Thursday, December 26, 2013

800 Words: Other People's Christmases

Oddly enough, the most connected I ever felt to Christmas was in Israel, in Jerusalem’s Old City, going to midnight mass, seeing the Christian pilgrims on their ways to church, taking in congregation after congregation, running into my cousin on the same journey, hearing various conversations and homilies in languages I’d rarely ever heard, talking at length with a cute and rather distractible German volunteer outside of a Lutheran church, hearing the various bells ring, getting harassed by Arabs in the Muslim quarter when I turned the wrong corner, hearing an eternity of gunfire in East Jerusalem. It was, without a doubt, the Christmas of a lifetime. Otherwise, Christmas always seems to happen apart from me, like some big secret to which I was the only person not in on. What the hell’s everybody celebrating?

I’ve spent Christmases at friends’ houses, I’ve trimmed trees, I’ve gone to Midnight Mass, but I doubt that there are many Jews, at least not many as unobservant as I, whose lives were so blithely unaffected by Christmas. Christmas is that parallel holiday when the rest of the world seems to go berserk while the world of my childhood stood perfectly still.

Pikesville, MD. A place more Jewish than Israel itself, has got to be the least Christian place in Christendom. There is nary a house with lights, nary a store with decorations, nary a Mall Santa at the department stores and nary a Salvation Army Santa on the street. I think it was after winter term of my senior year of college that my friend Il Giovine dropped me at my house on the way back to New Jersey. Before he left, I took him to the old Suburban House so he could do what we all did at the Suburban House, eat pastrami and watch old Jews yell at each other. Neither was disappointing, but on the way there he was aghast: “Where the hell are all the Christmas decorations? It’s like it’s any other time of year!”

I didn’t really know any non-Jews until I went to boarding school. So it was always a bit of a shock to see that there was this huge deal that the whole world seemed to care about except for everybody I knew. My world didn’t change at all during December, and yet the radios played Christmas music all December, the TV commercials were all about Christmas day sales, every TV show had a Christmas episode, every music teacher would host a ‘Christmas concert,’ and every adult got off work. I remember a couple of years when we used to go over to some Orthodox cousins of ours during Christmas, and thinking how odd it was that I was basically going to a Christmas party hosted by Orthodox Jews. Once we arrived, we would inevitably sit down to that most Christian of spreads, bagels and smoked fish, followed by giant, barely sweetened pastries.

I never felt particularly left out from all this commotion. How could I, being barely acquainted with the wider world of ‘Der Goyim’ which all the adults assured me was a bit scary and unhealthy? I knew stories about older Jews feeling isolated and scared because they had to sing Christian hymns in school and didn’t get any presents, or even occasionally get beaten up by Catholic kids (like my Dad, more on that story later…) and I suppose I felt vaguely jealous that these Christian kids whom I didn’t know and was vaguely intimidated by apparently got a holiday in which the very purpose seemed to be to spoil them rotten. But I wasn’t much like many other kids I knew, and not much like many other kids anywhere. The usual Christmas toys wouldn’t have provoked much excitement in me, and if anything, it would have been just one more source of anxiety in which I’d have to figure out yet another way of fitting in with other kids I had nothing in common with. There’s probably nothing that would have made 10-year-old Evan happier than a complete set of Bruno Walter recordings, and if I’d ever gotten them, I’d have only felt ashamed and depressed for wanting something so bizarre and having hardly anybody to share my eccentric interests with.

Christmas, Christians, Christianity in general, is so divorced from everything in my childhood that it took on a fascination in adulthood that I can’t help having. When Pope John-Paul II died, I glued myself to the television - watching the first Papal conclave of my lifetime with more interest than I ever exhibited in any of the dozens of Jewish studies classes I had. My roommate of the time worried that it became an unhealthy obsession. He once went on my computer to discover that I had ten pictures of the old Pope open on my desktop (don’t ask...), and told me he felt as though he’d stumbled upon a person’s bizarre pornographic fetish.

The only contact I’d had as a child with Christians was through music. For a number of years, my violin teacher’s base of operations was St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, which I think was the one on Loch Raven Blvd near Good Samaritan Hospital. It was a very weird transition to go from Pikesville, where there was a Synagogue on every corner, to the world of the music I loved, which then more than ever seemed intimately bound up with the extremely forbidden rites of the Church. One sabbath, I was supposed to sleep at my Day School’s synagogue for an event which we Day School Jews call a ‘Shabbaton.’ I had a rehearsal in the middle of the Shabbaton on Saturday afternoon, and my father made the mistake of telling the Rabbi in charge that it was at a church. It might have been a ‘conservative’ synagogue, but Rabbi was so scandalized that he nearly banned me from the Shabbaton altogether, telling my father that he was disgusted that my father couldn’t let his children ‘be Jewish for even one day.’

