while still giving each cast
member some down time. Double-
casting also allows actors sharing
a part to interact, commiserate and
learn from one another.
Besides being microphone-free,
opera is also set apart from other
genres by its structure. Operas
are "through-composed," which
means that the music isn't broken
up by stretches of dialogue, as in
musical theater. A sort of mid-
dle ground is found in operetta,
which has some dialogue but often
eschews mics.
Important plot turns in "Figaro"
use recitative, opera's version of
dialogue, accompanied by harp-
sichord. These lines are projected
in an operatic style, on one pitch
and in rhythm, but sound closer to
speakingthan singing.
Recitative is among many opera-
specific skills, but the School of
Music, Theatre & Dance doesn't
have a specific major for opera
- rather, operatic courses exist
within the vocal performance
major. And for operatic hopefuls,
,the vocal performance degree is
only the beginning. After complet-
ing their undergraduate studies,
singers take on a two-year mas-
ter's program, then have the option.
of choosing a two-year special-
ist degree focusing exclusively on
What this means for "Figaro"
is that many of the actors are
graduate students - the youngest
cast members are undergraduate
juniors or seniors in the School of
Music, Theatre & Dance. There
are more undergraduates in the
orchestra and crew.

In addition to their vocal studies,
operatic hopefuls receive instruc-
tion in opera, acting and foreign
languages like Italian, German and
"Figaro" is performed in Italian
with English supertitles projected
overhead as the actors perform.
This means major cramming for
those students who aren't profi-
cient in the language. Hanlon, for
example, took intensive Italian at
the University over the summer
to prepare for his role as "Figaro."
And just saying "bon giorno" isn't
enough - it takes extra work to
perfect "singer's diction," that
wide-voweled enunciation used in
song, in a foreign language.
"(Expressing the) nuance of
the words, the attitudes and emo-
tions and subtexts behind (them),"
explained Swedberg, is the even-
tual goal of foreign-language opera
Emotional and musically intel-
lectual, opera seemingly lacks
the mass appeal of other theatri-
cal genres. It's true that opera is
expensive in production, long and
large-scale, not to mention plagued
by stereotypical portrayals of fat
ladies singing and "wabbit"-killing
"Looney Tunes" characters.
But in the last few years, opera
has been experiencing a sort of
revival. One important innovation
is high-definition broadcasts -
performances at the Metropolitan
Opera in New York can now be seen
across the country, even at Ann
Arbor's Regency 16 on certain Sat-
urdays, for regular movie prices.
This makes opera more accessible
for the average person who doesn't
live in New York and isn't likely to
shell out $200 for one show.
Opera'srecentresurgence affects
the University's programs too.
The University Opera Theatre has
expanded its repertoire to include
several experimental pieces. These
will be performed in the spring,
along with "Armide," a more rarely
produced French opera. The music
library on North Campus is also a
great opera resource, with many
DVDs that students can check out.
Still, there's nothing like seeing
an opera onstage, the way it was
meant to be. The ability to fill a the-
ater with just one person's voice
while simultaneously kneeling,
jumping or dancing is something
that has to be seen to be believed. At
its most basic, opera is a celebration
of the human voice and the things it
can do without electronic enhance-
ment. And for those unfamiliar with
opera, "The Marriage of Figaro" is
the perfect place to start.

