Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday Feature: Andrew Cuk on directing The Marriage of Figaro

“The History of Opera in Four Acts”
by Andrew Cuk (production photos by Dario Ayala)

Act I: Operatic First Contact
(The men’s room in the Bardi Palace in Florence, Italy, in 1596.)
PERI: Ottavio, it’s so many years since the group met. We had some good times, did we not?
RINUCCINI: How we laughed. Remember we all poked fun at Vincenzo’s obsession with that mathematical son of his. Swinging chandeliers indeed. Now the man is insufferable with his thermoscope. Who cares if the temperature has a number. Hot is hot and cold is cold. Mark my words, that Galileo Galilei will not amount to much.
PERI: Do you remember the experiments we did with melody and the discussions on the Greek Chorus?
RINUCCINI: How many boring hours did we go back and forth on that one? Thank God Bardi had a good cellar.
PERI: Well, I do have an idea that I wanted to run by you.
RINUCCINI: Go ahead, Jacopo.
PERI: What if we were to take a Greek could write the words...Daphne, for example...
RINUCCINI: Her tale has always been one of my favorites.
PERI: Set the story to single melodies that are somewhere between spoken and sung word. Thus, we could move the plot along as well as have moments of beautiful and sublime music where the emotions reign.
RINUCCINI: Not a bad idea. The singers could act out their roles in a pastoral setting.
PERI: With sets and costumes.
RINUCCINI: Sounds expensive.
PERI: We could add some dance.
RINUCCINI: Dancing women are always a draw.
PERI: I was thinking we could call the process “Opera”.
RINUCCINI: Opera? The “Work”? Not very imaginative, but we can use it as a working title until we can think of something better.
PERI: We could try to have it performed during carnival next year.
RINUCCINI: Daphne, eh?

Act II: The First Figaro
(The men’s room in the Le théâtre de l'Odéon in Paris, France, in 1784.)
ATTENDANT: Would you like a towel, Monsieur?
BEAUMARCHAIS: Just give me a rope so I can hang myself.
ATTENDANT: Oh Monsieur, it cannot be that bad.
BEAUMARCHAIS: Bad? It’s worse than bad. If they force me to do another rewrite I’ll jump out a window.
ATTENDANT: The King is not happy with your play?
BEAUMARCHAIS: The King wouldn’t know a good joke if it bit him in the...
ATTENDANT: Now, Monsieur Beaumarchais, please! You go too far.
BEAUMARCHAIS: What does he want? I changed the location from France to Spain. Made revisions to Figaro’s speech. We even performed it for the court last year. And yet he still quibbles. I titled this piece perfectly. La folle journée indeed!
ATTENDANT: Perhaps the King sees your Figaro as the representative of the common man and fears that if a character in a comedy may be more cunning than the King, why not a real man? Or woman for that matter? Is not your Suzanne as equally intelligent, perhaps even more vulpine than her husband to be? A monarch does not appreciate the quiet laughter of the servant. And you are not so quiet. [In good dramatic intonation.] “Maître ici, valet là, selon qu'il plaît à la fortune! ” Really, Monsieur Beaumarchais, master or servant by the mere whim of fortune? [Chuckles.] I thought you more clever and crafty.
BEAUMARCHAIS: [Looks at the Attendant in a new light.] You have worked here long?
ATTENDANT: Since our lovely Queen Maria Antonia opened the theatre two years ago.
BEAUMARCHAIS: And before that?
ATTENDANT: “J'étais pauvre, on me méprisait. J'ai montré quelque esprit, la haine est accourue.”

Act III: The Singing Figaro
(The men’s room in the Burgtheater in Vienna, Austria, in 1786.)
MOZART: Really, Francesco, is the Emperor trying to kill me? The piece is struggling with the audience as it is. But to ban encores is beyond the pale.
FRANCESCO: Certainly Luisa and Nancy are ready to walk out on account of this royal outrage. The audience was certainly loud during the first two performances, but they were quite taken by the ladies, and myself I may add, to call for a number of reprises of your glorious music.
MOZART: Makes we wish Da Ponte hadn’t taken out all of Figaro’s ranting at the monarchy. Maybe I could slip some of it back in for tomorrow’s performance.
FRANCESCO: I do hope you are in jest, my dear Wolfgang. I would be condemned and arrested as your accomplice. Please refrain from such idiocy. [Whispering.] Especially in a public place.
MOZART: Yes, of course, I was just joking. I have written some of my best music for this buffa, and we must keep the fire lit under the audience, sate their every desire so they return with friends and the show makes money.
FRANCESCO: It is quite the little masterpiece. The Count asking for forgiveness of his much put upon wife brings tears to my eyes every time. It is your most elevated moment.
MOZART: Thank you my dear Francesco. It is certainly a music that returns the chaos of the world to the balance that all good comedies seek to restore. Unification, balance, the return of love to its rightful place.
FRANCESCO: And yet the play is as much about lust as it is about love.
MOZART: Ah yes, my dear Figaro, the sublime makes them remember. But lust makes them buy tickets.
FRANCESCO: You are rather wise for a spoiled child.

Act IV: Figaro by Metro
(The men’s room in the Rialto Theatre in Montreal in 2013.)
Three large mirrors in a rather ornate washroom. During a break from rehearsal, I am washing my face with cold water. I look into the mirrors. Reflected in the far right mirror stands the image of Jacopo Peri and Ottavio Rinuccini, the Florentine humanists whose work Daphne is considered the first theatrical piece of the genre we call opera. In the mirror on the left I see the reflection of Pierre-Augustine Carron de Beaumarchais, the man who gave us the iconic character of Figaro: the charming and fast-thinking factotum we all want to be. In the center mirror, with water still dripping from my face, I catch the eye of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He turns first to the two Florentines, then to Beaumarchais and finally to me again. He smiles. They all smile. I hear the Count sing his request for forgiveness:“Contessa, perdono! perdono! perdono!. Is it from rehearsal below, or does it come from their smiles? The Count’s melody takes a small leap of a major sixth and slowly descends back down. With her forgiveness, the Countess repeats his melody but briefly sends it upward toward heaven before following suit with downward notes. She is uplifted and forgives. And I am once again reminded why opera is such a unique and marvelous medium. The words inform me. The intentions of the actors reveal the narrative underneath the story. But the music opens up the soul. The soul of its characters. The soul of its creators. The soul of the audience. My soul.

Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro)
Opera buffa by W.A. Mozart in four acts.
Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte (after Beaumarchais).
Sung in Italian with English-French surtitles.
Stage Director: Andrew Cuk
Music Director: Benjamin Kwong
Assistant Music Director: Christopher Hossfeld

February 22 and 23 at 7:30pm, and February 24 at 2:30pm
Billetterie d'Opera da Camera: (514) 560-3482
Billetterie du Théâtre Rialto: (514) 770-7773 ~

Read also: Mezzo-Soprano Kathrin Welte's interview

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