The first time I fell in love was with a fundamentalist Christian girl. Amy S_____. I was seventeen, and I met her on a cruise boat on the Black Sea. She was my first kiss - yes, it was quite late, but if you have to have a late first kiss, then experiencing it under a meteor shower off the Greek coast is probably the way to go. She was a Californian, a red-head like me, but 5’11 to my 5’4 ½. She claimed she was solicited to become a model, and it was not at all hard to believe. I was too shy to go up to her for nearly a week, but the day before I left, I finally worked up the nerve when I saw her on the deck, and told her that if I didn’t speak to her before I left, I think I was going to regret it. We were inseparable until five-o’clock the next morning. As it turned out, we had a lot in common. We were both too smart for the situations we’d found ourselves in. We were both clearly itching to get out from underneath backgrounds we found too repressive, or at least that was my impression of her. I’d met her mother earlier that week, and her mother was a holy terror, bragging to anyone who would listen about how terrified her children were of her. And during those years at a rather draconian boarding school, my very mind was being warped from mere depression to outright delusion. For a year or two afterward, we kept in touch via phone and IM, and would occasionally swear our mutual love to one another. On New Year’s Eve 2000 we spent the night talking on the phone to one another about eloping. When I found out she wasn’t serious, it began (for many more reasons than that...) the worst month of my life. In retrospect, I wasn’t particularly serious either, but having fallen into a place as I did which literally caused me to experience manic delusions and hallucinations, I was looking for any way out, and desperate enough to think that underage marriage to a fundamentalist Christian was a legitimate option. Nevertheless, as I was (perhaps) still a potential marriage prospect down the road, or at least one to whom she kept declaring her love, she kept trying to ‘save me’, and getting me to see the rightness of Jesus Christ. The emotional disasters that followed were rather inevitable...

As the term ‘self-hating Jew’ is often thrown around, I often like to protest that my self-hatred and my Jewishness have nothing to do with one another. But the truth is rather the opposite. They have everything to do with one another. The tension between growing up rather Jewish and rather secular has defined just about everything in my life, for good and ill, and made me feel as though I don’t quite fit with either world, even if I (as so many people in my position do) often think I understand both worlds better than those who belong to either world much more neatly.

It’s one thing to be a Jew in the ghetto; whether it’s the nominally secular ghetto of Pikesville, MD, or the religious ghettos of Crown Heights and Meyah She’arim, you are among people who think and believe exactly as you think and believe. You don’t have to explain or justify yourself to anyone, and you automatically have the same feeling of belonging as any ‘goy’ would in their wider world. It’s another entirely to maintain a somewhat Jewish identity when nobody shares it. I often feel as though I’m the appointed Ambassador from Jewish Baltimore to Hipster Baltimore. Even if I’m entirely self-appointed and play the part to the hilt, I’m the man everybody seems to come to with questions about Judaism and Israel, the one who everybody has to tell the latest Jewish joke. I often feel as though my life is one long conversation about Judaism in which I spend half my life explaining Jews to goyim, and the other half explaining goyim to Jews. I find this role infinitely preferable to remaining in the ‘ghetto’ of my youth, but I still find it exhausting. I am a Synagogue of One, who finds no comfort in the traditional environs of last generation’s Pikesville, nor in the Tikkun Olam environs of Judaism’s Social Justice crusaders from my generation. I can’t help it if I wish there were more people around me who shared my views, but my Judaism doesn’t seem to exist for anyone else, it never existed for anyone but me, and I’m not even sure from moment to moment what the beliefs are. Like all good Jews, I can’t even call myself a Synagogue of One, I’m two synagogues of halves. I can’t even decide for myself whether traditions should be kept in spite of the fact that God clearly doesn’t care whether or not we keep them, or whether the State of Israel will in the long run do our ‘people’ more good than harm, or even whether being Jewish is not a burden too great to ever bring a child into this world. In lieu of definite answers, I’m sure I’ll do what I’ve always done, which is whatever is most convenient at any given moment. As I’ve said so often on this site, my religion is the religion of doubt and skepticism. There are no traits more Jewish than those, but no religion can be built on doubt alone. No wonder we Jews have such talents for suffering.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Playlist - A Guide to Marriage of Figaro Videos on Youtube

