LE NOZZE DI FIGARO is and old friend of mine. I first worked on it more years ago than I care to remember at Glyndebourne and this joint production, shared with the opera companies of Philadelphia, San Diego, and Palm Beach, will be my sixth. It is undoubtedly the greatest operatic comedy and arguably the greatest opera ever written in that it seamlessly interweaves both comedy and something more serious. It combines both the political and the personal as Figaro’s wedding signals the decline of privilege in the eighteenth century.
Mozart, like Figaro, knew what it was like to be a servant as he was considered to be one when he was in the service of Archbishop Colloredo in Salzburg. Like Figaro, he too had to wear servant’s livery. But he is clear-eyed in that he sees that privilege puts the aristocracy at a disadvantage in that they are trapped by the conventions of their own making. After attending an aristocratic wedding in Mannheim in 1776 Mozart writes, ”The nobility must not marry for love or from inclination, but from interest … This is just a money match … We poor humble people are privileged not only to choose a wife who loves us, and whom we love, but we make take such a one because we are neither noble, nor highborn, nor rich, but on the contrary, lowly, humble, and poor … We therefore need no wealthy wife for our riches, being in our hearts, die with us.”
Such sentiments seem to me to be genuinely revolutionary and contemporary. And more importantly human.
I first worked on The Marriage of Figaro forty years ago assisting the British director Sir Peter Hall, who died on September 11th of this year. Peter was a giant of British theatre and opera who founded the Royal Shakespeare Company, guided the National Theatre into its new home on the South Bank in London, served as Head of Production at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and was Artistic Director of Glyndebourne Opera (which is where I worked with him) as well as many opera and theater productions in the United States. I owe him a huge debt, not least for his insights into Mozart. I am grateful to Minnesota Opera for allowing me to dedicate my work on these performances of The Marriage of Figaro to his memory.