Wednesday, October 04, 2006
un spatulo? un spatule. (italian subject to restrictions of spelling, also idiocy)
it's not necessarily my right (cuz i don't believe in 'em), but it's certainly my perogative to speak, and not just to my mom in the car, so here goes:
you know what pisses me off? people who assume that because an opera's libretto doesn't transcribe word for word from its source material, it sucks. i'm talking specifically about marriage of figaro and carmen, because i know them. carmen i know for facts; marriage i know from half-reconstituted memories. carmen's libretto is taken from the merimee. it adds to the merimee a bunch of plot--and takes away some other plot/narrative devices, such as the narrator himself as well as the entire third part of the story--and micaela. micaela was added to suit the suits at the opera comique. she was supposed to be an example of a good girl in the face of all that carmeny badness. that this is an aspect of her history there is no denying, and frankly no need to deny. because, in the manner that merimee takes the narrative structure of a travel history and subverts it to serve his purposes in the short story "carmen," meilhac 'n' halevy (the librettists), in conjunction with bizet, take micaela and subvert her "purpose" to suit their own conception of their piece--or so it appears to the viewer (which came first? the conception or the subversion? and why should it matter?). micaela isn't some farm girl who can't hit the barn-side of a broadosaur; she's both verbally and musically very articulate and extremely self-determined. there are a few examples i could give of this but they wouldn't make much sense without half an hour, a recording, and prof. leicester actually on hand to get you through the parts i fuck up. in short, just because the opera carmen is in part a product of the blunting, modifying, and anti-revolutionizing forces of commerce and the people who make it happen in no way is mutually exclusive of the fact that it's also just as subversive, intelligent, and self-aware as the short story.
in marriage, and keep in mind i'm on less fresh ground here, i'm going on the same premise that was established in carmen class: that just because something's different doesn't make it worse, even if the thing it's based on is a masterpiece in its own right. like i get that people would be angry about any changes to the beaumarchais script, simply because it's so freaking wonderful. truly i do. but, the places of most difference between the play and the opera being in the foci of figaro's speeches (trimmed down, not only for effectualness, but for political considerations) and in the character of the countess as expressed through her relationships with the count and cherubino, i feel that it's possible for both original script and revised libretto/music to be equally brilliant. for instance, in opera-figaro's aria in the final act, the name of which i don't remember, wherein he's singing play-figaro's speech from the final act, the one culled practically directly from beaumarchais' mouth, except without all the politics, personal anecdotes, and, you know, approximately 5/6ths of the words, what da ponte does is focus on the portion of the speech in which figaro's basically all, "women are disgusting, lascivious, and cruel--"words culled, in a character who's continually not only representing but questioning his representation of himself and others, from a tradition that he has not thus far plumbed--in extent, showing to what (verbal, lack of verbal) place of utter destruction his belief in suzanne's infidelity has brought him (but that's an argument for another place). so it's easy, because the other, more overtly political stuff is cut, to say, hell, da ponte sold out for a quick fix to his subject. but why bother saying it, when the aria speaks for itself? there is just as much energy, intelligence, and despair in the opera's figaro at that point of the opera as there is in the play's figaro at that point in the play. figaro in singing becomes a conduit, not of something so outrageously, overtly, marvellously political as figaro in speaking--but the music speaks for itself, outrageous, overt...
a better example (one that i can support better): "sull'aria," the famously beautiful duet in which a lady and her maid sing about completely subverting class structures and male hegemony by literally becoming each other. you could argue that the music is so beautiful because the countess elevates the subject material onto this higher plane of beauty and refinement, but actually it's the subject matter that's being "elevated" by the music, that is to say, refined, made into crystal, localized, given every advantage of gorgeousness. mozart doesn't just let the moment drop, but instead turns it into one of the most lovely moments in all of opera, and most certainly in all of nozze. it's like putting a flashing neon sign above an eatery: what in the play is disseminated, wide-ranging and with all kinds of forking implications explored, that is the interactions between the lady and her maid, in the opera is gathered into one moment of music so lovely that one can't help but stop and take notice. i think this is what i mean: the energy of the play is present. it's changed in certain of its shapes; it's polished and roughened, but it's just of no use to tell me that because figaro's incandescent and wide-flung energies are focused onto the romantical portion of the plot, or that because the countess's intentions are deliberately brought out of the grey with regard to cherubino, the opera is less brilliant, wields less force, has less in its sights and scope, than the play does.
and for anyone who thinks "obviously" that beaumarchais rings chauvenist in today's world because of the summation remarks of his characters at the end of his play should just take a crash-course in rethinking obvious stuff. no matter what his characters say, no matter what even he himself may have intended, beaumarchais is above all a shifter, a worker, a trick who moves between interpretations and verbalizations, paying all but staying with none...even when he wants to. that, by the way, is why i think that the part when he calles women traitorous whores and whatnot is indicative of many things, but most of all of his despair: i read it in an article, i think, that figaro identifies with women because he himself is in such a circumscribed role--all the advantages ever except for that of birth, and that one biological fact holding him back again and again, not to mention other facts of a superstructure so impressive as to be read, in his ever self-conscious mind, as something very closely akin to biological--hence his descent into an albeit figaro-articulate condemnation of women as opaque sluts is, for him, a crashing to the bottom of some barrel of signification. he isn't lost for words, but lost for perspectives--he has run headlong into a situation he can't master, can't understand...which for him is unprecedented. it's like him crying in the court scene. which is like elvis crying in the chapel.
must...go...bed... (picture's like cherubino, get it?...)
Posted by sra at 10:42 PM