 Metropolitan Opera 1999 - Conducted by James Levine, Directed by Jonathan Miller, starring Bryn Terfel, Renee Fleming, Cecilia Bartoli et al - The Modern Met in its golden era and a Figaro which Mozart would have killed for. Amazing big band Mozart in every way, singing, orchestra, conducting, production. The largeness of the production belies its lightness and agility - rendered with so much skill that it all seems like the most graceful, most intimate imaginable production. Jonathan Miller is, to my mind, an inestimable blessing to the opera world - taking the histrionics and outlandishness of other directors and putting opera productions, however avant-garde, squarely in the realm of good sense (mind you, I didn't see his Cosi fan Tutte in DC, which I hear was a fiasco). James Levine may have declined as a conductor in virtually everything else, including Verdi, but his Mozart seems to get better and better with age. Bryn Terfel plays Bryn Terfel in virtually everything, but fortunately Terfel's personality is just about the same as Figaro's. Renee Fleming produces gorgeous sounds as the Countess, and Dwayne Croft's Count is rendered in three dimensions rather than the usual cartoon villain. But the joy of this production is Cecilia Bartoli, who gives the performance of anybody else's career but her's, because this level of dramatic involvement is simple routine for her. Apparently she and Miller clashed during the production, but you could never tell here. Probably my all-time favorite opera video. Done as a playlist so you have to click every ten minutes or so.

1976 Movie - Directed by Jean-Pierre Ponelle - Vienna Philharmonic Conducted by Karl Bohm - starring Herman Prey, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Mirella Freni, Kiri Te Kanawa et al - A very, very fine movie compromised by thousands of old-fashioned details which clearly date it from an era that didn't understand Mozart. It must have been a brilliant theatrical production, but it's rendered for the screen with lots of heavy-handed cinematic touches done by a director who's trying to fuse Ken Russell with Ingmar Bergman. There's brilliance all over the place, but everything about this performance is too heavy - conducting too wooden, with voices too lush, and an orchestra too polished. The music's overseen by the old school Mozart champion Karl Bohm - who viewed Mozart through Wagnerian lenses and managed to make it convincing even so. Whatever choreography clearly originates in the theater is fantastic and masters all Da Ponte's/Beaumarchais's various levels of meaning with virtuosic skill. Fischer-Dieskau, who would be this century's greatest singer of classical music if he ever lightened up, makes the part work for him. As the Count, he plays a stern and charmless Prussian authoritarian, and is rather terrifying. Hermann Prey was a Figaro of note, along with many other Mozart roles for baritone, and he acts the part splendidly, but if he were beginning his career today, someone would advise him to take on Osmin or Sarastro. Everybody's voices are too big, and no matter how much technique and intelligence they can utilize, they trudge through Mozart's quicksilver vocal writing like the proverbial bull in a china shop.

Glyndebourne Festival Production 1994 - London Philharmonic conducted by Bernard Haitink - Directed by Stephen Medcalf - Starring Gerald Finley, Renee Fleming et al This video is recommended everywhere. And yet I just don't see/hear it. Bernard Haitink does many things well, but if there is a more unjustly worshipped conductor in the world today, I don't know who it is. As so often happens, Haitink, the great conductor of Shostakovich and Bruckner, leaves the pleasantries at the door and warmth is in scant supply. If there's a greatness here, it's the Great Gerald Finley. Finley is one of the only true 'stars' in this production, and only became one years after appearing here. His singing and acting leave absolutely nothing to be desired - perhaps as great as will ever appear in any DVD/video version. Alison Hagley is a very fine Susanna, and Renee Fleming does what she can to bring warmth to the show. But it's all ruined by a second-rate, unnuanced, but mannered, traditional direction. Some very nice things here, ruined by its weaknesses.

Glyndebourne Festival Production 2012 - Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment conducted by Robin Ticciati - Directed by Michael Grandage - Robin Ticciati is clearly a very talented young conductor, and he gets a 'new' Mozart reading here, unencumbered by traditional notions of Mozart's Dresden Doll fragility. It's not a perfect fit - a bit too much of the baby with the bathwater; all that rhythmic elan doesn't quite cover up for the warmth lost, and it's all a shade too fast for me, but perhaps that's quibbling. None of the principal singers are particularly famous, save perhaps Sally Matthews as the Countess, but except for Sally Matthews, they're all wonderful. Matthews is a very fine actress who's voice is too large and unwieldy for the part. The production updates the action (I think...) to the 1970's, with the Count being a Key Party Swinger. It doesn't quite work, because the director clearly doesn't understand the power dynamics at play, but there are worse ideas. It's a 'different' Figaro, but certainly one that works.

