Figaro Dudamel

Dorothea Röschmann and Christopher Maltman rehearse in Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times / May 17, 2013)

Suffice to say that Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte weren't thinking about Proposition 8 when they composed "The Marriage of Figaro."

The 1786 comic opera follows bullying Count Almaviva's efforts to invoke droit du seigneur to sexually conquer Susanna, bride-to-be of his right-hand man Figaro, on the couple's wedding night: a licentious sendup of European aristocracy with a simmering soupçon of class warfare to rouse the rabble.

But to hear it from Christopher Alden, boundary-pushing director of a new "Figaro" production by the Los Angeles Philharmonic that kicks off its four-performance run Friday at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Mozart's 18th century masterwork couldn't be more timely today.

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"It comes down to two people fighting for the right to be married and sleep together without the lord of the manor interfering," Alden said. "To me it seems very close to the issues surrounding gay marriage — not that I'm stage-directing it that way. But it's a human-rights struggle down to our time. It's very relevant."

That narrative subtext is one of many ways the philharmonic's "Figaro" has been vividly re-imagined for a 21st century audience. The second of an intended Mozart / Da Ponte opera trilogy bringing together a dream team of creative collaborators under Disney Hall's curvilinear roof, the production reunites Alden with conductor Gustavo Dudamel; they mounted a highly conceptual reinvention of "Don Giovanni" at Disney Hall last year.

In stark departure from traditional "Don Giovanni" stagings, that Los Angeles-centric production showcased sets by Angeleno architectural eminence Frank Gehry inside the hall he created, and costuming courtesy of Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the Pasadena-born sister duo behind cutting-edge fashion label Rodarte.

"Figaro" arrives as a decidedly French affair.

Gehry enlisted France's reigning architect, Jean Nouvel, to design "Figaro's" sets. And Nouvel brought in his friend of 30 years and neighbor in Paris' Marais district, Azzedine Alaïa — whose seductive fashions have found favor with the likes of Madonna, Lady Gaga and former French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld — to create costumes.

"How to combine the symphonic world with art? You think: 'It can be crazy,'" Dudamel said. "But this kind of crazy works!"

By all accounts, the creative team behind the opera learned important lessons from "Don Giovanni" to streamline the "Figaro" production process. Moreover, both operas further the philharmonic's stated mission to engage in a broader cultural dialogue through dynamic interface with other branches of the art world.

"We're trying to design these unique projects that somehow bring the arts together around the symphony orchestra," said Chad Smith, the philharmonic's vice president of artistic planning. "We take a much bigger view of what the conversation can be artistically than just presenting orchestral concerts. The Mozart / Da Ponte trilogy is absolutely at the heart of that philosophy."

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New pursuits

Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles last week, Alaïa sequestered himself in a cramped dressing room within the bowels of Disney Hall, making final adjustments to a black wool jacket with gold Lurex thread worn by Edwin Crossley-Mercer, the hunky French baritone who portrays Figaro.

"It's the most beautiful costume I've ever worn," Crossley-Mercer remarked. "Like a work of art that is very specifically made with a specific concept. It gives a dimension to your character. It's like a Rolls-Royce!"

Alaïa had never created costumes for a theatrical performance, nor previously designed menswear. But over the course of meetings with Nouvel, Alden and Dudamel in Paris last year, the Tunisian-born couturier hashed out ways to visually acknowledge "Figaro's" Age of Enlightenment milieu without sacrificing the unique nowness he brings to the project.

All 11 performers traveled to his Paris atelier for fittings. And Alaïa made specific design choices based on their individual physiques — such as showcasing Crossley-Mercer's rippling abs by having him emerge on stage shirtless in the performance's opening act.

"I didn't want to do things in the classical way," Alaïa said through an interpreter.

Where the Mulleavy sisters cloaked performers in striking crumpled metallic armor and voluminous gowns for "Don Giovanni," Alaïa stuck with a more straightforward approach: the kind of functional couture not far removed from his signature fashions.