Billing the University of Tennessee Opera Theatre's production of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" as "Mozart's only opera about Elvis" might seem a bit too tongue-in-cheek at first glance.
But crazier things have happened in the world of opera.
With Opera Theatre's skin-tight budget, necessity was indeed the mother of invention in switching "Figaro's" time and place from 18th century Europe, which would require a pricey period set and costumes, to mid-20th century America.
From there, imagining Elvis playing the role of the court servant Figaro wasn't too much of a stretch.
Of course, even in 1960s America, someone aristocratic had to play the role of the Countess. No one of the period met that requirement better than Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
And, well, Liberace was a pop culture force of his own making and a fitting choice to play Basilio, the conniving member of the court whose activities move the story along.
If one adds to that the notion that Mozart's opera was meant to be an opera of the people, then casting three of the pop culture icons of the day in three of the lead roles in "Figaro" was a no-brainer.
"The audience is going to have blast," said James Marvel, director of UT Opera Theatre.
"That's the kind of atmosphere we are trying to create," Marvel said. "We are trying to create a community where opera theatre becomes one of the best tickets in town.
"Along with the other characters, the Count, with all of his metals, is sort of like the whole Sacha Baron Cohen's general character thing. Part of the identity of the Count is that he is a masochist, a sadist really.
"The tension between the Count and Figaro is that people do what the Count says because they are afraid of him. They follow Figaro because they love him."
Asked if these pop culture references aren't going to get in the way of telling the story of Figaro's upcoming marriage to the Countess' maidservant Susanna and the twists and turns they go through because of the Count, Marvel replied, "The audience is going to see the story of Figaro, but they will catch the clues as to who the character is that is playing the characters in the opera."
Taking on the task of getting across the characters who are playing the characters in the opera is Kevin Dougherty, who will sing the role of Elvis' Figaro.
Natalee McReynolds will sing Susanna, Figaro's bride.
The brutal, sadistic and very jealous Count will be sung by Ryland Pope.
Maria Natale will convey Jackie Onassis' interpretation of the Countess, while Kris Herron will transform into the prissy, effeminate Liberace playing Basilio.
Local bass-baritone Dan Berry will bring his considerable weight to the role of the magistrate Bartolo.
On top of everything else that makes up this opera, Marvel had to figure out how to stage it in the round at UT's Carousel Theatre.
"One of the challenges of this production is not only the change of time and place in the opera, but the actual space and time, and how things can be staged in terms of special relationships and character relationships," Marvel said.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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