Salzburg Festival 2006 - Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Directed by Claus Guth - Starring Illibrando D'Arcangelo, Anna Netrebko, Bo Skovus, Dorthea Roschmann, Christine Schafer -  I really, really want to hate this production - but I can't quite... It really is the worst of the 'Eurotrash' school on screen - an almost incoherent production which clearly is obfuscatory to the plot by intention, populated with lots of 'big name' singers who aren't quite right for their parts - except for Dorthea Roschmann as the Countess, who sings beautifully. Bo Skovus's voice sounds particularly out of sorts as the Count. The production strips Figaro of all its warmth, and leaves a desolate stage of violence in its wake. When the production stops intellectualizing the content and focuses on accentuating the brutal barbarism which always operated beneath the show's surface, it becomes extremely compelling in a particularly disturbing way. But the saving grace here is Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who is, to my ears, the greatest of all Mozart conductors in the recorded era, and perhaps the only one who consistently comes within striking distance of Mozart's true intentions. Time and again, Harnoncourt chooses tempos, dynamics, phrasings, which seem crazy, only to find upon checking the score that, more often and not, Harnoncourt's tempos, dynamics, and phrasings are Mozart's. For all Harnoncourt's weirdness and obvious departures from the score, he honors more of Mozart's instructions than virtually any other conductor - most of whom ignore Mozart's markings for no other reason than sheer laziness.  Where his directions are not Mozart's, Harnoncourt has done something which seems complete anathema to so many musicians of today - he uses his imagination! No doubt, Mozart expected his scores to be 'improved upon' performance by performance, and there's little doubt that Mozart, the flagrant rearranger of Handel, would have warmed to the spirit of Harnoncourt's departures, even if he'd have disagreed with many details.  By disregarding tradition so thoroughly, Harnoncourt created a new tradition which puts us closer than ever to seeing Mozart on his own terms - a Mozart whose powers grew out of the world of exceedingly minor masters like Hasse and Johann Christian Bach and superseded them by exponential factors; a Mozart surrounded by competent mediocrity during an era during when music almost completely forgot what genius sounded like.  When listening to Harnoncourt's Mozart, we finally hear why his contemporaries found him to be such a difficult composer to understand. Does it work? Not quite... but you'll never hear Figaro the same way after this, and you'll always wonder when future performers will come along to make sense of all those unknown crevasses which Harnoncourt illuminated.

- This is not counting the many, many complete productions on youtube that do not have English surtitles or video.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Marriage of Figaro - Acts I and II staging notes - really, really rough draft

To be revised many, many times. Apologies for the no doubt many Italian spelling errors.

Marriage of Figaro

Overture - Curtain down. This is the Orchestra's time to feature.

Set absolutely requires three doors (one is the door to a closet) and a window, a chair in the middle of the dead center of the room large enough to be a throne, the legs absolutely must be dressed so no one can see through the legs. A mattress resting against the wall. Sheet already draped on it, folded linens right next to it. Lastly, a table on which two wigs are placed and a pair of boots.

Cinque… Dieci
Curtain opens with Figaro’s butt facing the audience as he measures the back side of the stage.

Figaro then turns to the right side and starts to measure “Cinque...dieci...”

Susanna sitting in chair, knitting her wedding hat, her hair done up. She bites the thread when Figaro says ‘thirty’  and stands up.

When he counts to thirty six, he gets up, goes over to Susanna and measures her backside “forty-three”, then slaps her butt with the ruler.

Holds Susanna tightly with one arm though the next verse, uses the ruler to mime an erection under her dress “Cinque...dieci...”

“Yes, it looks beautiful on you.” He says while rolling his eyes as though saying it for the fifteenth time in an hour.

“Ah, Susanna” he begins to tip her over, after both ‘Per te” they kiss twice on the lips.

Improvised melisma, and while it happens, Susanna gets upright and tips him over for the final chorus.

“Stesa si pe” Figaro goes over to the bed and knocks it over, Susanna grabs a sheet and turns out the oil lamp (candle?). They climb into bed and under the sheets in order to have sex.

