‘¡Figaro! (90210)’ Cast Explores Depth of its Characters

The cast of Chautauqua Opera Company’s ¡Figaro! (90210) perform during a dress rehearsal Wednesday, June 26, 2019 in Norton Hall. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

For the cast of ¡Figaro! (90210), the experience of performing their characters, especially on several nights throughout the season, is deeply profound.

Baritone Jesús Vicente Murillo, who plays Figaro, said there’s nothing like developing a character along with castmates.

This has been so much more of a developmental process — I’ve watched all of us grow as characters and as actors and singers,” Murillo said. “I feel like so much of the characters that we’ve showed up with have changed and improved.

At 7 p.m. Sunday, July 7 in Norton Hall, the Chautauqua Opera Company cast of Young Artists will come together to perform a third night of Vid Guerrerio’s ¡Figaro! (90210), a modern take on Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.

The original, four-hour opera tells the story of the main characters Figaro’s and his fiancé Susanna’s wedding day; both are employed as servants by Count Almaviva. This opera comes three years after Figaro helped the Count marry his wife, Countess Rosina, in the first story of the Figaro trilogy written by Pierre Beaumarchais, The Barber of Seville.

In this adapted version of The Marriage of Figaro, Guerrerio’s ¡Figaro! (90210), the Count and his wife are placed in Beverly Hills, living an extravagant lifestyle as Paul and Roxanne Conti, who are portrayed by Matthew Cossack and Lauren Yokabaskas. Figaro and his fiancé Susana, played by Laura León — originally referred to as Susanna in the original story — are undocumented Mexican workers employed by Paul and Roxanne. Through scheming, deception and flirtation, Susana fights for her Green Card while also trying to marry Figaro. Meanwhile, Roxanne attempts mending her relationship with her husband Paul.

Murillo said the story is a new opera and not just a “translation” of another opera, which allowed him to look at the story with fresh eyes.

“Once I came to terms with that, it was very liberating because I feel like when it is a translation, you’re trying to recreate the original as best as possible,” Murillo said. “When it’s an adaptation, you really have no obligation to recreate the original. Rather, you just create it for what it is.”

The characters in ¡Figaro! (90210) are stock characters; stereotypical, two-dimensional, usually found in fictional work. Murillo said he had preconceived notions of Figaro’s character, but he could still play the archetype while bringing aspects of himself to the role.

This is Cossack’s first time playing the Count. He said he had to be both comfortable with his castmates as well as the adapted story itself.

(The Count) is completely different, but he’s still alike in some ways,” Cossack said. “So, it’s about finding the similarities between the adaptation and the original — it’s a completely different animal.

Each Young Artist said they were enjoying the process, despite the differences from traditional repertoire. Cossack said this different experience brought them together in a new way.    

“We kind of clicked from day one,” Cossack said. “We all brought something unique to the characters, and those individual characters really found a way to make this show work.”

For León, she said her character’s actions are reflective of what many women have to do to survive and be successful. She said since the opera carries themes of racism and sexism, her character has to appease her superiors in different ways to achieve her goals, something Leon has done herself.

Susana literally has to survive in a place where she has to wear many different faces,” León said. “As a woman, that’s something that I never really internalized, as in the things that I have to do (to be taken seriously).

Throughout the performance, Susana has to disguise herself and play different roles, helping her friends and avoiding threats of deportation. Murillo said León plays Susana well, showing how she’s just a regular person navigating real world issues.

“Susana is one of the greatest characters in all of opera, in that she does so many things,” Murillo said. “It’s a hard role to sing; it’s a hard role to act. Susana is an exceptional character in that she isn’t exceptional — she’s just an everyday person.”    

Yokabaskas had a different conception of her role as the Countess. She said she originally thought the Countess was a “real housewife of Beverly Hills” type of woman, but stage director Eric Einhorn changed her mind.

You can go at it thinking of yourself and not necessarily putting on a whole different character,” Yokabaskas said. “And that really changed it for me, as I think of these people as people and not a caricature.

Yokabaskas said the show is all about people and relationships, a notion that came to her as she continued to develop her character.

The cast hopes to share the contemporary love story of ¡Figaro! (90210) as they head into their third performance. León said she is going to change things up and focus on different aspects of her character in this performance.

“Last time I was trying to be more human, but this time I am going to play up the love story,” León said.

The cast members are eager to keep telling the story of people, relationships and love. Murillo said it’s a real story, and it’s a little bit different every night.

Opening night just showed that this show is a living, breathing animal that cannot be tamed,” Murillo said. “I am really excited to see what happens tonight.”

Steven Osgood, the general and artistic director of Chautauqua Opera, will lead a ¡Figaro! 90210 Operalogue at 5 p.m. Sunday, July 7  in McKnight Hall.

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The author Tina Giuliano

Tina Giuliano is a rising junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Phoenix, where she studies broadcast journalism and Spanish. She serves as the multimedia managing editor at her school’s paper, The State Press. She is excited to begin covering opera for the Daily. When she’s not diving into her journalism career, she’s probably rewatching “The Office,” at a soccer game or figuring out which flavor of ice cream to eat.