“The Marriage of Figaro” could be more accurately called “The Marriage of Susanna.”
That’s according to soprano Ying Fang, who plays the Santa Fe Opera role this summer.
“She is the driving force of this opera,” Fang said in a telephone interview. “Figaro is clueless that the Count is coming after me.”
The opera takes place in the palace of Count Almaviva near Seville, Spain. Rosina is the countess; Dr. Bartolo seeks revenge against Figaro for thwarting his plans to marry Rosina; Count Almaviva has degenerated from the romantic youth of Barber, a tenor, into a scheming, bullying, skirt-chasing baritone.
Having gratefully given Figaro a job as head of his servant-staff, he is now persistently trying to exercise his “droit du seigneur” – his right to bed a servant girl on her wedding night – with Figaro’s bride-to-be, Susanna, who is the countess’s maid.
The story takes place before the French Revolution, when women were considered little more than chattel.
“She’s just a servant,” Fang said. “To stand up for herself – it’s incredible.”
The New York-based Fang grew up in China, where a school music teacher first spotted her talent.
“She said, ‘Wow, you have a voice,’ ” Fang said. “I was 13, 12. My parents were very enthusiastic. I was very quick at picking up tunes on the radio when I was a kid.”
From private voice lessons, she moved on to the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, then to New York and the Juilliard School. Today she is a principal soprano for the Metropolitan Opera.
“It all came very naturally to me,” Fang said. “The most special thing is to work with someone who can inspire you. That’s what music does. It brings the most out of you; it brings out the sparkle.”
Singing Susanna, one of the most demanding roles in opera literature, is a challenge, Fang said.
“This role is complex,” she said. “It’s the longest role written for soprano voice. She is almost always on stage for this four-hour opera. It’s quite a challenge for me, stamina-wise. I have to pace it well.”
Widely considered one of the greatest operas ever written, “The Marriage of Figaro” is a cornerstone of the repertoire and appears consistently on the Operabase list of the most frequently performed shows.
Fang next travels to the Lyric Opera of Chicago to play Pamina in “The Magic Flute.” After that, she will repeat the role of Susanna at the Paris Opera.
This marks Fang’s New Mexico debut.
“Who would think you’d have an opera house in the middle of the desert?” she said. “But the acoustics are wonderful – and the view is just incredible.”
The Santa Fe Opera is requiring masks for patrons.