In opera performances in an educational setting, much like in college theater, actors are frequently cast in roles that are much more mature—emotionally, vocally and in actual age. How many times have you seen a 20-something Willy Loman in a college production, because training in the classics is a must?
While in the professional world of opera you'd rarely if ever see a performer in her 20s or even 30s playing the teenage princess Salome of Richard Strauss' opera—it's just too vocally demanding—there are many chances for roles to be age-appropriately cast in other works, and it's starting to happen more often. But as has long been the tradition, experience with voice and talent, and perhaps the chance to cast a performer with a relatively marketable name, often trump the desire to cast a performer of an approximate age to a young character.
That's what makes the Fort Worth Opera's staging of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro so refreshing. Its five stars, some of whom have prior experience with this opera, are all in their 20s or early 30s.
For director Eric Einhorn, who has a distinguished career directing mostly experimental opera, and is directing Figaro for the first time, it's an incredible opportunity.
"To get someobody for the first or second time in the role is exciting for me as a first-time director [of this work], because you get to make discoveries together," he says. "You can go back and forth [on this discussion,] because if you're doing La Boheme, where the characters are 18 and 19 years old, musically and sonically you're missing something [if the performers are that young]. We're so used to hearing Pavarotti and performers in their 40s with more vocal power. But in a piece like The Marriage of Figaro, it's a good fit."
There is a trend in opera to move toward more age-appropriate casting, which is something Einhorn credits, to some extent, to the high level of the conservatories and other training outlets. But also, it has to do with the way American culture is moving in general.
"It's also a by-product of the way we get our entertainment now," he adds. "We are such a culture driven by film and TV and high-definition everything, where that distant gauzy filter on entertainmnet is gone, and we're a little less forgiving."
There won't be any reason for asking forgiveness with this Figaro. Here's a quick introduction to the performers in this production:
Donovan Singletary, the bass-baritone who plays Figaro, is the only one of these five performers who has worked at Fort Worth Opera before (he was in 2011's Julius Caesar). This is his professional debut in the role (he has performed it in college). He graduated from the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program.
Soprano Andrea Carroll, 22, who plays Susanna, is also making her professional debut in the role. She sang it at the Manhattan School of Music, from where she recently graduated (and to her mother's chagrin, missed the graduation ceremony to perform here).
Jan Cornelius, soprano, makes her role debut as the Countess. A Texan, she's a graduate of the University of Houston, and recently won the Fort Worth Opera's McCammon Vocal Competition.
Baritone Jonathan Beyer, making his role debut as the Count, won the 2010 McCammon competition. This season he made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Wagner in Faust.
Canadian mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta plays the pants role of Cherubino, She's currently in the Met's Young Artist Development Program. She was in the Canadian Opera Company's young artist program before joining the Met's. She has played this role twice before, and played Susanna once.
We sat down with the performers for this video discussing the revelations of performing Figaro with an age-appropriate cast.
◊ Figaro opens tonight, May 19, at Bass Performance Hall. The Fort Worth Opera festival also features Puccini's Tosca, Jake Heggie's Three Decembers and Mark Adamo's Lysistrata. The remainder of the Fort Worth Opera Festival 2012 performances are:
Saturday, May 19, 7:30 p.m.: The Marriage of Figaro at Bass Hall
Sunday, May 20, 2 p.m. Tosca at Bass Hall OUR REVIEW
Sunday, May 20, 7:30 p.m. Three Decembers at Scott Theatre OUR REVIEW
Friday, May 25, 7:30 p.m. Tosca at Bass Hall
Saturday, May 26, 2 p.m. Three Decembers at Scott Theatre
Saturday, May 26, 7:30 p.m. Lysistrata at Bass Hall
Sunday, May 27, 2 p.m. The Marriage of Figaro at Bass Hall
Thursday, May 31, 7:30 p.m. Three Decembers at Scott Theatre
Friday, June 1, 7:30 p.m. The Marriage of Figaro at Bass Hall
Saturday, June 2, 2 p.m. Three Decembers at Scott Theatre
Saturday, June 2, 7:30 p.m. Tosca at Bass Hall
Sunday, June 3, 2 p.m. Lysistrata at Bass Hall