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Why Figaro needs tradition

The answer is obvious

The family tree in The Marriage of Figaro
The family tree in The Marriage of Figaro

As The Marriage of Figaro comes up soon at San Diego Opera, I thought sharing some of the rules of the Figaro game might be warranted. It’s difficult to enjoy anything when one isn’t aware of the traditions which have developed around that activity.

First of all, the tradition of opera is massive to such an extent that it is unfathomable. Even the most expert of the experts only knows a small fraction of all the elements in opera that exists. Any given opera production is small when compared to the traditions of opera. This is an important consideration. If the tradition is infinitely larger than any individual production does it make sense for a production to have tradition on its side or to oppose tradition?

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I think the answer is obvious. The traditions of opera have evolved over 400 years and have had tens of thousands of brilliant minds involved in that process. A non-traditional approach to a specific opera is usually one or two ideas which were developed by one or two people. The arrogance of a non-traditional opera is staggering.

What is the difference between a traditional and non-traditional approach to opera? It’s primarily about two elements—the vocal qualities of the singers and the elements of the stage production. The stage production is the more obvious of the two.

Non-traditional opera productions play by their own rules and those rules are rarely understood by the audience. One of my favorite opera productions of all time is a non-traditional version of La Traviata which uses a white wall and a large clock as its two main set pieces. I thought the massive clock was an obvious representation of Violetta’s impending doom. However, if an audience member wasn’t familiar with the story then the clock became confusion. I’m basing that on a survey of YouTube comments. That’s shaky ground but the responses tend to be honest.

A traditional opera production doesn’t need to be an exact replica of the original setting. A traditional version of The Marriage of Figaro could be set in any household from the Renaissance to the end of the 19th Century.

If it is produced in a contemporary setting then we start to have problems. First, household servants are rare nowadays. The smartphone would remove almost all of the plot points of mistaken identity. The anachronisms start to stack up fast and can become too much to tolerate. The anachronisms outweigh any benefits of a contemporary setting.

The production at San Diego Opera is a traditional production which has some abstract elements such as a massive family tree which represents the household and its, well, traditions.

The Marriage of Figaro opens Saturday, October 20, at the Civic Theatre.

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The family tree in The Marriage of Figaro
The family tree in The Marriage of Figaro

As The Marriage of Figaro comes up soon at San Diego Opera, I thought sharing some of the rules of the Figaro game might be warranted. It’s difficult to enjoy anything when one isn’t aware of the traditions which have developed around that activity.

First of all, the tradition of opera is massive to such an extent that it is unfathomable. Even the most expert of the experts only knows a small fraction of all the elements in opera that exists. Any given opera production is small when compared to the traditions of opera. This is an important consideration. If the tradition is infinitely larger than any individual production does it make sense for a production to have tradition on its side or to oppose tradition?

Sponsored
Sponsored

I think the answer is obvious. The traditions of opera have evolved over 400 years and have had tens of thousands of brilliant minds involved in that process. A non-traditional approach to a specific opera is usually one or two ideas which were developed by one or two people. The arrogance of a non-traditional opera is staggering.

What is the difference between a traditional and non-traditional approach to opera? It’s primarily about two elements—the vocal qualities of the singers and the elements of the stage production. The stage production is the more obvious of the two.

Non-traditional opera productions play by their own rules and those rules are rarely understood by the audience. One of my favorite opera productions of all time is a non-traditional version of La Traviata which uses a white wall and a large clock as its two main set pieces. I thought the massive clock was an obvious representation of Violetta’s impending doom. However, if an audience member wasn’t familiar with the story then the clock became confusion. I’m basing that on a survey of YouTube comments. That’s shaky ground but the responses tend to be honest.

A traditional opera production doesn’t need to be an exact replica of the original setting. A traditional version of The Marriage of Figaro could be set in any household from the Renaissance to the end of the 19th Century.

If it is produced in a contemporary setting then we start to have problems. First, household servants are rare nowadays. The smartphone would remove almost all of the plot points of mistaken identity. The anachronisms start to stack up fast and can become too much to tolerate. The anachronisms outweigh any benefits of a contemporary setting.

The production at San Diego Opera is a traditional production which has some abstract elements such as a massive family tree which represents the household and its, well, traditions.

The Marriage of Figaro opens Saturday, October 20, at the Civic Theatre.

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