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'Marriage of Figaro' stars a soon-to-be-married couple

John Chest and Layla Claire play the Count and Countess.
Layla Claire and John Chest star in "Marriage of Figaro"
Layla Claire and John Chest star in "Marriage of Figaro" Photos: Marie Mazzucco and Andrey Stoycher

Imagine meeting your future spouse onstage. That’s what happened back in 2012 when John Chest performed alongside his now-fiancee Layla Claire in the South of France.

“We were at a summer festival [Festival d'Aix-en-Provence] and we were castmates in ‘La finta giardiniera.’ Layla likes to tell people I was her servant because I was playing her servant on stage,” Chest recalls.

Beginning on April 28, the pair takes the stage at the Academy of Music for Opera Philadelphia’s production of “Marriage of Figaro,” where they play the Count and Countess — an old, bickering married couple.

“It’s sort of an intense relationship on stage,” Claire notes. “We have to play this very unhappy couple, where the Count is sleeping around and the Countess is heartbroken. Sometimes we’ll come off the stage after a particularly heated rehearsal have a little cuddle.”

Chest chimes in, “Or we’ll look at each other and be like, ‘I didn’t mean it.’”

While the “Marriage of Figaro” dates back to 1786, the couple says that it is still very relevant today, with the Count representing the overprivileged patriarchy:

“He’s not a nice person and he’s entitled simply because he was born into a rich, noble family. He doesn’t deserve any of the good things that he has, but he expects them to keep coming his way,” Chest says.

He adds with a laugh, “I think we can all think of somebody like that, right?”

Don’t let the heavy subject matter fool you, however. “The Marriage of Figaro” is a comedy at heart.

“It’s such a masterpiece and it’s so clever, but not dark. It’s really witty and charming and light,” Claire points out. “It’s also very accessible, especially for someone who’s never been to an opera or hasn’t really ever heard classical music. You might even leave singing a tune.”

If you go:
The Marriage of Figaro
April 28-May 7
Academy of Music
240 S. Broad St.
operaphila.org