Shifting away from gently ironic discussions of deliberate political amnesia, today I celebrate something apparently quite the opposite — intercultural connectedness.

This evening I was taken by some wonderful friends to see “The Marriage of Figaro”. It is one of my favorite operas, and this was a lovely production all around. As I sat there in the Stuttgart opera house, letting the sheer joy and intricate brilliance of Mozart’s music wash over me, it occurred to me that here was true cultural cross-pollination at work. I, an American, was in a German opera house, listening to music composed by an Austrian, set to a libretto written in Italian, adapted from a French play. There is something immensely satisfying about so many cultures meshing together to create such a perfect experience.

Ironically, “The Marriage of Figaro” is in its way actually an act of deliberate political amnesia. Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto was an adaptation of a highly political play by Beaumarchais which was essentially an incisive indictment of the nobility. The original play was at first banned by King Louis XVI, although it was finally shown, to universal acclaim, after Marie-Antoinette championed it. Little did the arts-loving queen suspect that only a few years later criticism of the nobility in France would become considerably more, ah, incisive.

Mozart and Da Ponte knew that the odds of getting an opera on such a delicate subject approved (and paid for) by Emperor Joseph II of Austria was just about nil. So Da Ponte converted all of the speeches criticizing royalty into arias that complain about fickle lovers. The result certainly stands on its own terms, but Beaumarchais, being french, might very well have cried Mayday. πŸ™‚

† Thanks Guzman!

7 thoughts on “Mayday”

  1. just to point out a little typo,
    I think
    “adopted from a French play”
    should be
    “adapted from a French play”

  2. Actually, it turns out that one french play begat another, littler french play. Said theatrical offshoot originated in a dramatically carnal act, which was performed out of wedlock, and discreetly enacted offstage. The resulting tragicomic progeny was raised from a small one act, nurtured since it was an adorable little playlet, and finally emerged, some years later, as a full blown presentation in its own right.

    The bastard play wandered aimlessly in the desert of literary rejection, until at last it found its proper home in an old abandoned theatre in the heart of Paris. I would be happy to enact for you this stirring drama, should you be so interested. It is, to tell the truth, adopted from a French play.

  3. Oh no, on the contrary. It was indeed a typo, and thanks very much for finding it! Very much appreciated. In my response I was just playing around — I was curious to see what it would be like if I’d actually meant it that way. And as I should have said in my previous comment: πŸ™‚

    I’ve updated the post and credited you with the fix.

  4. Now I understand,
    my english is not so perfect
    and I didnt get the irony and some ancient words …


  5. This is not related to the post but I think you might be interested.
    I teach math in Italy in Junior High School (11-13 years old students)
    and let the kids use Google Sketchup one hour a week.

    This year they worked really well and produced really interesting stuff …
    What I want to point you out is our last video:

    Troy War – Junior High School Poliziano

    All models were made by the students
    and the video editing was made by me.


    Sorry for the off topic comment
    but since you’re interested in teaching possibilities …
    (Next year I’m also planning to let them use javascript.
    I think it could be interesting.)


  6. That is very interesting!!! I love what the students created. I’ll try to circle back to discussing this at some point soon. Thanks!!!

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