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.)