Swan Song for a Longtime Lulu

 

Marlis Petersen as Lulu
Marlis Petersen as Lulu–photo credit New York Times

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click here for New York Times review of Berg’s Lulu at the Met, which will be broadcast live in HD in cinemas nationwide Saturday, November 21.

 

 

 

 

 

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My Preview: “Le Nozze Di Figaro” at CIM

The Cleveland Institute of Music’s rendition of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro opened on Wednesday, and the word on the street (OK, on Facebook) is that it’s a solid production. For the uninitiated, Figaro, after one of the most delightful overtures in all of music, starts in the soon-to-be bedroom of the title character (who is the manservant of the well-intentioned but promiscuous Count Almaviva) and Figaro’s fiancée Susanna (the Countess’s maid). Figaro is measuring the room for the placement of their marriage bed, while Susanna tries to draw his attention to a new cap she has made for herself. The joyous domesticity of this opening scene signals that the opera—rather than treating of grand heroic or tragic figures—will confine itself to more everyday. But that doesn’t mean that important issues won’t be addressed. When Figaro celebrates that the room is conveniently placed near the chambers of their respective bosses, Susanna reveals that this seeming convenience has a downside: just as it will easy for them to get to the count and countess when called, it will also be easy for the count to gain access to Susanna when Figaro is conveniently called away.

Figaro’s feathers are ruffled, and in a delightfully determined aria (“Se Vuol Ballare”), he announces that he’ll never allow it. Thus kicks off a couple of hours of sometimes madcap to-ing and fro-ing worthy of a modern sex comedy.   It’s a romp—Le Nozze di Figaro is after all, an opera buffa (a comic opera). But the shenanigans are not without broader significance: along the way, Mozart will find a way to call into question the power relations at play—of men over women, of aristocrats over those who serve them. In fact, in his magisterial Opera & Ideas, Paul Robinson offers and excellent analysis of the “commonplace of cultural history” that Mozart’s opera embodies “the Enlightenment’s fundamental intellectual and moral beliefs.” At the top of that list is “the conviction that human beings can overcome the antagonisms that separate them from one another.” “Reconciliation is the argument of the opera,” Robinson asserts, adding, “Reason is its means.”

Having enjoyed the Metropolitan Opera’s Fall 2013 production of Figaro (in HD at the local cinema), I’ve been preparing for CIM’s live production by reading about and listening to the opera. Here are a few of the things I’m going to be looking out for Saturday:

  • The overture, which just a treat.
  • Figaro’s two big numbers in Act I: “Se Vuol Ballere” and “Non più andrai,” in which Figaro gloats over the fate of the young love struck Cherubino, who has just been sent off to army service by a jealous count. Sir Denis Forman, in A Night at the Opera, calls this piece “A big bombastic tune” and urges listeners to “look out especially for the way the orchestra join in to taunt poor Cherubino.”
  • The crowd scenes, which are musically and dramatically rich, especially the Act II finale, which Forman calls “miraculous.”
  • Finally, the lamenting arias of the countess, whose husband has lost interest in her and whose final act of forgiveness is at the heart of the opera’s emotional appeal.

Writing about The Marriage of Figaro in Literature as Opera, Gary Schmigdal notes that “the follies of this day are to be ruled finally by the deus amor, not by an evil genius but by a comic one who … brings the characters to see themselves as they really are.” Maybe in the process, we will get a chance for a couple of hours to see ourselves a little more clearly as we are.

See you at the opera!

Tim