Narration: Main exposition of what’s going on in English is right here.

Se a caso Madama

Pillow talk. Both should appear more tussled. Figaro having a few more buttons open and a shirt untucked, Susanna with her hair down. Both with trousers/stockings around their ankles. After first “Din Din” - he gets up off the floor, his pants still around his ankles, takes a step at every “Din.” Does a march with his pants still down.

On the orchestra’s “Don Don,” Figaro uses the yardstick to tap the floor.

Susanna gets up for her part. Goes over to table, gets the female wig head, goes over to Figaro, for last “Don Don,” grinds the head into his crotch.

She sits back on the bed, gradually lying down and pointing to the bed's empty spot.

“Susanna, Pian Pian” Put hands out as though to quiet her down, she won’t, he gets angrier the closer he gets to her. Finally towering over her like an order.

“You want to hear the rest.” Leads him over to the chair and plants him down.

“I swear I’m innocent.” Susanna crosses herself.

“I need to hear the rest.” First time, looks at her. Second time, looks away and unconsciously gets comfortable on the couch..

“Suspecti” Susanna turns to hold him with her arms from behind the chair, both to calm him and for protection.

“Suspicion is turning my blood cold” Figaro tries to get out of her embrace, with a cold, ashen look on his face. Putting his hand up and shaking his head.

Se Vuol Ballare

Would be preferable here to get the entire recitative before it. If not possible...

Must at least start with “Bravo Signor Padrone” to get an unabrupt transition into the aria and get Figaro’s thought process. For the recitative, Figaro is polishing the shoes.

If he can still move comfortably, he should still have his pants down and do the number with them down.

First Chorus, mimicks dancing with the Count’s boots with his hands on a table. First high “F” should be soft color, so that it seems innocuous.

First verse, goes over to get the yardstick, which he slashes through the air like a sword during the forte outbursts.

Goes back to polishing the shoes. Before each cry of “Sapro”, he spits on the shoes as he polishes them.

“I’ll use all my cunning…” gets the sword back in his hand, starts slashing the air, right before he ends, he knocks down the ‘head’ of the count.

Second verse, there should be some improvised embellishments. Then he starts dancing, (waltzing?) with the head. Second high “F” should be loud, like a declaration of war. At the end of the song, he tosses the head on the floor.

La Vendetta

Recit should start with “Bene…” so we hear from Bartolo himself why he wants revenge.

Bartolo should be extremely doddering, but quite energetic. Should have vocal embellishments on every deceptive cadence.

Every time he seems as though he’s actually going to read the document, he puts it down so he can boast more.

Il Birbo Figaro,... vostro sara first time, vinto sara second time… and vinto from then on.”

The whole time, Marcellina is trying to get him to read the document, and she should look still more frustrated each time Bartolo is about to, but is too busy puffing himself up.

After aria, he leaves the stage with the contract.

Via Resta Servita

Must keep the recit beforehand.

They both come up to one another. See one another, bow and pretend to love one another.

The first time through, they’re simply thinking of the different double-meaning complement/insults.

Second time through, they retreat to opposite sides of the stage, add pantomime from La Scala 2012 (from first time through?) While Marcellina isn’t looking at the repeated 'l'eta's', Susanna mimicks an old lady.

Non Se Piu

The Count should be chasing Cherubino all the way through the audience onto the stage, where Cherubino escapes into the room of Susanna and Figaro.

From the Cherubino’s entrance until the end of the terzetto, the opera requires all the recitative for the farce to work. No amount of exposition from a narrator, however good, can possibly work one-tenth as well as just seeing the action play out.

Still need to figure out correct staging for this aria… very easy to go wrong… and usually does. Cherubino is not a young Don Giovanni or a young Leporello, he is Mozart - particularly the Young Mozart who was thought of by many as the ‘angel (cherub) of music’, surrounded by the ladies of the Court, both servants and mistresses, who marvel at his talent, make him feel loved, and therefore inspires the jealousy of court social climbers. Figaro is Da Ponte’s self portrait, Cherubino is Mozart’s, and he endows Cherubino with more beautiful music than any character short of Papageno and the lovers in Cosi Fan Tutte. For such active music, he cannot simply stand still, nor can he simply hump the bed. He needs a staging that suggests innocent, chaste love.

Right after the masturbation line, Cherubino plants a kiss on Susanna’s cheek, as chaste as possible.

