By James Foritano
In Boston’s venerable John Hancock Hall, a few steps down Berkeley Street and just off Copley Square, our own Boston Lyric Opera roars into town with an enduring classic, a smoking hot bedroom comedy that offended one emperor, Joseph 2nd of the Hapsburg Empire, and King Louis XVI. Threats of censorship loomed, then dissipated.
It was 1780, the height of the Age of Enlightenment, when the light of reason shone everywhere, especially bedrooms. So perhaps these two royal heavyweights second guessed themselves, deciding: Better bedrooms than halls of state! Besides, their own aristocracies were revolting, in both senses.
Firstly, this was the way the aristocracy behaved offstage, all the time. And they wanted to see themselves as much as their underlings wanted to see what they were mostly missing. And who better to portray deliciously ‘bad’ behavior than those two aristocrats of the stage and orchestra pit, Mozart and his unparalleled librettist, Lorenzo DaPonte.
Vienna’s Burgtheater rocked with elevated high jinks. And that was just the beginning, as this timeless exposure of ‘what people are really like’ swept away privileged dynasties and swept in shameless democracies.
It all takes place in one madcap day, quite a complicated tale of deceit and counter-deceit compressed to the point that it exercises your wits and your Italian. You do have Italian, don’t you?
Well, never mind. Mozart can whistle up a tune for every mood — so listen! And DaPonte, though deliciously literate in his native language, has the visual imagination of the very best librettists, so look! In the very first scene, both of these bad boys are signaling the multiple themes that will resonate throughout the play and down through the ages.
Susanna, his intended, is not so interested in the “bigger is better” dimensions of their new bedroom and bed, but in the subtler qualities of her nubile self about to be fitted into a delicate wedding gown and a lasting marriage. She wants, no, she needs Figaro to train his eye on her, and not solely on the new domain that their lord and, not incidentally, landlord, has, out of the kindness (HA!) of his heart gifted them.
But Figaro, being a man, and a land-poor man at that, is thinking all about the size of his new territory and not of the strings, strings the size of ropes, attached to it. Even, Susanna, as subtle and prepared as she is to defend her right and the rights of women in general to life, love and marriage, cannot guess the boiling intrigue that this one event will let loose in the multifarious staff of the count’s castle.
It’s suddenly as if every man and woman of every age and rank, from page to gardener, to doctor to lawyer want all the rights and privileges this new age promises — with or without enlightenment! “This day was full of painful deceit,” sums up one exhausted player at day’s end.
It’s suddenly as if every man and woman of every age and rank, from page to gardener, to doctor to lawyer want all the rights and privileges this new age promises — with or without enlightenment! Fortunately for us, the music, voices and acting are, throughout the mayhem, entrancing and informative. Especially informative if, in good enlightenment fashion, we’ve helped ourselves to a blow by blow understanding of the plot, beforehand. And maybe even brushed up our Italian?
(The Boston Lyric Opera’s presentation of “The Marriage of Figaro” continues through May 7 at the John Hancock Hall, 180 Berkeley St., Boston, Mass. Shows take place on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. For tickets, call (617) 542-6772 or visit blo.org/tickets).