NU alum and director Barbara Gaines revitalizes “The Marriage of Figaro” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago

Rachel Holtzman, Reporter

“The Marriage of Figaro,” a romantic and comedic opera by Mozart, follows two servants fighting against all odds to make it down the aisle. This classic story compelled Barbara Gaines (Communication ‘68) to direct the show at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, making it her first work on a non-Shakespeare opera.

Gaines, founder and artistic director of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, said she took on the project over four years ago when the Lyric Opera offered her the spot, hoping to refresh the opera.

“I was just bored … I wanted to do something that would be fun and light, just like the music, something that would make it full of joy,” Gaines said. “It was the music that inspired the set and the costumes and the rest of the design, too.”

Luca Pisaroni, who sings the part of the villainous count, said Gaines’ experience in the world of theatre gave her a unique perspective on the opera.

“This is a role I’ve done several times, but it was nice for me to come here because Barbara had an open mind about it and was ready to discover new things,” he said. “We created something that I’ve enjoyed putting together very much.”

Gaines said this show is the first place she has seen that takes the show out of realistic staging. Everything is either hyper-realistic or minimalist, meaning late 1700s-era dresses mesh with set pieces like a large bed and a bleached wood backdrop.

Staging the show in this way allowed her and the actors to explore new facets of the roles, Gaines said. Pisaroni said Barbara’s directing style allowed him to take unique risks with his acting.

“We’ve performed the opera four times, and it’s been different every single time,” he said. “Barbara can see something and tell you what works and what doesn’t … I experimented a lot, and she helped me decide what had to stay and what had to go.”

Gaines also said the collaboration behind the scenes made creating the show fun. She said typically opera singers are older, more experienced and have often played parts multiple times. This time around, according to Gaines, casting director Anthony Freud brought together a group of singers who were young but still knew their parts well.

“The surprise was how wonderful the cast was and how brilliant they are for their roles,” Gaines added. “It was very hard work, but it was always enjoyable. … You never really know what to expect if you don’t know the people but it was great.”

Gaines said the aspect of “The Marriage of Figaro” she loved the most while growing up was the music, which she was able to connect with during this production.

“It was great to be surrounded by Mozart’s music,” she said. “It’s a wonderfully comic, loving journey. Being surrounded by that music for so many years was just an honor.”

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