This week, Chautauqua Opera Company will undertake the unprecedented.
In celebration of its 90th anniversary, this week will be Chautauqua Opera’s first time holding an opera festival. Over the course of three days, the 24 Young Artists and four guest artists will perform a festival trilogy of operas based on Pierre Beaumarchais’ three Figaro plays.
At 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 25 in Norton Hall, Chautauqua Opera will open the festival with Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. At 4 p.m. Friday, July 26 in Norton Hall, the festival continues with Vid Guerrerio’s ¡Figaro! (90210), adapted from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. The festival closes with John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, July 27, in the Amphitheater.
Steven Osgood, general and artistic director of Chautauqua Opera, said the Figaro Trilogy has never been performed in sequence in the span of three days.
“That is something that no company has ever done before,” Osgood said. “They have been within the same calendar or the same season, but not on subsequent nights.”
Planning for the festival started last year, and opera crews got their feet on the ground a few weeks before the summer season opened.
Days before the opera festival, Chautauqua Opera’s costume shop whirled with the sounds of sewing machines and the faint scent of hairspray seeping in from the wig shop next door.
Many of the opera singers have several costumes they wear either in the same show or different shows. Costume designer B.G. Fitzgerald said he and his crew are working as fast as they can to get everything ready for three operas in three days, which required singers to be fitted as soon as they arrived on the grounds.
“Some of them did their fittings before they even did their singing,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s because of time.”
The Ghosts of Versailles is in the thick of production and will only get one night on stage. While the other two operas continue to have brush-up rehearsals, the crew is, right now, primarily focused on Versailles.
Fitzgerald said he and his crew have built about 25 costumes from scratch, along with altering the stock costumes.
“So we are dealing with about 150 to 175 costumes with that one show,” he said.
In the wig shop, Martha Ruskai and her team also received head measurements early in the season. Each singer receives a wig so they can best represent the time period in which the opera was written — except the cast of ¡Figaro! (90210), which is set in 21st-century California.
Ruskai said each opera required special attention, but ¡Figaro! (90210)’s modern setting made production a bit easier.
“As soon as we got here, we started doing wig fittings,” Ruskai said. “While I was doing Barber of Seville fittings, we were taking measurements and planning (for the next opera).”
She said since opera roles are chosen primarily by voice type, the wigs and makeup are essential to matching the singer with the rest of the character.
“We are called upon to make them look differently,” Ruskai said. “Danny Belcher is blond but he is playing a brunet (Figaro in ¡Figaro! (90210) and The Ghosts of Versailles).”
On the stage, set designer Alan Muraoka brought the set together by first listening to the music. Then, he created a sketch of the set and modified it according to each director’s vision.
Since audiences will ideally see the operas in order, Muraoka wanted to tie the shows together, showing character development through the sets. The set features a white archway that represents the progression of chaos in the characters’ lives.
“I liked the idea of possibly tying all three operas together thematically,” Muraoka said. “So I knew this archway existed. … In Barber, it will be vertical, but when we see it in ¡Figaro! (90210), it’s collapsed.”
Amid the sets, costumes and various production tasks, the Young Artists are rehearsing the libretto and stage direction. Many of the Young Artists are in more than one opera, which requires them to attend brush-up rehearsals.
For soprano Lauren Yokabaskas, she had to keep track of her character. She plays Roxanne in ¡Figaro! (90210), and then returns to the late 1700s as the same character in The Ghosts of Versailles.
“¡Figaro! is set in the present day, so we are just playing normal people,” Yokabaskas said. “But in Versailles we are playing these people who had all of these rules and all of these ways about how you can move.”
She said they rehearse in corsets, and had to learn about the everyday rituals for a typical 18th-century woman. Yokabaskas said she enjoyed experiencing her character’s development.
“It’s been interesting to see the arc of the character,” she said. “I think to put up with the things that Almaviva has put her through, throughout the arc of the plays — she has to really love him.”
As she transitioned from her ¡Figaro! (90210) cast to her Versailles cast, Yokabaskas said being a part of a dedicated group of musicians has helped her grow as a professional.
“It’s just wonderful to get everybody’s perspective,” Yokabaskas said. “Everyone is so professional and well-prepared, but it is like forming a whole new family after your initial cast.”