Opera: Chat with Sicilian soprano Nuccia Focile in Seattle

Marriage of Figaro by Seattle Opera. Photo credit: Philip Newton
Marriage of Figaro by Seattle Opera. Photo credit: Philip Newton

Seattle Opera is presenting a bold production of the Marriage of Figaro set against a very modern backdrop involving mobile sets that help visually illustrate the events within the complicated and twisted plot. The audience is treated to a series of vignettes that comprise the broader story line, cleverly presented using a series of configurable moving compartments on stage. The set makes for a very engaging scene on stage which allows both performers and audience members alike to experience the feeling of the characters traversing the spaces of the castle.

On the occasion of her performance in the role of Susanna, I talked with the bubbly and vivacious Sicilian soprano Nuccia Focile. I had interviewed her a few years back when she was in Seattle and it was quite enjoyable to re-engage on this occasion.

While it is essentially an opera buffa, Mozart’s talent as a composer uplifts this opera to a serious work, and allows an opera-goer to ‘suspend disbelief’ and get directly involved in the lives of all of the characters on stage.

One such character is Susanna, Figaro’s intended bride. Nuccia brings her experience at playing Susanna to the role and infuses it with emotion. The character is fiery and passionate, but also has moments that are very serious where she must be very focused on attaining her goal of marrying Figaro, a man that she is very much in love with.
While she was in Seattle, Nuccia and I had a lovely chat for about a half hour in which Nuccia generously shared her personal perspective on her role in Marriage of Figaro. Nuccia stressed that this particular production is “all about the people”, one of the elements she loves most about it.

Marriage of Figaro by Seattle Opera. Photo credit: Philip Newton
Marriage of Figaro by Seattle Opera. Photo credit: Philip Newton

Q: What drew you to this production?
Nuccia Focile:
I did this production in 2010 in New Zealand with Aidan Lang who was the General Director of the Opera House in New Zealand at the time. At the time I was engaged to sing the Countess. So, I discovered this particular production the first time as the Countess. When I found out that I would do the same production in Seattle as Susanna, I was very excited about it. I thought that it will give me the opportunity to see the story from a different perspective. When I played the Countess I saw the aristocratic part of the palace, but this time I am in the kitchen, in the laundry room, or hiding under the bed, etc. So, I see the whole thing with the same principles, but from a completely different point of view. I find it quite exciting and quite challenging.

In rehearsal it was a bit confusing at first since I had played the Countess before in this same production, but Susanna is the role that I have performed most. So, coming back to Susanna now after having sung the role of the Countess previously was definitely a challenge. Sometimes I found myself singing the lines for the Countess, for example, but I feel quite at home as Susanna now. It has been a long rehearsal process and it has been quite demanding since Susanna is a very active role, moving around the stage a lot. She is onstage the whole time and she is constantly doing something. The only moment that she can just stand still on stage and sing is at the end when she has the most beautiful, delicate, and gorgeous aria “Deh Vieni non tardar”. For me that is the most poetic, romantic and transparent moment as Susanna, and I can literally relax and enjoy the music and the singing. I can take a breath and not have to be running around the stage.

It has been a fantastic journey, learning about the character. There is always something new to learn, even though it is an opera that I have done many times before. Every time there is something new to discover, a new detail to add, and I find that very beautiful and fascinating.

Q: What do you contribute personally to the production?
Nuccia Focile:
I think that the fact that I am Italian probably helps. Since Italian is my native language I think I am able to help my colleagues, especially with the recitative where it helps to really get the rhythm of the language. I am not sure , but it seems like that is something I contribute to the production.

As the character herself, I feel like the way I am viewing Susanna now has really become that I see her as a real human being, especially in this production. She is bubbly and energetic like fireworks, yet she is also a woman in love. She has to look like a real person on stage, not like a doll. That is what I am trying to do with this role; keep the comedy going but having moments where Susanna is more serious, more concerned. She has to worry about the relationship between the Countess and the Count and her relationship as the maid to the Countess, who is also her friend. I think it is important to see the real aspects of my character. I hope that these aspects of the character are coming through in my performance.

The story is actually quite serious. In the first scene with Figaro, for example, it is hard for Susanna to explain what the truth is about the bed. She chooses the right words to make sure she doesn’t hurt Figaro’s feelings, but she also wants to be sure that she gets the message across that the Count has an ulterior motive without provoking Figaro. She wants there to be peace and serenity for everyone, but she also has to ensure that she saves the prospect of her wedding because she and Figaro are really in love with each other. It is a very delicate situation.

Q: What is it like on the modern set?
Nuccia Focile:
This set is definitely so exciting and interesting. You can see what happens in the castle in more than one room at a time from the audience point of view. As performers, it gives us the real feeling of being in the castle, of moving from one room to another. Everything on the set moves around and it is quite complex.

Since the set has that fantastic capability to move, it also gives us as performers a more realistic way of moving from one room to another, entering through a door, and exiting a space. It also gives us the feeling of the atmosphere on stage. For example, we start with the smaller room, and then move to successively larger rooms and we can actually feel the difference. So, essentially you feel the journey as if you are really in the Castle. It is fantastic. It is an amazing concept.

Q: What single aspect do you like best about this particular production?
Nuccia Focile:
It is all about the people. The minimalist set allows the focus to be on the characters and to enable their feelings and emotions to shine.

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