Weddings are appreciated as happy occasions, and Mozart’s comic opera The Marriage of Figaro, a collaboration with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte presented this month at Seattle Opera, celebrates both love and humor.
In the title role of Figaro is Shenyang, a 31-year-old bass-baritone opera singer and emerging conductor who was born in China and later trained at Juilliard School. Originally named Shen Yang, he responded to confusion in the Western press by combining his name into a single word.
Although Shenyang has visited Seattle before as a tourist, Figaro will be his debut performance at Seattle Opera.
“This is an opera house to which I dreamed to come,” Shenyang said. “I call Seattle Opera the American Bayreuth, because Speight Jenkins [former Seattle Opera general director] gave this house a tradition of Wagner opera.”
Mirroring the opera, Shenyang exudes gratitude for this opportunity, as well as for the art form of opera in general. “We are going to perform the greatest gift from Mozart for human beings,” he said. Of his character Figaro, Shenyang asserts that “Mozart gave him the best music and Da Ponte gave him the best character. He is smart and humorous.”
Shenyang also lauds his fellow artists, including general director Aidan Lang. “I really enjoy working with Aidan and our production team here,” he said. “It’s just like a family and I think I’ll enjoy all the moments when I’m on the stage with all of us.”
Beyond the pleasure of the performance, Shenyang emphasizes the cultural and historical importance of opera. “All music is developed from this,” he said. “We all should know what is the tradition.”
He is concerned that opera is often overlooked these days. “Honestly, we do have too many choices now,” he said. “People don’t really have to go to opera house.”
Worries about whether opera is seen as relevant weigh heavily, as well. “They think it’s old fashioned and boring, perhaps,” Shenyang says. “But I would say, think about how an opera which is a legendary piece can last more than 200 years. There isn’t any pop song like this.”
With this rich history, Shenyang looks forward to sharing this particular work widely. “Le Nozze di Figaro is not only a great opera, but is a gift from God,” he said. “It’s the treasure of all of us. We all need to listen to it at least once.”
‘The Marriage of Figaro’ runs from January 16 to 30, at Seattle Opera, McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer Street, Seattle. For more information, visit www.seattleopera.org/on-stage/the-marriage-of-figaro.