Le Nozze de Figaro

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I like Opera. I like it very much indeed and, perhaps as a result, I am not an "Opera Snob." I can't tell you the names of all the great divas on the last fifty years. I can't compare the performances of Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi. I probably couldn't even tell you the range of voice in which various parts are sung. I know that I can't articulate the difference between the various types of Soprano (a defect I shall set out to remedy upon completing this entry).

As a result, I am in a wonderful place to enjoy Opera when it is available--performed capably by Amateurs or professionals.

Friday evening we bundled the family into the car and headed downtown (if Orlando can truly be said to have a "Downtown"--in this respect it is much like a former home--Columbus, Ohio) to see Le Nozze de Figaro, perhaps the best-loved of the Mozart operas, and one of the all-time great comic operas.

When we arrived at the place where the presentation was to occurs, I was taken aback. The building was small, dingy, showing typical Florida wear-and-tear. The parking lot very limited and due to road construction no real alternative anywhere.

Upon entering the building nothing of my first impression was changed. This was a building perfectly suited to the offices of the local gendarmerie. Indeed more institutional and less cultural a center would be difficult to find anywhere. In my mind this did not bode well for the performance.

Then there were the programs that announced that tonight's performance in this more "intimate" setting would be sung by the "second-string" singers. Now, the Orlando Opera Company is not what one would call a world-class performing company to start with. Imagine my chagrin at thinking that we would be hearing from the singers-in-training for this company! Well, actually there was more chagrin with where we were than with who would be singing. I've heard very nice productions indeed from College troupes--so I had no doubt that this group, which consisted of people who hoped to make a living with their voices, could be very good indeed--even if they had the inauspicious name of the "Lockheed-Martin Troupe."

If that were not enough in itself, the entrance to the "theatre" was enough to send even the most sanguine of people into fits. We were ushered into a small room sectioned off from the surrounding cinder-block with black curtains suspended from rings on an aluminum runner. The seating area was perfectly flat and filled in the front with "reserved" seating chairs that looked like inexpensive additional seating for a boardroom. The rear consisted of plastic lawn-chairs with tissue-thin cushion set in them. Overall, the layout reminded me of the cafeteria/auditorium I had in elementary school, where everyone sat at the same level and looked up at a very small stage.

The stage was indeed, quite small. But Figaro is a "bedroom" opera requiring no large sets or stage. It can be performed to perfection (as I was to find out) in even the most inauspicious of locations.

Taking our seats, we awaited with something approaching dread, and with a lot of complaining from all around, the commencement of the opera. The "Orchestra" (of perhaps seven people) walked into the theatre and to the pit via a side aisle. The Opera was about to begin.

All the build-up and dread vanished within a minute as a superb baritone started up the opera by measuring the floor of the bedroom for the bed that the Count had given the couple to be married as a wedding gift. Surprise piled upon surprise as each of the performers both sang and acted their parts beautifully.

Le Nozze de Figaro is really an ensemble opera. That is, there are four parts of about equal importance as the opera plays out. Each of these four parts was sung very, very well. Despite this, a couple behind us, who, we had been informed, "had seen performances at La Scala" walked out at intermission. They hadn't time for these amatuerish performances. And that is really a pity for them because they missed out on some real joy to be derived from people who were really enjoying what they were doing, doing particularly well.

After the opera the cast lined up outside in a kind of receiving line, another real pleasure and joy because we were able to express our thanks and appreciation to each person individually. The person who played Figaro commented to Samuel that he had not been able to attend an opera until he was in college. I think everyone was surprised that there could have been a child so young who behaved so well through the entire performance. And Samuel was very well behaved.

Any way, what started as a dismal, disheartening evening turned out to be a gem of a show, one highly memorable for the quality of its singing and for the opportunity to meet the cast. I could only wish for more such opportunity and for a larger, more appreciative audience for opera as a whole.

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Thank you for your enjoyable description of an event that would not have been attractive to me. But, given the unexpected placement of the surrounding circumstances, as you described them, it was just perfectly priceless. And vicariously entertaining.......

Before I launch into the meat of this post, I'd like to thank you for your wonderful Lenten devotional posts, which I haven't commented on but have read. Wonderful stuff, particularly since I've been having an interesting (in the "may you live in interesting times" sense) Lent.

And now, on with the opera. :)

Hmm...from your description it sounds like they omitted the overture. Did they? (And you'll need more than seven people to pull the score off, but that's me being a nit-picker.) Figaro's part is for a baritone rather than a tenor, but a tenor with a solid low range can pull it off in a pinch. I'm not really surprsied about the snobs that have been to La Scala, and while I am in favor of the professional touch myself I suspect I would have enjoyed this performance just as you did.

I started to mentally quibble with your description of Figaro as a "bedroom" opera, but changed my mind, because the adjective captures perhaps the most important feature of the action: it's horribly cramped. Figaro and Susanna have an improvised bedroom (probably fashioned out of a hallway) that gives them a little space and no privacy; people are being locked in closets; pairs of lovers are trying to keep assignations in the exact same spot of the Count's garden.

If I had to pick a favorite part of the opera, it would be the Act 4 finale, from the point where Susanna starts beating up on Figaro all the way to the end. There is as much variety and drama in these few minutes as there is in the entire Act 2 finale (which I also dearly love), but it is far more subtly conceived. Notice, too, how the Count has changed: in Act 2 he asks the Countess to forgive him when Susanna is discovered in the closet, but it's a throwaway passage in the midst of some fast music, and having asked for pardon he immediately returns to the attack: "Ma far burla simile e poi crudelta." At the end of Act 4 all his schemes have gone awry, he has no ammunition left, and he sees what an ass he has been. All he can do is ask for pardon simpliciter, and the nobility of the associated music at least holds out a hope for the reform of his character.

Hee! Maybe we should start the Society for Amateur Opera Fans.

Dear Klaus,

Actually they did do the overture, and it was in fact, extremely well done. I don't know if it was rearranged for the small ensemble or how they pulled it off, but it worked. Perhaps it was the cramped environment of the theatre itself.

Of course Figaro is a baritone. I don't know why I thought/wrote tenor. Oh well, a slip of the fingers.

I agree with your overall analysis, and as a result of this compression of scenery, it worked very well in the small environment--although I must say that such an environment was not condusive to audience enjoyment of the opera.

Thanks for you comments.


Perhaps we should! It is good to encourage interest in the arts, and particularly in this art, which seems to me precariously endangered, trapped in the rising tide of indifference to heritage and classical works. Professional is better, but often you need the minor leagues to launch a major star.

Thanks for writing.



Dear Klaus,

I realize why I had written tenor. I have so engrained in me the traditional association of baritone/bass male voice= villain in Dramatic Opera. I know, it doesn't happen all the time, but often enough. Obviously the "rules" in comic opera are different.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on March 29, 2006 9:41 AM.

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