Soprano Sari Gruber's first major operatic role was Susanna in Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro."
She's done it more than 60 times since and every time, she finds something new to love about Susanna.
"It's a fascinating character and so incredibly rich in all the things she says and does. I just love revisiting her," Gruber said from Phoenix last week as she prepared to sing the role with Arizona Opera this weekend.
"I feel like I've grown up with it so it's a nice friend to come back to again and again and to grow with," added the Pittsburgh resident, who is making her first Arizona appearance since she performed in "Don Giovanni" in 2009. "There's always something new and that's part of the brilliance of Mozart and (librettist Lorenzo) Da Ponte. But it's also this human being that is Susanna. ... She's an incredible human being."
Susanna is the heroine trying to make it to the altar to wed her love Figaro. The only thing standing between them is Figaro's boss, the womanizing and conniving Count Almaviva, who has been unsuccessfully chasing Susanna, the count's wife's personal servant. On the couple's wedding day, the Count throws roadblock after roadblock to interrupt their date with "I Do". To get back at him, Figaro and Susanna plot to expose him to his wife, the Countess.
"I think a story about infidelity, love and redemption is as current as any kind of story that there is," said Director Kelly Robinson, who has directed a handful of Arizona Opera shows in the past decade. "But I think that the genius of Mozart is that he uses the conventions of 18th century comedy and made everything real. ... You've got this wonderful mix of comedy and shenanigans and conspiracy and paranoia all set against this backdrop of people in love and trying to make their way in a difficult world."
Robinson had a daunting task with "Figaro": How to make classically-trained opera singers perform like comic actors.
"Unlike an actor where you can choose your own rhythm, pitch and duration to solve the funny problems, with a singer you're stuck with two 16th notes, an eighth note and a quarter rest, and you've got to make it funny within that," said Robinson, artistic director of the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada. "Comedy is tricky in opera and there is only a few very funny operas or funny moments in opera. But when they happen they are wonderful because they are kind of unexpected."
Gruber said Robinson is keeping the comedy and drama "tight and precise, which is what I prefer."
"It's vibrant and it really brings the story to life," said the mother of a 6-year-old daughter whose husband is in management with the Pittsburgh Opera. "It's tons of fun."
Gruber said she can relate on many levels with her character. Both are working women trying to balance family, jobs and a personal life.
"In many ways I've always kind of seen her as a modern woman, and I don't mean to put my 20th century eyes on her," Gruber said. "But I really see a lot of her in modern woman: She works and once she marries Figaro she is going to have a family. She has pretty quickly risen to a leadership position in the household among the servants. ... She really was very much a working woman and balancing all of those things."
If you go
• What: Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro."
• Presented by: Arizona Opera.
• Conducted by: Joel Revzen.
• Directed by: Kelly Robinson.
• When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
• Where: Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave.
• Running time: About three hours with one intermission.
• Tickets: $20 to $110 through ticketmaster.com or by calling 293-4336.
• Et cetera: Sung in Italian with English surtitles.
"I think a story about infidelity, love and redemption is as current as any kind of story that there is."
Kelly Robinson, director, Arizona Opera's production of "The Marriage of Figaro"
Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at email@example.com or 573-4642.