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

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

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >