Monday, August 20 , 2018, 6:49 am | Fair 64º

 
 
 
 

Gerald Carpenter: James Conlon Does Honors at ‘The Marriage of Figaro’

James Conlon
James Conlon (Chester Higgins)

Every Music Academy Summer Festival is strewn with highlights, but, inevitably, the summer's opera towers above them all.

This is even truer than usual this year, since the opera is the glittering Mozart-DaPonte collaboration, The Marriage of Figaro, based on the Beaumarchais play of the same name, the sequel to his Barber of Seville.

The cast and orchestra of vocal and instrumental fellows will be conducted by James Conlon, while a bright team of designers will be led by James Darrah, who will direct the stage action.

Marriage plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 3 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5, both performances in the Granada Theater.

Of the three DaPonte librettos set by Mozart, Don Giovanni is the greatest — indeed, arguably the greatest opera ever written — The Marriage of Figaro, the most popular, and Cosi Fan Tutte, the most consistently underestimated.

As Marx says somewhere, first time as tragedy (Don Giovanni), second time as farce (Cosi Fan Tutte). In the middle, there is The Marriage of Figaro, which is simply — and elegantly — a romantic comedy.

I call Don Giovanni a tragedy because the hero dies at the end (if being dragged off to Hell by the ghost of a man you have killed doesn't count as dying, I don't know what to tell you).

While both Don Giovanni and Figaro's Count Almaviva are philandering noblemen, their fates are significantly different.

The Don, as noted previously, is hauled off to Hell by the Commendatore (and I have to wonder if he was just dropping him off before returning to more blessed digs, or if he took up permanent residence there himself), whereas the Count winds up reconciled to his beautiful but tediously virtuous wife, the Countess Rosina.

The Count is also something of a weasel and a hypocrite, compared to the Don's shameless profligacy — and not just in sexual matters, but in food and drink as well. Not to mention the fact that Don Giovanni is a conscienceless killer: in short, an aristocrat of the old school.

If the Commendatore had caught Almaviva in flagrante delicto with his daughter, Donna Anna, it is likely they would have both lived through the encounter.

The opera has a considerable revolutionary pedigree. Beaumarchais, son of a watchmaker, had little use for the titled nobility, and was an active participant in both the American and French Revolutions.

Figaro was banned by King Louis XVI for two years after Beaumarchais wrote it on account of its anti-aritocratic bias, and the even more conservative Austrian Emporer Joseph II didn't even want to let the manuscript into his realm.

DaPonte had to scrub it into political neutrality, rendered in poetic Italian, before the libretto was approved, and Mozart could begin writing the music. (Mozart, sympathetic with the Revolution, had been drawn to the play in the first place for its radical sentiments.

He was a Freemason, and had brought DaPonte, a priest, into the brotherhood with him. Nevertheless, there was little trace, in the opera they produced, of the themes that had brought Napoleon later to dub the play, "the Revolution in action.")
 
But, as Hemingway once observed, "All you can be sure about in a political-minded writer is that if his work should last you will have to skip the politics when you read it."

So it is with The Marriage of Figaro. I daresay no one today can quote with any confidence Figaro's once famous speech from the play, in which he angrily deconstructs the entire concept of noble birth and privilege, but which of us will not leave the theater attempting, sotto voce, a verse or two of "Voi che sapete" or the exquisite letter duet?

Tickets to The Marriage of Figaro are $70-100 (plus $10 community access, if avaiable) and they can be purchased at the Granada Theatre Ticket Office, 1214 State St., by phone at 805-969-8787 or 805-899-2222, or online at www.musicacademy.org/.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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