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Friday, September 05, 2008

THE COUNTESS'S UNDERGARMENTS

Recently I read of a European based production of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro".
In Act II the director has Cherubino, the lovesick page boy, sniff a pair of Countess Almaviva's underpants. I wish I could say this kind of nonsense was new, but it's old, its real old, and it's getting older.

First problem: There is no music in this opera that would support such a vulgar and ridiculous gesture

Second problem: As titillating as it might be, and as voyeuristic as we all may be, it remains a gross thing to do and makes the audience uncomfortable.

Third and fatal problem: It robs the Countess of her dignity. Cherubino could almost be forgiven or understood, since he's meant to be a horny page boy where hormones overtake decency.

But the point of this mini-rant: every character on the stage is entitled to their dignity. Even the evil ones: Klytamnestra is still the Queen of Mycanae, not a ruined harridan who wants to kill her children (she wants to avenge the daughter her husband killed)
Baron Ochs is supposed to have horseshit stuck to his boots, but he is still a
nobleman. He's capable of all the dainty gestures expected of a man of his class in 1750's Vienna. Bardolfo and Pistola, Sir John Falstaff's slimy servants, refuse to insult a lady, but would probably filch her purse behind her back.

Just as in music every note has the right to live, so every character's self worth and self understanding,-- place!-must be understood by the audience. Every thief has his dignity. So does every monarch, priestess, soldier and serving girl.
Otherwise nobody would be moved when they go to the opera. It would just be noise.

So look, sniff the underpants in private, okay? Leave poor Mozart and his audiences alone....

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