Who amongst us hasn’t enjoyed a good tear-jerker from time to time- be it a book, a rom-com, or an incessantly far flung soap-opera? The idea of watching a drama unfold, invoking the senses with fear and pity, valour and prudence; being able to walk in the same shoes and feel the resonance of emotion and experience in your own lives is hardly what one would call a modern phenomenon. In fact, neither is the censorship of such a necessarily modern one! From as far back as the ancient worlds and Greek and Roman tragedies, philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle wrote about the power of the performing arts. Plato, in an effort to censor art claimed that certain forms of music were rightly associated with certain states of mind (who can argue with that? for really, there isn’t any place for Leonard Cohen on the dance floor now, is there?! And trust me, listening to ”Summer Beats 2013′ in a 19thC cafe in Bologna is just so wrong)!
Aristotle was probably the one who first made the crucial connection between music, poetry and lofty thought and perhaps suggested that drama ought to have a more moral purpose rather than remain mere entertainment. This then went on to be the theoretical backbone of the new art of “opera”, (latin for “a body of work”, a synergy of all the widely acclaimed artforms) Perfected during the renaissance in Italy, this new “trend” quickly found acceptance in other individual and distinctive schools in a number of European countries. Through the proper projection of the emotions of pity and fear, carried on by skilled artists, the audience would undergo a moral cleansing, a catharsis, a coming away feeling elated and unburdened – (something that we still seek through the relentless energy of feel-good, happy-ending films)!
Opera clearly had a moral purpose, and in time would go on to have a political one too! Enter Mozart with his “The Marriage of Figaro”, a brilliantly woven comedy of human relations, which has held it’s relevance through the last 200 years as a social and political situational drama. Seeing that the story is foregrounded at the time of the French Revolution, Figaro’s brazen-faced affront of his master Count Almaviva’s authority can also be seen as the triumph of the proletariat’s decision of challenging rigidly established aristocracy!
Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” is the tumultuous tale of the events of one crazy day as Figaro, the Count’s valet, tries to wed Susanna, the Countess’s maid, before the philandering Count can get to her first. Mozart’s glorious music with his librettist Lorenzo da Ponte gives “opera buffa” (comic opera – where stock characters, comic and cunning servants, angry and penny-pinching fathers, passionate lovers, lustful daughters and bragging soldiers found their place after it’s more sombre “opera seria”) an enduring historical context. Fiona Shaw’s buzzing production at The English National Opera “sees its plot of sexual intrigue, mistaken identities and unexpected revelations unravel with clock-like precision within the confines of a maze-like household in which the servants are perfectly capable of thwarting their masters at every time.”
As I might have at some point said to my post-graduate students, Figaro, like all masterpieces is a wonderful story of adventure – replete with plot and counter-plot, danger and disguise, intrigue and mystery! Not for the sexually prudish either – it showcases a wide sexual canvas ranging from the naïveté in the love of young Cherubino, who would like to emulate the Count’s prowess but is denied the means; the mundanity of Susanna and the raw lust of Count Almaviva. Completing the picture is the elevated resilience and forgiveness of the Countess. A winsome yarn that touches on social manner and political reform; it’s enduring charm being its lasting relevance in holding up a mirror to society and human poignancy and doing so with a punchy, bold humour! An achingly full-blooded synthesis of all the other arts – drama, vocal and orchestral music, dance, light and design!
In The English National Opera production of The Marriage of Figaro, David Stout and Mary Bevan star as the wily servants Figaro and Susanna, with Benedict Nelson as Count Almaviva and Sarah-Jane Brandon as the wronged Countess! Conductor Jaime Martin returns to ENO following his debut last year in Rossini’s Barber of Seville.
You can find more information about the shows, ticket prices and timings on the official website of The English National Opera!
(*Disclaimer : This is a sponsored post for The English National Opera and I have been remunerated for it!)
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