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Virginia Opera survives a last-minute casting change in its production of "The Marriage of Figaro."

The Show Will Go On

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The subtitle to Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" is "A Crazy Day," which might also describe the past few days at Virginia Opera. At opera companies with mammoth budgets, parts are double cast and a stand-in is always ready to step into important roles. Smaller regional companies like Virginia Opera simply cannot afford this kind of insurance. A recast is a crisis, a category 5 hurricane, a 7.0 on the Richter scale.

Last week, Virginia Opera was shaken up when Lori McCann, who was to play the role of the Countess, had to bow out of the production because of severe allergies. Fabiana Bravo, a vocal student at The Catholic University in Washington, gamely stepped into the role. She is not the same height or size as McCann, so her costume does not fit. Seamstresses have leapt to the occasion, outfitting Bravo with an alternate array of corsets and stays.

Though a college student, Bravo has garnered numerous prizes, including triumphing over 2,000 other singers at the Luciano Pavarotti International Voice Competition in 1995 and attaining World Finalist status at the 1998 Placido Domingo's Operalia. The Congress of Argentinia named her 1999 Argentine Woman of the Year. She has performed the roles of Lucia Di Lammermoor with Pavarotti, Mimi in "La Boheme," and Madame Ledoine in "Dialogues of the Carmelites."

Bravo's appearance on the stage of the Carpenter Center will not be her first time performing the role of Rosina, Countess Almaviva. However, Lucinda Carver, the production's guest conductor, points out that substituting a lead actress at the last moment is still rather complicated.

"Most productions of Figaro are done with some kinds of cuts," she explains, "...otherwise, it would be four hours in length." However, every production makes those cuts in a slightly different place, so a singer must learn the specifics of each new version.

At a recent performance for students in Norfolk, McCann and Bravo shared the role — Bravo handled the heavy-duty singing parts, delivering her arias from the pit, while McCann mouthed the words and performed the ensembles and recitatives on-stage. The next day, McCann officially withdrew from the production and Bravo spent the day in a staging rehearsal learning the blocking for the role. Carver says Bravo is "doing beautifully," after a few admittedly tumultuous days and she has no grave concerns over the final outcome of the production. "She will be a major talent," Carver says.

Carver, music director and conductor of the Los Angeles Mozart Orchestra and who has also conducted at New York City Opera, is effusive about "Figaro." "It's the world's greatest opera," she declares. "It's the perfect marriage of great, great music and a great libretto." She points to the political content of Beaumarchais' original text, which was considered so dangerous at the time that it was banned in Vienna. Lorenzo da Ponte toned it down for Austria's official censors, but Mozart and his librettist retain much of the subversiveness of the French drama. The frothy, comical events slyly critique the egregious behavior of 18th-century noblemen; the triumphal ending results from the servant class outwitting the aristocracy. Clark says that because of "Figaro's" egalitarian bent, "it's considered to be one of the seminal influences of the French Revolution."

Mozart's accomplishment, beyond his exquisite music, was navigating the prevailing winds of censorship and bringing ideas of the Enlightenment to a larger audience. Clark adds that as we approach the 21st century, "We're at the point where very little can appear revolutionary or shocking." Or at least, we like to think so. Occasionally, art can challenges our sensibilities — it might be a film by Martin Scorcese or Spike Lee, or a scatological art exhibit that provokes a New York mayor into a frenzy of fascistic rage. "Figaro" reminds us of the power of ideas, and what a work of art can accomplish in the world — nothing short of

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