In which I am the queen of pointless information

Have you ever had one of those moments where you know that there is a thing out of place, but it takes you a while to figure out what that thing is? I had one of those moments last night.

I was watching the ROH version of Le Nozze di Figaro from 2006. Possibly this was the operatic version of chasing the dragon. But it’s not important why I was watching it. What happened was that I got to the end of Act III, and I had this feeling that something was off. I had to sit there and think about it for a while, but I figured it out. In this ROH version, “dove sono” comes not after but before the scene in which Figaro learns that Bartolo and Marcellina are his parents. In fantasy novels, this is normally the sort of thing that tips the protagonist off to the fact that she has jumped some sort of barrier and is now in an alternate universe. (If you find the multiple-worlds interpretation of quantum field theory plausible – and people with Ph.Ds in physics have indicated to me that it’s really the only version that makes sense – there exists a world in which everything is exactly the same as in this one, except for that Act III of Le Nozze di Figaro is conventionally performed in a slightly different order.) However, with this type of thing it is best to be somewhat cautious.

So, I did what any rational person would do. I took all five of my recordings of Figaro from the shelf and had myself an investigation. The results:

Salzburg 06 (DVD): family reunion scene precedes “dove sono”
Berlin 1999 (DVD): ditto
The one conducted by Rene Jacobs on HM, from like 1999: ditto
Live recording from 1957 with Schwartzkopf as the countess: ditto
Ponnelle productino from the Met from the 1980s, with Raimundi as Figaro (DVD): NOT DITTO. This one, like the ROH one, has “dove sono” first.

So I guess there are two conventions for the ordering of the numbers in Act III? There is a world in which we care about this particular piece of information, but I’m not sure we’re in it. (Indeed, there is a world in which James Levine defuses some sort of explosive device and saves democracy by means of this particular piece of information, but I don’t think we’re in that one either.)

10 thoughts on “In which I am the queen of pointless information

  1. Hmmm, if you go with that theory, then you could argue that, likewise, a given universe or set of universes hinges on performing editions of Les contes d’Hoffmann. Then would that mean that at the core of quantum physics — in some iterations — is a fundamental physical law of artistic integrity while with others it’s all about doing things on the cheap?


    1. I think you can probably argue that. Also, the idea of a set of universes that hinge on performing editions of Offenbach is the stuff of dystopian nightmare novels.


      1. Let us wind up the automaton and don the rose-tinted spectacles, then, because dystopian nightmares are the new black:

        “Taking futuristic dystopian fashion and fun to whole new levels, Lionsgate’s ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ Capitol Party at Baoli Beach on Saturday evening sponsored by CoverGirl was this year’s hottest event at the Cannes Film Festival.” (press release as qtd in the NYT)


  2. I remember reading a discussion of the order of those numbers in Nozze. If I can find it again, I will share it. It’s like there is a musicological reason for one choice but the other makes more dramatic sense or something. Or Mozart got his pages mixed up when he sent them to the publisher. Or he couldn’t decide and thought it would be funny for people to be confused by it more than 200 years later.


      1. Charles Osborne writes in The Complete Operas of Mozart:

        “It has been convincingly argued that the order of two of the numbers in Act II was altered by Mozart before the first performance, to allow the singer who was doubling the roles of Bartolo and Antonio time to change costumers, and that the altered order, as found in scores and libretti, weakens the dramatic structure, and indeed the sense, of Act III. Though I think the act is in any case structurally weaker than Acts I and II (and Act IV is weaker still), I am sure that a change must have been made by Mozarte and Da Ponte and that, in modern performances in which the roles of Bartolo and Antonio are not doubled, numbers 17 to 20 should be performed in the following order: 17, 19, 18, 20 [Count’s aria, Countess’ Aria, Sextet, Sull’ aria]. In other words, the Countess’s great aria “Dove sono?” should come before the sextet instead of after it.” (p.250)

        Then he references an article in Music and Letters (1965) XLVI(2): 134-136
        (it’s available by subscription, and you may be able to access it via the University library. Right now I am not curious enough to pay 25 bucks to read about it :))

        The Osborne book is a good reference. Although he’s pretty opinionated, his analyses are helpful but not overwhelmingly academic.


          1. * that should be Act III in the second line. Can you believe I edit for a living?


            1. Given my experience with editors . . . yes 😉

              I’ll have to see if I can get that Osborne book – our library doesn’t have it, but there are ways. BUT I do have access to the Music and Letters article – if you want a pdf of it send me an email and it’s yours.


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