Friday, June 8, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, June 10, 3 p.m.
St. Ambrose University's Galvin Fine Arts Center, 2101 North Gaines Street, Davenport IA
A legendary comic opera about a single day of madness in a Spanish palace, Mozart's classic The Marriage of Figaro will enjoy rare area performances at St. Ambrose University on June 8 and 10. But the presentation of this romantic, hilarious, and gloriously composed work is rarer still in being a community collaboration between Genesius Guild, Opera @ Augustana, the St. Ambrose music department, and Opera Quad Cities – the latter group making its large-scale public return for the first time this decade.
“Years ago,” says Opera Quad Cities President Ron May, “the Opera Quad Cities program was going really strong, but we relied on some pretty significant grants from both riverboats and some individual patrons. And then when the economy took a really bad turn about nine or 10 years ago, we didn't get one of those grants, and one of our most significant patrons passed away. So we were in a real pickle as to what to do, and decided to take a step back rather than press forward like so many non-profit music groups across the country – even some symphony orchestras – and go belly-up.
“But about two years ago,” May continues, “the economy began coming back, and things were beginning to flourish again in the Quad Cities, and [Genesius Guild founder] Don Wooten approached me and said he was retiring. He's been really committed to opera as part of the Genesius Guild series, and has gotten funding through various places – most recently through the Hubbell-Waterman Foundation – and he wanted to make sure that opera continued after he retires. And so he approached me, and we brought in Michelle Crouch, who does Opera @ Augustana and had been doing some of the summer-operetta programs for Genesius Guild in cooperation with them. And then we also extended it to St. Ambrose, feeling that this could really be supported if it became an academic and community-wide thing. And little by little, we put things together, and all the pieces fell into place.”
Regarding the venue change from annual operatic productions in Lincoln Park, May says, “In the past few years, the weather has been so unpredictable – they've been pretty significantly rained out a couple different times. And as some of the audiences are getting older, finding your way back to your cars in the dark through the park has been a real problem for many people. So we thought, let's move it indoors. Then we know for sure it's going to be performed, we know it's going to be air-conditioned and comfortable for our patrons, people can park practically right in front of the door, it's a beautiful facility with a nice orchestra pit, you don't have to sit on hard benches with no backs on the seats … .” (With a laugh, May adds, “There are real restrooms … .”)
“Plus, all the technical elements will be improved. The sound will be much better inside because we can have more lighting effects … . It'll be much more pleasing and artistic, not just for the performers, but for the audiences who are enjoying it.”
As for the decision to produce The Marriage of Figaro as Opera Quad Cities' return, May says, “We thought it would be a good way to re-introduce opera to the Quad Cities, because it is a well-known opera – even people who've never been to an opera have probably heard of it. It's also very comic and lighthearted … . And we're doing it in English, so people can understand it. It'll be like going to an operetta, or highbrow musical theatre.”
Performing as Figaro is Saul M. Nache, a voice instructor at Augustana whose previous operatic roles have included Schaunard in La Bohème, Guglielmo in Cosí fan tutte, and Yamadori in Madama Butterfly. Joining him in principal roles are Michael Callahan (Basilio/Don Corzio), Curtis Fischer-Oelschlaeger (Bartolo/Antonio), Kelly Hill (Marcellina), Sarah Lounsberry (Cherubino), Anna Riggins (Barbarina), Jonathan Schrader (the Count), Rochelle Eisenga Schrader (the Countess), and Emmalynn Tully (Susanna). And The Marriage of Figaro also boasts a chorus of 17 – among them Ron May – and an orchestra of 25, making the production a truly grand return for full-scale opera in the Quad Cities.
“Opera Quad Cities is kind of the glue,” says May, “but this is truly a group collaboration with Genesius Guild, Opera @ Augustana, and St. Ambrose. And if all four groups are committed, and we can pool our resources, then we can make it work. That's the important thing to stress. We're all in this together.”
The Marriage of Figaro will be performed at St. Ambrose's Galvin Fine Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 8, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 10, and admission is $18-21 or free for students with a valid student ID. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit OperaQC.org.