The Count enters, Cherubino hides, the usual bit with the chair, exactly as it goes in the text.

Basilio searches for Cherubino’s letter, finds it, reads it while he’s talking about him.

Cosa Sento

Susanna faints, the faint is real.

Both of them try to cop a feel on her left breast as they say ‘her heart is racing’.

The Count picks her up by the arms so as to cup her breasts, drags her toward the chair.

Her eyes are closed, she says “Where am I?” before she’s about to be placed on the chair. Screams and gets away.

“Poverino” Second poverino, Basilio starts laughing.

“Come” “Che” Basilio keeps trying to pick up the letter to show the Count, Susanna keeps taking it back. A game of back and forth, meanwhile Susanna doesn’t notice that the Count is lifting up the blanket to find Cherubino.

Cherubino tries to leave in the next scuffle, but Basilio blocks him. Gently guides Cherubino back into the chair.

Giovani Liete

If we keep this sequence, the choir should probably be offstage, and Figaro opens a window. It is rather necessary, because it shows that the Count has newly abolished his droit du seigneur. If we have other singers come in, then a few of the women should have newborns.

Non Piu Andrai

Starts with recitative line: “Addio Cherubino”

Figaro begins “Non piu andrai’ conspiratorially. Nudging and winking to the Count. The Count slightly uncomfortable but keeping his confidence.

First verse: Brings Cherubino up to the Count, takes off Cherubino’s cap, runs fingers through his hair, pinches his cheecks.

Second chorus: Stands erect with Cherubino, sings directly to the Count. Then goes over and gets the yardstick.

Second verse: Puts the yardstick in Cherubino’s hands, shapes Cherubino into standing as though he’s holding a rifle, aims directly at the Count’s head. Count is beginning to get uncomfortable.

“Poco contate” … not much pay, holds up the money, and goes right up to the Count. Count looks both furious and slightly afraid.  

For fandango line, he goes back to Cherubino and slowly walks him closer and closer to the Count. Finally close to the Count’s head, before Susanna restrains him and takes Cherubino across the room and embraces him.

“Aria brillante” second time in G-major (dominant key), big embellishment.

Count, by this time, is standing and rather scared.

Count goes downstage, his back to the audience.

Figaro, comes closer and closer to him, with the head of the male whig in his hand, brandishing it right next to the Count. Susanna stands a few steps behind them, helpless to stop. The Count turns toward him, both of them seething with anger and testosterone.

At the end of the aria during those thundering C’s in the orchestra, the Count storms out. Figaro examines the Count’s whig, and sighs. Susanna stands behind him, holding onto his shoulders. Should reference both the French Revolution and Hamlet’s Yorrick.

Act II

Must be a large chair in the middle of the room and a table next to it. The mattress from Act I is now ornately made.

Porgi Amor

During the orchestral introduction, the maids are making the bed. They blow out a lamp or candle, and the stage is dark.

The countess emerges four measures before she begins to sing, lamp in one hand which is the sole illumination onstage, drink in another.

Sits in the chair, puts lamp and drink down, begins to sing. Sips drink during orchestral interludes.

Susanna comes in after the aria, turns lamps on to illuminate the stage. She has lots of decorative pillows which she puts on the table when she comes in. After she’s done getting lights on, she moves the pillows to the bed.

Preserving some recit here highly recommended, it gives emotional content to the Count’s motive, implies that maybe, just maybe, he still loves the Countess, and that Figaro is worried that Susanna may yield to the Count’s advances. The exposition can be done by our narrator who can explains the homosexual situation which Figaro hopes to envelope the Count with Cherubino dressed as a woman (a little noticed part of the recitative) with extra commentary to make it funnier.

Voi Che Sapete

The Count once again chases Cherubino into the room from the audience, where he hides.

Just sing Voi Che Sapete straight through, no staging, with Cherubino sitting on the bed with the Countess on one side of him and Susanna on the other. The Countess should be particularly entranced by his singing and looking straight at him. Both of them holding him from the shoulders. With Narrator’s introduction. Solo guitar accompaniment. Make sure that Cherubino sings the second chorus much more softly.

Recitative between Voi Che Sapete and Venite Ingochiatevvi

Venite Ingochiatevvi

We need the recitative here to get the depth of The Countess’s feeling for Cherubino. In the third Beaumarchais play (no opera), the Countess has an illegitimate child by Cherubino.

