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08 March 2006

The Marriage of Figaro (1961)

By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1786)

Libretto: Lorenzo da Ponte, based on the play "Le Mariage de Figaro" by Pierre Beaumarchais

Performers: Giuseppe Taddei (Figaro), Anna Moffo (Susanna), Eberhard Wächter (the Count), Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (the Countess), and Fiorenza Cossotto (Cherubino); Carlo Mario Giulini conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus, London, 1961

Want to know the plot? Click here.

What a treat! After suffering bored, annoyed, and downright confused reactions to another Mozart opera, The Magic Flute, I was happily surprised to find The Marriage of Figaro so entertaining and beautiful. And funny! I have never laughed aloud while listening to an opera, but this one had me giggling throughout. Particularly amusing was the exchange between Susanna and Marchellina in Act One. But more than just the libretto which, when read aloud, is not as amusing, Mozart's music - the pacing of each sentence, the speed of the recitative, and the orchestration behind the singers - added considerably to the humor.

The music was absolutely beautiful, with Mozart's penchant for light, airy creations used in full force here. I usually prefer more teeth to my classical music - more minor chords at any rate - but the tone of this playful, silly opera was well suited to flighty, lilting duets and trios. The harmonies were gorgeous and lengthy, especially between Susanna and the Countess, where Moffo and Schwarzkopf were able to fly together as true divas.

Moffo's voice was particularly wonderful, in that she was able to portray strength and guts without sacrificing lovely tone. Whereas Caballé tends to sound more mature and a little throatier, lending gravitas to her heroines, Moffo displayed both beauty and resilience without sacrificing either - making her Susanna intensely likeable.

Two arias in particular resonated with me, however, outside of the opera itself. First was Barbarina's (the gardener's daughter) solo "L'ho perduta, me meschina." This minor key waltz, barely two minutes long, is absolutely heart-rending in its portrayal of loss. Haunting and so sweet in its brevity. Among songs of trivial misunderstanding and light laughter, this stood out as a significantly emotional piece. Just don't read the lyrics... it's about how she lost a pin. The words are ridiculous when compared to the power of the melody.

The second aria of note is sung by the character Cherubino, entitled "Voi, che sapete che cosa è amor." Cherubino is a male character, but his youthfulness requires a female mezzo-soprano for today's performances (perhaps a castrato during Mozart's time). The fantastic Fiorenza Cossotto, whose work I so admired in Aida, sang the part of Cherubino, and this aria was the highlight of that role. But where had I heard it before? Driving me nuts... Can't remember... Ah yes - Jennifer Ehle sang it as Elizabeth Bennet in "Pride and Prejudice" during the memorable after-dinner scene at Pemberley where she and Colin Firth's Darcy make swoon-worthy eyes at one another. The lyrics Ehle sings are in English, but the tune is most certainly Mozart.

Overall, this was a highly memorable, enjoyable opera, which far and away remedies the dislike I felt for The Magic Flute. And it had a happy ending, only the third such ending I've encountered in opera (the other being The Magic Flute and Beethoven's Fidelio, another favorite).

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