APRIL 28 – MAY 7
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte
Based on La Folle Journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro by Pierre-Augustin Beaumarchais
Sung in Italian, with English surtitles
Length: Approximately 3 hours | 1 intermission
A villa in Italy during the 1950s. The servants Figaro and Susanna are about to be married, but their employer, the Count Almaviva, has also cast his roving eye on the bride-to-be. Figaro vows to outwit his master. And there’s another problem: the much-older Marcellina, housekeeper to Dr. Bartolo, wants to marry Figaro herself—and he owes her a tidy sum of money. The servants scheme with the Countess, who misses her husband’s devotion, as well as the teenage Cherubino, about how to entrap the Count. Along the way, it is revealed that Figaro is the long-lost son of Marcellina and Dr. Bartolo. Susanna sets the servants’ plot in motion by promising the Count a tryst in the garden at night. She and the Countess dress in one another’s clothes for the rendezvous, leading to confusion and anger from Figaro and the Count. Finally, the real Countess reveals herself, and her husband realizes his folly and begs her forgiveness. She grants it, and all of the couples enjoy a happy ending.
A LIBRETTIST—AND A POET, A PRIEST, A TEACHER, A GROCER …
The three operas that Lorenzo Da Ponte penned with Mozart—The Marriage of Figaro (1786), Don Giovanni (1787), and Così Fan Tutte (1790)—are rightly hailed as masterpieces. But the life of Da Ponte was operatic far beyond the stage. Born to a Jewish family in 1749, he converted to Catholicism and later took orders as a priest. But after fathering two children and allegedly living in a brothel, he was banished from Venice. He traveled to Vienna and established himself as a court poet, leading to his connection with Mozart. His travels took him next to England, where he did a stint as a grocer before finding his footing again as a man of the theater, then fled to New York City to escape bankruptcy. He eventually became the first professor of Italian Literature at Columbia College and encouraged opera in the city, producing a performance of Don Giovanni and introducing the music of Rossini to New York through a concert tour by the composer’s niece.
THE PERFECT OPERA?
For many, The Marriage of Figaro represents the “perfect” opera—that elusive, ideal blend of sublime music and drama, humane comedy and human foible, social satire and compassionate resolution. As music critic Tom Service wrote, “…the whole score becomes the engine of the operatic drama … what’s happening in the orchestra defines the emotional and expressive universe in which Mozart and Da Ponte’s characters, and the audience, will spend the next few hours of their lives.” Virtually every piece from the opera is beloved, but just a few of the highlights include: the bubbling overture that sets the mood for the follies of the crazy day to come; the Countess’ entrance aria, the achingly bittersweet “Porgi amor”; the Act II finale, a 20-minute, uninterrupted span of music, comedy, and dramatic confusion, all perfectly timed; and the Count’s final plea to the Countess for her forgiveness, often cited as one of the most expressive and beautiful moments in all of opera.
- Da Ponte was reportedly buried in Manhattan originally, but that cemetery was dug up and all the remains moved to Queens. Though his exact final resting place is not known, a memorial to him was erected in Calvary Cemetery in 1987.
April 28 – May 7 at John Hancock Hall at the Back Bay Events Center
Images (top to bottom): Lorenzo Da Ponte, engraving by Michele Pekenino (engraver, 19th century) after Nathaniel Rogers (American, 1788-1844); Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, portrait by Johann Nepomuk della Croce, 1780.
This article originally appeared in the spring 2017 issue of Coda magazine.