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The Making of Figaro


The Making of Figaro
Opera returns to the UMaine stage in a major student production

The Making of Figaro
Tom Mikotowicz

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It was a wedding unlike any other at the University of Maine, melding the inspiration of a class book with the institution's operatic roots. The School of Performing Arts production of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, sung in English, mobilized upward of 100 students in theater, music and dance in the six-month run-up to the two weekends of performances this past February. And as a "class opera," it served as a springboard for cross-discipline academic dialogue campuswide about history, culture, philosophy and the French language.

The last major operatic production at UMaine was Die Fledermaus, staged in 1996 for the opening of the Class of '44 Hall, home of the School of Performing Arts. Since then, UMaine theater professor Tom Mikotowicz says he has been waiting for the right time to produce another opera.

An annual, full-scale operatic production was once a mainstay of UMaine's academic performing arts season. Longtime theater professor Al Cyrus and music professor Lud Hallman directed many of them. Among their last collaborations in the late 1980s was The Merry Widow.

The Marriage of Figaro was the first UMaine opera Hallman coproduced in the early '70s, shortly after the baritone joined the UMaine community to teach voice and be a choral director.

In February, Hallman conducted a 35-piece orchestra and Mikotowicz directed a cast of 28. Some roles were double and split cast to allow as many students as possible to perform. Student crews and four theater classes were involved in the many behind-the-scenes activities, such as costuming, stage set craft and lighting.

Professional scene and lighting guest artists led the design team, including New York-based lighting designer Burke Brown and scenic designer Laura McPherson from Providence, R.I.

Early on, it was a challenge to sell an opera to students, who perceive the genre as staid and static, admits Mikotowicz. But by opening night, music students were asking "why we don't do opera more often," he says. Theater students said they never thought they'd have so much fun in an operatic production.

What they discovered, Mikotowicz says, was 18th-century musical comedy.

by Margaret Nagle
May-June, 2008

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