In life, furniture tends to be -- or should be -- less important than human beings. Sometimes one simply can't afford furniture, but that doesn't mean that one ceases to live. Roger Brunyate, the director of the Peabody Conservatory's Opera Theatre, figures it works that way in Mozart, too.
That's the reason Brunyate's production of "The Marriage of Figaro" will be a stripped-down affair this week. In September, when he realized the state was about to slash its budget (which includes funds for Peabody), he decided to eliminate as much furniture and scenery as possible from the production, thus saving the conservatory about $15,000.
"It won't look like what you expect a Peabody production to be," Brunyate says of his "Figaro," which opens tomorrow night and continues Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoon. "We'll have three arches that look through a window and we'll have some simple furniture. Only the singers will be in full costume."
"The Marriage of Figaro" may be the single greatest comic opera ever written, equaled perhaps only by the greatest Shakespeare plays. Mozart takes the plot -- a philandering count is tricked and brought to justice (and forgiven) -- and makes it mirror all of the emotions human beings feel in relationships. Even in some of Mozart's other great operas, the characters tend to be archetypes. In "Figaro," they are nothing less or more than human beings.
And because it deals so exclusively and so intimately with the way people relate to each other, Brunyate says, "Figaro" may be the perfect Mozart opera to deal with in so simple a manner.
"What we gain by the loss of the scenery and the lavish sets is the potential for making the audience more aware of the personal relationships in the opera," says Brunyate, who has double-cast the production. "I'll be able to focus more on the characters and how they interact."
This doesn't mean that Brunyate doesn't see drawbacks in such simple staging.
"The Count in 'Figaro' lives in such a grand and inflated world that he gets an inflated idea of his own privilege," the director says. "That's something that sets can help you establish -- as they help establish the opera's social dimensions which, in turn, is the framework through which you see the personal relations of the characters. The central question in 'Figaro' -- at least in terms of the Count -- is: Does the fact that you're a count and lord of all you survey release you from the duties of loving and caring?"
'The Marriage of Figaro'
Where: Friedberg Hall, Peabody Institute.
When: Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8:15 p.m.; Sunday at 3 p.m.
Call: (410) 659-8124.