The Countess gets up to stand, nearly in tears says “I didn’t know you could sing that well,” with a completely shocked.

Susanna says “He does everything well, and pats Cherubino’s inner thigh with a knowing glance.

If Susanna is not the same height as Cherubino, the line about ‘nearly the same height’ needs to be cut.

I need to be careful about the staging here. The eroticism in Figaro is innocent like Botticelli or early Shakespeare, not ‘knowing’ like Puccini or Goya. Playful, but chaste.

At the beginning of the terzetto, “Venite Ingochiatevvi” means literally ‘come and kneel.’ Susanna motions for him to come across the room with a single finger and a ‘come hither’ look. At ‘sit down and stay still,’ she sets him down as though he’s right between her legs. Susanna plays with his hair as she sets a girl’s bonnet on him.

Cherubino looks bashfully at the Countess, who’s obviously turned on. To which Susanna says ‘Turn around, look at me.’ as she powders his face and does his lipstick. Gets him to stand upright. Beneath a huge dress, Cherubino is completely topless, but very embarrassed and looks at the Countess.

Then goes behind the door, where Susanna puts the dress on him (her) and after which Susanna says “do your top up” The Countess is really turned on by now and turns around to fan herself with the letter and look away.

“Now lets see how you walk.” The dress must cover his feet. He now walks like a woman, to which even Susanna is stunned by his (her) ease.

...take a cold shower Evan...

Susanna Or Via Sortite

Narration until Cherubino’s line, lots of jokes about the action which just happened: Pick up when Cherubino says: “Perhaps I’ll have the courage to kiss you.” The Countess is both resistant and desirous to Cherubino making a move.

The recitative between the Count and Countess must be complete or else we lose serious tension here.

There must be a part of the closet which we can see so that Cherubino can fall on something and crash.

At the beginning of the Aria, four knocks at the door, like Beethoven’s Fifth, followed by “Susanna Or Via Sortite”

Susanna comes onstage right after the first four knocks. Hides behind the chair right after her name is called.

Countess gets between Count and the door. “Modesty forbids it. She’s trying on her wedding dress.” Backs him off.

Count goes downstage left, says “It must be a lover.”

Susanna sings with her head peaked out from whichever side is most comfortable to sing.

Comes back to the door, puts ear up. “Susanna.”

“Sortite” (almost screamed)

“Speak Susanna if you’re in there.” Done with an ironic smile.

Countess comes up right next to him. “No, I order you! Be silent!.” Sixteen (4*4) knocks.

“Consorte, mia, judizzio” (My wife, be reasonable) The Count reassures her. The Countess puts up a fight by clasping his other wrist.

Both of them go away from each other, lamenting that they’re about to cause a scandal. The Count sitting on the bed, the Countess sitting in the chair, her head buried in her hand. Susanna looks to see where the Count is, but can’t reveal herself because she’s too close to the Count’s line of vision.

When the Countess is the one facing Susanna, Susanna peaks her head up to try to get her attention, but she can’t.

First melisma up to the high ‘C’, the Countess looks away to cry.

“Judizio” repetitions. Probably should be some especially elaborate vocal embellishment here. The Count implores, the Countess gets up and says it defiantly.  

Repetition of “Scandalo” The Countess sits back down, the Count keeps pacing around the chair, Susanna keeps having to scurry around to avoid his line of sight.

No recitative or narration after it’s done.

Straight into:

“Aprite Presto Aprite”

The most frantic, frenetic scene in the most frantic, frenetic of all acts in the most frantic, frenetic of all operas.

Susanna starts by simply saying the first line “Open up, it’s me.”

Cherubino back in boy’s clothes, but wearing the dress he was wearing earlier over his head, and holding a blunt object.

“He’ll hurt the Countess if I don’t escape…” More on that later…

Cherubino crosses himself before he jumps. Susanna kisses him on the lips.

When Cherubino jumps, there should be a comic Wiley E. Coyote crash on the ground. Susanna should barely be able to look out the window after five seconds of shielding her eyes. Followed by a sigh of relief and a slight chuckle.

Must have the next line of recitative to show that he made it out alive and well.

Recitative between the Countess and Count must be there to set up the Finale. No explanation is as funny as the countess revealing that Cherubino is behind the closet. The count is holding half a dozen tools in his hands. Drops them on the floor.

Esci Omai

Count begins by trying to pry open the crowlbar with his hands.

Countess steals the crowbar from his hand. Jumps on the bed and over it.