Ann Arbor's most adored
greasy spoon, the Fleet-
wood Diner, is at the
intersection of Ashley and Lib-
erty Streets
on the edge
of down-'
town. Last
March, tiny
celebrated its
existence: 60 LILA
years of sassy KALICK
excellence. What
keeps Fleetwood's colorful cli-
entele coming back isn't the ser-
vice, the food (delicious but, on
the whole, standard) or the fact
that it's open 24/7. The appeal is
the rolling together of all these
aspects and the people who go
there into one. In short, it's the
Fleetwood experience that calls
patrons in.
Fleetwood's seedy charm and
standing-room-only Ambiance
provide the perfect avenue for
the unexpected. The tin-tackle
box exterior is unassuming,
looking more like an old trailer
than an emblem of the American
Inside, the walls are stickered,
stamped and shellacked with so
many fliers for upcomingcon-
certs thatyou would think you
had stumbled into CBGB in the
1980s. If the black-and-white-
checkered floor doesn't make
you feel like you're at apunk
show, the lack of breathing room
on any Friday or Saturday surely
will. Talking with strangers is
completely unavoidable, over-
hearing bizarre conversations is
a must and a violation of personal
space should be anticipated. The
chances of a fight breaking out
are high.
Fleetwood satisfies the same
set of unshakable requirements
necessary for any space to accu-
rately call itself a modern diner.
Sinfully greasy food? Check.
Staunch resistance and disdain
toward anti-tobacco legisla-
tion? Check. An eerie trend of
longevity among staff members
with either a) tattooed-on face
make-up, b) jeans that don't fit,
c) life long struggle to quit smok-
ing greatly inhibited by choice
of employment or d) willingness
to discuss personal issues with
strangers like weight gain or loss,
nasty ex-boyfriend situations or
childhood memories? Quadruple
But what makes a diner
emblematic of its home town is
not the presence of these ele-
ments, but the minutiae - those
eccentric characteristics that
separate it from the rest of the

pack. Fleetwood has plenty of
quirks. For one thing, the stand-
out dish Hippie Hash violates
the mold of traditional hash
browns, branding the beloved
American side with a distinctly
Ann Arbor flavor. In addition to
the usual potato shavings and
the healthy helping of oil, you'll
get peppers, broccoli, onions,
mushrooms, tomatoes and feta
cheese, making ita solid enough
choice to stand solo. (P.S. It's
the bomb.)
If you can surmount the series
of challenges thrown at you in
your quest for deliciousness,
perhaps you'll get to sample this
innovative delight. of course,
that would require that you've
found atable - a difficult task.
Next, the waitress: She'll greet
you with contempt, vacancy
or perhaps, if it's early enough,
spunk. You'll overcome this,
asking politely then waiting
patiently as it takes 35 minutes to
get your order. It's worth every
second of the inordinately long
wait. And I advise you to go for
the whole Hippie breakfast (two
eggs any style with hippie hash
and toast), because once it gets
there you'll be much hungrier
than you first thought.
Another anomaly at Fleet-
wood is the halal meat. I've seen
it in Greek and Middle Eastern
restaurants, but never in anoth-
Long waits,
short tempers.
er diner. Fleetwood employs
it in its meaty hippie hash and
gyros, but don't worry vegans -
there's also a seitan version of
the hash for all your late night
Some will complain about
Fleetwood's dirtiness and the
incessant smoking of its patrons.
I say a diner is not a real diner
if it's not a baby's breath away
from the lowest health and
sanitation limits, the final relic
of our Upton Sinclair past. My
only misgiving with Fleetwood
is its lack of milkshakes. I mean,
get it together guys. What's my
order of greasy fries without a
huge chocolaty or vanilla treat
to wash it down with? Clearly, in
my mind, my own lactose intol-
erance does not exist after 3 a.m.
I feel strongly that Fleetwood
should be there to support me in
my bad decision.
Kalick is tattooing on her
make-up. If you can help, e-mail
her at lkalick@umich.edu.

E-mail join.arts@umich.edu
for an application.


Michigan Union Ballroom
Thursday, Nov.12 8-10 PM
The Ann Arbor District Library brings our flagship gaming event to the Michigan Union BRAWLroom
(Ballroom in the Union, 530 S. State) for a fast, furiOuS, high-intenity Super Smash Bros. Brawl Tournament.
Items are Off and Neutral Stages are On; it's just you and your skills braWing your way to the top.
We'll have Valuable prizes for the top players and a team event, if time allows.
You may have been to a Brawl tournament before, but not like this one.
For more information: aadfforglhrawl or 321.4555

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