The grand spectacle of opera is an expensive art form. These days more and more opera companies are banding together to ease the financial burden. For the first time in its history, Lyric Opera of Kansas City is taking the lead in a new co-production.
To stage Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, the Lyric partnered with opera companies in Philadelphia, San Diego and Palm Beach, Florida. After the show closes in Kansas City, the elaborate set and costumes move to Philadelphia for a performance next April, and other cities afterwards.
Deborah Sandler, the Lyric’s general director and CEO, says the company's cavernous production arts facility at 18th and Cherry made Kansas City the logical place to build the lavish production.
“We start with probably the most perfect opera ever written,” says Sandler. “Then you layer on top of that a magnificent visual production. And we’re building it here in Kansas City, which gives us an opportunity to showcase to the world the fabulous artisans that we have here. I mean, the work is breathtaking.”
Staged opera productions involve hundreds of people: four to five principal singers; chorus members; an orchestra; and highly-skilled technicians working behind the scenes. The four opera companies collaborated not just financially, but also creatively.
“It’s an expensive business producing opera — you know, making costumes, making sets,” says Leslie Travers, the London-based set and costume designer who was tasked with reimagining the visual world of this new Figaro. “And it’s beneficial for companies to have collaborators to do that. It means we can get the best possible outcome and we can make the work look as good as it needs to be by companies sharing the burden of creating the work.”
The centerpiece of Travers’ set design is Count Almaviva’s family tree, a large, sculptural relief festooned with more than fifty individual portraits of the lecherous count’s ancestors.
Gen Goering, the Lyric’s head scenic artist, was charged with bringing the tree to life.
“It’s a lot to do,” says Goering. “You look at the model and it just seems like, ‘Oh, that’s just two walls.’ But it’s two highly detailed, complex walls.”
For Deborah Sandler, it’s been two years of overseeing this massive project.
“We’ve seen drawings. We’ve seen models. I’ve seen swatches of fabric. I’ve seen costumes on forms and mannequins," she says. "But I haven’t seen the people in the costumes against the scenery completely built onstage with lights. That’s what I love about opera. It is so rich.”
Travers has watched his vision take shape in what, to opera fans elsewhere, might seem an unlikely place.
“The fact that in Kansas City you can produce an opera of such demands such as Figaro is incredible,” says Travers.
But in the high-cost environment of opera, this new partnership led in Kansas City will provide a richer experience for audiences in Philadelphia, San Diego and Palm Beach.
Lyric Opera of Kansas City presents “The Marriage of Figaro” running through November 13th at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Julie Denesha is a freelance photographer and reporter for KCUR. Follow her @juliedenesha.