Why Not Opera: A Behind-the-scenes look at the “The Marriage of Figaro” in Sydney, Australia

By Dakshayani Shankar


Why are behind the scenes tours of the biggest opera productions in the iconic Sydney Opera House so wildly sought after?

Well, you are graced with the opportunity to walk over the red carpet draped across the marbled floors—the first step to your transformation from opera audience—member to true opera connoisseur or fabulous star. Then, you can either choose to float around the wig-makers, the make-up artists or the set designers, uncovering the roots of glamorous productions such as Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” Plenty of choices within a 90 minute time-slot. So what’s the most interesting aspect of this tour, then?

Personally, I would say the set transformations of the actual opera production. During the behind-the-scenes tour for “The Marriage of Figaro,” I was afforded the chance to witness revamps of each Act’s set under thirty seconds. I initially basked in the opulence of Act Three’s set – Grecian-styled deco with touches of Classicism from long cream-specked beams and open doors, entwined in oranges to meticulously arranged bookcases. A few seconds later, Assistant Director of the opera, Andy Morton and lighting genius, Phil began their slow chant of codes; each unique code unlocking a set of instructions to change one aspect of the set quickly, such as C947 symbolizing the movement of the transparent curtain to close off the stage. Luckily for us, unlike the audiences who are greeted with a curtain for set changes, we saw every transformation in detail, ranging from lighting changes to dark blue to signify the night, to the disappearance of the bookshelves in place of a patio for Act 4’s flamboyant party scene.

act 3's transformation to Act 4

Morton explained individual set detail changes so beautifully that I found it quite difficult to not be enraptured by them. A classical opera and theatre lover by nature, it was extremely hard for me to plant myself firmly onto the gold-gilded seats without running off to the stage to participate in this operatic Disneyland-esque magic.

If my response on the set design hasn’t convinced you enough on the alluring nature of the Opera Houses’ behind the scenes tour, perhaps the clothing and make-up sessions might persuade you more.

Racks of lavishly seamed costumes, worn by notable opera singers, such as Turandot’s Lisa Lindstrom in older productions, were placed opposite an exhibition of the current seasons’ costumes. While you try on the tightly cinched red corseted gown from Bizer’s “Carmen,” hand-fitted by the Opera House’s costume designers, you could look upon the magnificent gowns worn by “Don Carlos “and “The Marriage of Figaro’s” leads on display. A dazzling once in a lifetime opportunity at hand!

Current Season's Exhibition

Not interested in gowns? Fear not – you could choose from hats, scarves, breeches, corsets, jackets, ties, coats and separate pieces, fashioned for a variety of periods for men and women. Against a glass backdrop showcasing Sydney’s azure blue waters, it would be foolish not to try on a costume, take a picture and pretend to belong to the gossip-fuelled worlds of these operas, most especially the lascivious world of the character, Figaro from “The Marriage of Figaro.”

For those whom love a hands-on theatrical experience with dashing and beautiful operatic leads, the personal Q and A experience serves a delicious dish of vocal exuberance and looks. During the Marriage of Figaro’s behind the scenes tour, the robust David Parkin strided onto stage alongside Conductor, Anthony Legge, explaining how operatic pieces took 6 months to prepare before breaking out into a euphonious and richly textured performance of one of the crucial arias in “The Marriage of Figaro.”

However, here’s where the deal gets sweeter. You see, operas like “The Marriage of Figaro” involve either male or female leads seducing each other through song.


However, behind-the-scenes participants are extended the opportunity to act as either the male or female lead accompanying the singer for this intense dance of seduction. In my tour, multiple girls hands shot up, with one lucky flame-haired beauty running onto stage to sit next to Dr.Bartolo, the hunky lawyer Parkin portrays. As he danced, hugged, sang and even sweetly kissed her on the cheek whilst she tagged along to Legge’s instructions, the operatic experience metamorphosed into a star-studded escapade, oozing with love and charm.

Although I wasn’t chosen, I wasn’t fussed, excitedly anticipating the crucial Q and A after the aria performance. Comprising of Parkin, Legge and Morton, the Q and A allowed us to ask as many questions as we wanted that the ensemble had to answer. Questions ranging from, “How do you learn to sing in Italian?” to “How did you remake Mozart’s opera to fit the contemporary audience” filled the anxious gaps in the majestic Joan Sutherland Theatre. A form of closing the 90 minute time-slot, the Q and A is the event any newcomer to opera shouldn’t miss. It’s your only chance to understand all the intrinsic paths you can meander through to bask in the operatic world.

make-up session with current season cast of The Marriage of Figaro

Operas are typically expensive and are hard to encounter. However, pay up $15 and you get 100 percent of the operatic experience those luxurious A Reserve Stallers hang in. Plus, you can sit in their $299 sits for $15. Still not interested? How about this – you try it for $15 and open your mind up to a surrealistic experience you probably won’t experience too frequently.

 Dakshayani Shankar is a contributing writer. Email her at entertainment@nyunews.com


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