Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Source

It was a beautifully cool morning in NYC, perfect for running errands and crossing things off lists. Today: coffee from Gregory’s, a quiche and some fruit from the farmer’s market on that triangle by Juilliard and Lincoln Center, a book and an orange pocket calendar at Barnes and Noble, and new dishtowels (et al…) from BB&B. On the way home, I stopped in at Kashkaval and picked up my much-missed French Roast beans; I made do with Trader Joe’s over the summer, but I’m so happy to have that little brown bag on my counter once more!

The book I picked up at B&N? The source material for The Marriage of Figaro: a play, by the same name, written by Beaumarchais in 1778. (The prequel, The Barber of Seville, was premiered in 1775.) The play was banned by the monarchy because of it’s unfavorable view of said same, and so it wasn’t premiered until 1784; Mozart’s opera came along just two years later.

I am only through Act I, but I am already amazed at how literally Da Ponte translated the play into the libretto from the opera! Some of these lines are direct quotes, many of them. What I’m reading is an English translation of the original French, and these English lines match up word for word with many of my Italian into English lines. It’s fascinating to imagine Da Ponte reading this play, translating it, cutting and pasting a bit, and then handing it to Mozart. I guess that process hasn’t change much over the centuries, huh?

Here’s what I’ve learned from the source so far:

• Barbarina’s name was originally Fanchette, and she’s described by Beaumarchais as “a young girl about 12 years old (!) and very naïve.” Hmm. I don’t think Mozart and Da Ponte chose to go with that. She may be young (I’m thinking 15?), but she’s far from naïve in the opera! Although… hmm… something to play with, to think about. I’ll have to wait to really form an opinion until I actually get to her part in the play! (Side note: Anna Gottlieb was 12 when she premiered Barbarina (!), and she was 17 when she sang the first Pamina.)
• Susanna is often called “Suzie!” Love it.
• Beaumarchais describes Susanna thusly: “she is a resourceful, intelligent, and lively young woman, but she has none of the almost brazen gaiety characteristic of some of our young actresses who play maidservants.” So, in other words, she’s not “cute.” Thank god. (This is obvious from Mozart’s writing, too.)
• The romantic banter between Figaro and Susanna in the opening scene is so charming I almost couldn’t stand it!
• Figaro on Susanna: “Dear charming girl! For ever laughing, blooming, full of gaiety and wit, loving and wholly delightful! And yet prudent.”

As I read the rest of the play, I will continue to take notes like this. Mrs. Stettler, my much-referenced jr. high drama teacher, taught us to be aware of things that were said about our characters, especially when he or she isn’t around. The combination of how the character presents herself and how she is perceived by others help to build a more complete characterization than just her words alone.

More on this as I read. I’m also planning to spell out my method (thus far) for getting into the language. Stay tuned…

5 comments:

TripleGrandeBreveCappuccino said...

Fascinating. Cudos to you for doing such thorough research. This is how an artist really should prepare his/her work.

On the side note, miss you lots!

Tom said...

You should go visit Da Ponte's grave in Queens sometime. It's surprisingly un-remarkable as celebrity gravesites go, but still kind of surreal to be near his bones in such an unlikely place.

Anonymous said...

I recommend the Figaro chapter (actually the whole book is wonderful) in Anthony Holden's recent biography of Da Ponte, "The Man Who Wrote Mozart." There are some interesting insights into the opera, and Barbarina in particular.

ACB said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Anon. I looked up the book at the library, and they don't have it. Is it a new book? I'll check at the bookstore, too. Sounds like a great read...

Anonymous said...

Yes, it's relatively new; Amazon has it. Hope you find it interesting--I loved it. Thanks for sharing your insights on role preparation!

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