As the story goes, Joseph II was looking for an opera to be performed in the imperial court in Vienna. Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" was one of the works under consideration, along with a number of others by composers who have long since been forgotten.
Luckily, the emperor had enough musical taste to pick "The Marriage of Figaro." With the scant success Mozart had found in the Austrian capital in the decade he lived there before his death, he had sworn that if he were passed over, he would throw the score into the fire.
"We're fortunate that Joseph chose the right opera," Lawrence Vincent said. Otherwise, the world would be bereft of one of the greatest operatic comedies of all time.
Last August, Vincent, who directs the opera program at Brigham Young University, decided to stage Mozart's masterpiece this fall. Performances run from Tuesday through Saturday in the de Jong Concert Hall on the BYU campus in Provo.
Vincent will stage direct, and he told the Deseret Morning News that "Figaro" is quite a demanding work. "I think it's the most challenging opera I've ever done."
Before coming to BYU 11 years ago, Vincent had a lustrous operatic career in Germany and Austria. He's been looking forward to doing "Figaro" here not only because he loves Mozart (during his career, Vincent has sung both "Don Giovanni" and "Cosi fan Tutte"), but also because the opera department has several good baritones.
"I choose the operas we do, because of the voices we have," he said. Since every production is double-cast, Vincent needs quite a large number of strong singers. "This year we have some good baritones, and we always have lots of good women's voices."
Vincent doesn't want to bring in professional singers to fill voids, since these productions are intended to help develop and foster young voices. "What we do affords a great opportunity to our students."
One of the most difficult things to do well in Mozart are the recitatives, Vincent said. "When I sang 'Giovanni' and 'Cosi,' we spent a week on nothing but recitatives. At first we just spoke the lines as if it was a play. Then we started working with them with the accompaniment."
He said the students have had their problems with the recitatives, but they've come a long way since August. "It's so much more challenging than the arias, because there is a lot more freedom in recitatives. But the students have shown they can handle it."
Since "The Marriage of Figaro" is a long opera, clocking in at around 3 1/2 hours, Vincent felt it necessary to trim a little bit. "This summer I thought I would need to cut down several of the ensembles and individual numbers, but when it came down to it, I couldn't cut Mozart."
What Vincent did do was remove large sections of recitative in Acts II and IV, as well as a couple of numbers in the fourth act that don't move the story along. Other than that, the work is intact.
The opera will be sung in Italian with English supertitles. Kory Katseanes will conduct members of the BYU Philharmonia.
If you go ...
What: "The Marriage of Figaro"
Where: de Jong Concert Hall, Harris Fine Arts Center, Brigham Young University, Provo
When: Tuesday-Saturday, 7 p.m.
Cost: $18, reserved; $14-$15, students
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