Tag: Le Nozze di Figaro

Mozart at the Stavovske divadlo (Estates Theater)

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/5ac/30104774/files/2014/12/img_0695.jpg This is the theater where two of Mozart’s operas, Don Giovanni and La Clemenza di Tito premiered. These happen to be two of my favorite operas, so naturally I had to take a look.

The interior of the theater feels – I think petite is the right word. The stairs and hallways for each level aren’t grand or sweeping, but there little mirrors and teal blue velvet seats tucked into little corners, and a rather charming snack bar area sort of folded in halfway up. I don’t know how much the interior has been remodeled since the late 18th century; I can’t imagine it’s exactly the same. The auditorium itself is small, but it packs a wallop. I half wondered if they weren’t using amplification of some kind, but I don’t think so. Every instrument popped out, and some combination of stage and ceiling (I was up in the very top gallery) made some parts of the show surprisingly loud. There is a strip of the stage towards the front such that if a singer with a loud voice sings there at fullish volume, it’s enough to make you want them to dial it back a bit. The woman singing Marcellina had a big voice (she drowned out Susanna now and then during their duet in Act I) and at times she was a bit much for my eardrums. Same for the ensemble at the end of Act II. Isn’t that weird? I have rarely, if ever, been to an opera performance that was too loud for me, but this one was on the edge.

But the too-loud moments were few. The performance itself was visually rather drab (and some of the stage comedy, like Cherubino and the Count’s game of hide and seek in Act I, was rather clumsy) but musically unobjectionable-to-pretty-good. I found myself listening to the orchestra more than usual, because I was enjoying how it sounded. Not a Figaro to change your life – but I haven’t seen one of those in some time. And there was some fun with the supertitles in Act II. Someone rested an elbow on a button backstage or something, because during the part where Cherubino and the Countess are making googlly eyes at each other over the ribbon, and then the Count comes in, the supertitles started flashing by faster and faster until they’d finished the act before Cherubino was even in the closet. They came back in later. And whoever did the English translation was having a bit of an off day, to the extent that some of the little word plays and jokes failed to be funny, e.g. in Act IV when the Count is trying to entice “Susanna” away and she demurs that it’s dark, normally he says in English something like “we’re not going in there to read!” but here it was “We won’t read there!” which is not quite as effective.

That wasn’t really why I had come, either, of course. Listening to the orchestra during the overture, I couldn’t help but want to hear what, say, Clemenza sounds like in this space. It wouldn’t sound like it did way back in the eighteenth century, of course. Modern instruments and performance style for one thing, and modern ears and taste for another. But you kind of wonder, you know?

Le Nozze di Figaro / Metropolitan Opera 10-25-14

I have begun composing a mental list of items that should be banned from auditoriums. The list includes snores (if you have any in you, have a coffee before the performance), cell phones that the owner/operator is not in full control of vis-a-vis the off button, people with large heads who sit in front of me, and as of last night, large plastic bags. There was a woman sitting behind me last night who wanted something out of a plastic bag. She wanted it during Act III, during “dove sono.” It began as a series of covert little rustles during the first section of the aria. At first I thought someone was attempting to unwrap a sandwich, but it wasn’t a saran-wrap type rustle; it was one of those stiff plastic bags that produce something closer to a rattle than a rustle when one goes fishing around inside them. The rustler seemed to be under the impression that the combined forces of Amanda Majeski’s voice and the Met orchestra were sufficient to cover the sound, but in this she was mistaken. Majeski has a nice solid voice; the Met orchestra is no slouch in terms of sound production – but there is a reason we do not rustle around in plastic sacks during opera performances. The reason is that it MAKES NOISE. ANNOYING NOISE. The rustler continued well into the softer repeat section of the aria before the end and my god, I rarely turn around and glare at people during concerts but damned if I didn’t do it this time. I don’t know if the rustler saw me or not, but she stopped rustling. I am not normally the enforcer type. Normally I am the sit and stew silently and then complain about it later when assured of a sympathetic audience type. But I reached my limit with that plastic bag.

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Un Moto di Gioia / Miah Persson

I was listening to Miah Persson’s wonderful recital from the Schwarzenberg Schubertiade the other day. The announcer introduced the first encore and explained that it was one of Susanna’s arias from Le Nozze di Figaro and because I am reasonably familiar with that opera I didn’t pay much attention to the explanation until the music started and I realized I didn’t recognize it. For a moment I wondered if I had sustained a blow to the head of which I was unaware; it also occurred to me that, say, there might be some bit of the opera that when arranged for piano sounds so completely different from the full version that it might take a minute to register what it was. But no. The aria is not “deh, vieni” or “venite inginocchiatevi” (which I somehow managed to categorize in my head as a sort of ensemble piece rather than an aria, because while it is going on there is usually so much to-ing and fro-ing with the Countess and Cherubino, even though Susanna is the only one singing) but rather a substitution Mozart wrote for the latter.

