Imagine a cocktail-drinking, cigarette-smoking Don Draper as Figaro. By his side is his betrothed, Susanna, dressed and coifed as Betty Draper.
LSU Opera Director Dugg McDonough envisioned it, and now the LSU Opera is setting Mozart's comic opera "Le nozze di Figaro," or "The Marriage of Figaro," in the 1960s. It opens Thursday, March 30, in LSU's Claude L. Shaver Theatre.
Purists may question this conceptual change, but McDonough answers with "Why not?"
"When I started thinking about 'Figaro,' the first thing that came to mind was 'Mad Men,'" he said. "This was more about exploring the behavior of the 1700s and applying it to the 1960s."
Both eras are a time of political and social change. Mozart dared to write an opera based on a play by Pierre Beaumarchais, where the aristocrats get their comeuppance. The play had been banned by the French monarchy, but Mozart's opera somehow made it past the censors of Joseph II's Vienna.
In the early 1960s "Mad Men" era, the United States has been shocked by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and American soldiers fighting in Vietnam.
"But what stuck with me most is men's attitudes toward women," McDonough said. "It's the same in both eras."
And placing "Figaro" in the sleek sets and costumes of the early 1960s could bring new audiences to the theater.
"This is a great introduction for people who are new to opera, because it puts them in a setting they'll recognize, and they might attend other operas because of it," said Steve Valenzuela, who plays Figaro in the Thursday and Saturday productions. Louis Ong will play the main character in the Friday and Sunday performances.
Valenzuela sees a lot of correlations between Figaro and "Mad Men's" Don Draper.
"He's a happy-go-lucky guy who's happy with his life," Valenzuela said. "He has a good job, he's going to have this wonderful wife, and he likes to come home to a drink and relax at the end of the day."
That's an added detail in this show — everyone openly smokes and drinks, even when on the job.
"Changing the concept is nothing new in opera, but it hasn't been done often at LSU," McDonough said. "This will be my third time directing 'The Marriage of Figaro,' my second at LSU. I wanted to do a different kind of 'Marriage of Figaro' for the students this time. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the excitement of a production that we have to remind ourselves that they exist for the training of these students."
And that training includes teaching students to embrace a variety of opera concepts.
"Exploring other notions is part of it," McDonough said.
"The Marriage of Figaro," which premiered in 1786, is composed of four acts, continuing the plot of Beaumarchais' previous play, "The Barber of Seville."
"Figaro" recounts "a day of madness" in the palace of Count Almaviva near Seville, Spain, where Figaro heads the servants staff. Figaro is about to marry his true love, Susanna, maid to the countess, while the skirt-chasing count schemes to exercise his right to bed a servant girl on her wedding night.
The count manufactures excuses to delay Figaro's wedding, while Figaro, the countess and Susannah conspire to embarrass him.
The story takes several comic twists and turns along the way, eventually returning to a place where even the count rediscovers true love and romance.
'Le nozze di Figaro' or 'The Marriage of Figaro'
An LSU Opera production
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, March 30-April 1; 3 p.m. Sunday, April 2.
WHERE: Claude L. Shaver Theatre in the LSU Music and Dramatic Arts Building, Dalrymple Drive.
TICKETS/INFO: $14 to $29. (225) 578-3527 or wp.music.lsu.edu/opera.