Points at her from across the room. “Parlate, Parlate, Parlate” Count is throwing up his hands.

The Countess has the crowlbar and holds it up in a defensive position when she says that Cherubino is dressed as a woman.

The Count’s reaction is infuriated, scandalized shock to the fact that Cherubino is dressed as a woman.

“Oh la kiave” Runs over the bed and demands the key twice.

“Non, son rea” she kneels before him.

“The guilt is written on your face.” He yanks the necklace off of her neck. She falls over, he brandishes it in his hand. “Mora, Mora.”

Second “Mora, Mora” the Countess is throwing up her hands.

When Susanna emerges from the closet, the Count is literally about to slap her, or perhaps hit her with the crowlbar.

Susanna comes out with a practiced smile, blinking a few times. Clearly both frightened and sure of herself.

Count goes in to check the closet. Clearly there’s no one in there. He is genuinely stricken with remorse and depression.

“Susanna, son Morta” The countess collapses into Susanna’s body like an embrace. “Relax, he’s safe” Susanna pats her shoulder and kisses her forehead.

The Count sits down on the stage right next to the closet, throws something in the air, perhaps a pillow. To which Susanna and the Countess respond “Your childish behavior doesn’t deserve forgiveness.”

Countess: “You called me unfaithful, deceitful, and unworthy.”

“So this is my reward...” She takes off her wedding ring and throws it at him.

“Help me console her” Second time, he kneels with the wedding ring and offers it to her.

Slaps him right before, “I’m not your suitor, just your long-neglected lover”, keeps slapping him.

He begins to cry. At the B-Flat Major cadence, he buries his head in her chest, Susanna goes over to pick up the wedding ring and give it back to the Countess.

...This may be too brutal a staging for this scene. The Count must, in some way, be sympathetic. Even if he is a shit.

Signori di fuori

Figaro bursts in wearing the wedding hat.

The Count and Countess are making out. But on a dime the Count turns around and says ‘Pian, Pian’, the Countess throws up her hands.

The Countess goes up to Figaro and Susanna.

Conoscete, Signor Figaro

Figaro reads it, “Nol conosco,” the Count puts his finger out as though to warn him, Figaro responds ‘Nol conosco’ again.

“Nol conosci?” Everybody’s trying to make motions, urging him to say that he does know.

“Let’s end this farce with a celebration.” Figaro takes the hat off himself and puts it on Susanna.

For the C-major couplet, Figaro holds Susanna from the back, the Countess goes over to the Count and holds him from the back too.

Ah! Signore

Antonio should have extremely dirty clothes, including a gardening apron, white haired with a ridiculous hat, and a fake grey mustache. His singing should be completely Buffo - gruff, ridiculous singing, with over enunciated consonants. He walks with his back stooped from having no and his knees knocked from ill fitting boots. Should have a flask in his shirt pocket. Holding a pot of his ruined carnations.

Figaro takes the flask out of the shirt pocket.

“CHERUBINO!” Has to be screamed.

Obviously, Figaro has to limp when he says he hurt his foot.

Figaro takes out lots of papers. Antonio holds up one which is a bill.

Figaro takes out the flask from Antonio’s shirt pocket. Antonio starts chasing after Figaro to get it back. Antonio stomps on his foot and takes back his flask. Figaro’s foot, which is supposed to be hurt, is actually hurt now, and Susanna carries him back to the chair.

Everybody stands still, as if frozen, until the other three come in for the Septet, the audience to be aware of waiting, and time slowing down.

Voi signor

Count has to sit in the middle of the room. Plays the impartial judge with unctuous smarminess, reading Marcellina’s marriage contract. Cries of “Ola” have to be done very loudly, as though to tell the offending parties to back off, which they inevitably do, followed by very civilized ‘silencio’

Right before, Mai Che Lume, Bartolo pops cork of champagne. Marcellina goes up to the Count to take the contract, and holds it up for Susanna to look at it.

“So confuso”, Susanna goes back to the other side of the room on the verge of tears.

“Che, che tam”, Marcellina clinks glasses


Basilio takes the wedding vail off Susanna’s head and places it on Marcellina’s.

Susanna goes after Marcellina to steal it back, Basilio blocks her, Marcellina runs away. Susanna chases her into the audience (think of Blazing Saddles), everyone except the Count follows. Everybody puts down their champagne glasses before they leave, and the Count begins to drink the champagne.

….Very incomplete and subject to enormous change.