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Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro / Peter Sellars (3)

(Previous section here.)

But at the same time, the three most important female characters – Susanna (Jeanne Ommerlé), the Countess, and Marcellina (Sue Ellen Kuzma) all sound surprisingly similar. For whatever reason, we’ve got a trio of women who all have silvery, bright-sounding voices. And there isn’t even much contrast between them and Cherubino, sung by Susan Larson, who also has that sort of voice. Often you get a noticeable contrast in timbre of some kind between Susanna and the Countess, but here not so much.

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Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro / Peter Sellars (2)

(Previous section here.)

And the thing is, I think we can. Sellars has placed the action in Manhattan, which is one of those places that is seen as iconically American – but which is also a place where you often see a fairly terrifying contrast of wealth and poverty. The dramatic widget that that this thing is turning on is the assumption some Americans make that we are a country without social classes. If this were true, Le Nozze di Figaro, with its lecherous nobleman and sometimes loyal, sometimes subversive servants, would not make as much sense – and yet it does make sense. The idea that Susanna’s monstrously wealthy employer, knowing that she and Figaro don’t have much money, might try to trade cash for sexual favors? Or the idea that employees have to bow and scrape before their bosses, and even provide presents out of their own earnings? Not so unfamiliar. The comparison doesn’t track exactly, of course. But it tracks enough that the point is made.

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Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro / Peter Sellars (1)

This is Peter Sellars doing a Mozart opera, so as you would expect there is a mixture of the very clever and funny and insightful and also a bit of “stop me if you’ve heard this one before.” Sellars has tackled all three of the Da Ponte operas, and of his versions I like Don Giovanni the best and Cosí the least, with this one somewhere in the middle.

se udir brami il resto

On the other hand, if it wasn’t worth seeing more than once, why post it at all?

You ever have one of those days when you fully intend to do all kinds of interesting and important things, and then you realize midway through the afternoon that you’ve spent the last hour or so watching clips of things that you’ve seen many times before? Possibly clips that you yourself have posted on YouTube? And you feel a bit silly?

Yeah. That kind of day.

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Le Nozze di Figaro / L. A. Philharmonic 5-23-13

(Detailed impressions of the production and the performance of the 17th here.)

This time I had a slightly better seat, in that I was on the left side of the hall towards the middle rather than in the section behind and above the stage. The sound was different – the orchestra did not sound flipped around, but rather reached my ears as a really rich warm bloom of sound with a lot of detail.

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Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro / L. A. Philharmonic 5-17-13

I am not sure that I formed a coherent picture of this production as a musical performance, because I was sitting behind the stage, so while I could see most of what was going on, the orchestra had a weird reversed quality and usually the singers had their backs to me. On the other hand, remember how they had to issue me and several other people different tickets because they had to put a thing where we were originally seated? Well, turns out that the thing was the chorus. Half on one side of the hall, half on the other, in the last rows of seats. They were directly behind me. Never have I heard the women’s chorus parts in such, ah, brutal detail. Sort of fun, though.

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Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro / Salzburg 2006 (3)

(Previous section here.)

One more thing about the Cherub and Cherubino. I was reminded yesterday (thanks, Rob!) of the moment in Act I when Cherubino finds one of the Cherub’s feathers on the floor and then reaches back, startled, to feel behind his own shoulder as if to check if something is missing. As if the names didn’t make it plain enough, he has a special connection to this other character. After all, Cherubino is sort of an odd and ambiguous little thing, right? He’s a boy played by a woman; he’s neither a child nor an adult; he exercises a rather strange erotic pull on the Countess; he infuriates the count, who accidentally kisses him at one point in the story; his relationship to Susanna seems almost sisterly, but then he tries to either kiss her or grope her or some variation thereof when he meets her in the garden in Act IV; he is consistently places he should not be and causing problems others would rather not deal with. Given both the Cherub’s role in this story and Cherubino’s identification with the Cherub, it makes a certain kind of sense that the Count and Figaro basically torture the kid during “non più andrai” at the end of Act I. Figaro slices him up with a piece of glass and the count gleefully joins in the mayhem. Figaro and the Count are at odds, but the type of things that the Cherub/Cherubino pair represent are in the interest of neither of them.

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Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro / Salzburg 2006 (2)

(Previous section here.)

