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. 🙂
† Thanks Guzman!