This production has an additional character, listed as ‘Cherub.’ The Cherub is a young man (the performer’s name is Uli Kirsch) who is dressed in the same clothes – navy shorts suit, gray knee socks – as Cherubino, although he has wings. He leaps in via the window during the overture. On stage at this point are three couples, all frozen still: Bartolo and Marcellina, Figaro and Susanna, and the Count and Countess. Bartolo is reading something; Marcellina’s attention is elsewhere; Figaro is mentally measuring something and Susanna is thinking; the Count is nervously mopping his face and the Countess is gazing out into space towards the audience looking as if she is going to cry. The Cherub places an apple near each of the pairs, and moves his hands over them. Everyone seems to wake up. Marcellina moves toward Figaro, Susanna wanders up the stairs toward the Count, who turns to look at his wife, who walks, as if in a trance, up the stairs. Everyone’s unadmitted and even unwanted desires, in other words, have been unlocked.

This appears to be the function of the Cherub in this production. He releases the aspects of the characters’ selves that make them uncomfortable. He literally rides around on the Count’s shoulder at one point, and in general is often to be found pushing or pulling or otherwise influencing the characters. Whenever someone does something that might cause some confusion or trouble (Figaro’s plan in Act II, or Susanna’s “deh, vieni”) the Cherub sometimes stands with his back to the person in question, so that that character is for that moment “wearing” his wings. No one can quite see him – like the touch of the feathers he blows or lets fall, he’s just barely perceptible. (Susanna writes the note in “canzonetta sull’aria” with a feather from one of his wings, and during “deh, vieni” picks up  and toys with a Cherub feather. The feathers seem to communicate how the emotions the Cherub awakens seem to the characters: sometimes just barely perceptible, sometimes blowing in gusts; these are objects that convey a physical sense of being touched by something that might not actually be there at all, and which if it is is certainly not something you want to rely on. And if you try to grab it you might end up with nothing but fuzz. Feathers might actually be a good metaphor for subtext, when you think about it.)

The Cherub appears to have quite an influence on Cherubino in particular. When Cherubino enters in Act II the Cherub draws him into the room, and the Countess stares at him as if he’s the most amazing little thing she’s ever seen in her life. He stares back. He tries to flee to avoid singing his song, but the Cherub stops him. Cherubino sings “voi che sapete” and – well, ladies and gentlemen, this is one magic pageboy. Both the Countess and Susanna rest against the wall, looking dazed. The Countess in particular has an expression on her face that suggests she is, for the moment, in a very, very happy place. The effect is more than ably assisted by the truly lovely sound of Christine Schäfer’s voice – here and elsewhere in this performance she is sheer happiness to listen to. Later, during “venite, inginocchiatevi” Susanna strips Cherubino down to his shorts and t-shirt, but does not dress him up in girl’s clothes. Rather, all three of them take turns stretching out on the count’s fur-lined coat on the floor and everyone feels up Cherubino. And the two women take turns lying down so that Cherubino can touch them. (Cherubino, once he’s gazing down, rapt, at the Countess, clearly knows where he wants to put his hands, but doesn’t quite dare; he settles for a snog instead.) The point is, Cherubino is a particular focus of the Cherub’s attention and seems to communicate it to others as well. In addition to this he is often completely overwhelmed by what is going on around him. At the very end of the opera, when all the couples have been appropriately paired up again, and the Cherub despite all his efforts cannot wrest them apart, which causes him to leave, Cherubino – after a parting caress from the Cherub – collapses onto the floor. Poor little guy.

So, the Cherub is a sort of external expression of everyone’s mixed desires. He’s a figure of disorder and temptation and desire (all those apples!). It’s worth noting that the one person he has no effect on at all is Basilio, who – as his aria in Act IV expresses; this is one of the few productions I’ve ever seen where this aria really seems to do something – has long ago settled on being duplicitous, and as such, is so thoroughly fake that he apparently has none of the sort of self-deception or ambivalence which allows the Cherub an in with the other characters. Whereas Cherubino is the opposite: he doesn’t know who he is or what he wants or what he’s doing half the time – he’s the perfect access point.

(Next section here.)

Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro / Salzburg 2006 (1)

Based on my unscientific sampling of 1. YouTube comments and 2. people I know on the internet, this production tends to elicit strong reactions. Some of us squealed with delight from the very first viewing. Others could only sit there, knees to chest, shivering and rocking back and forth and hugging a tattered program from the Metropolitan Opera for comfort. Still others of us engaged in a certain amount of snide commentary while nevertheless buying the DVD and watching bits of it over and over. I was in the third category. I have been known to squeal and jump up and down in certain opera-related situations, but I didn’t – initially – for this. And I am not a booklet-cuddler under any circumstances.

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Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro / Metropolitan Opera, 1985 (1)

This production of Figaro was designed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle (it’s distinct from the film version of the opera that Ponnelle made in 1976) and peformed at the Met. I have it because it’s part of my Interminable Metropolitan Opera Box Set of Death which I have been wading through since, like, January or so. But it’s not half bad. Actually, it’s pretty great, music-wise.

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