By Janice Tieperman
SC Staff Writer
It may have taken place centuries before the current day and age, but on October 16, Professor Eugene Galperin wanted to make sure that everyone knew they were still invited to “Le Nozze di Figaro” — otherwise known as “The Marriage of Figaro.”
This opera, commonly known as one of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s greatest operas, had many other influences and origins that have made it into the current phenomenon it is today.
“I have kids who play with toys. Some of their toys play music, and much of this music is Mozart,” Dr. Galperin began as he delved his audience into the musical culture of Mozart’s time.
We were invited to listen to excerpts of several pieces of music that Mozart composed during his short lifetime, which also coincided with the European Age of Enlightenment and its middle class ascension and enlightened monarchs.
Although this era was apparently defined by “charm and elegance, with good taste and emotional restraint,” many of the pieces Galperin presented were just the opposite.
“Mozart is not really about elegant tunes,” Galperin noted.
This came as a surprise to some, often associating Mozart with fanciful elevator music or the background melody in a doctor’s office.
The reality of the matter was, as Dr. Galperin revealed, that Mozart composed many pieces that went against the grain of the times, a factor many wouldn’t expect to associate with the composer of one of the most well-known comedic operas of all time.
But even if Mozart was a genius, the inspiration for this five-act opera did not reside solely in his cranium; it was actually based on another work entirely.
It was actually Pierre Augustin Covan de Beaumarchais who wrote “The Marriage of Figaro” as a politically motivated play to mock the role of the aristocracy in his society and show that they were, in Dr. Galperin’s words, “pompous and stupid.”
Besides being a great playwright, Beaumarchais also dabbled in watchmaking, inventing, music-making, diplomacy, espionage, and arms dealing during the Revolutionary War for American independence.
Dr. Galperin said it best: “He should be a household name.” Beaumarchais was most definitely on the radar back in his day and age.
While there was much uproar in the upper classes for Beaumarchais’s portrayal of the aristocracy’s uselessness, the play’s overall merit did not go unnoticed.
Georges Danton promoted “The Marriage of Figaro” as “the play that killed off nobility,” while Napoleon Bonaparte regarded it as “the Revolution already put into action.”
“With advertisement like this, we have to take this play seriously,” Dr. Galperin said.
I would have to agree; after all, I am not about to doubt the opinion of a man who conquered almost all of Europe.
Since the original play was so offensive to an important portion of the audience, it took a collaborative effort to make Figaro’s marriage more of a family affair.
With the collaboration of two men’s genius, the play that began as a political statement in a progressive era turned into a musical masterpiece of proportions no generation could possibly imagine.
But there was one question still left unanswered: how did an opera speaking to the social injustices of Europe make its name and popularity in America?
The reason, as Dr. Galperin soon revealed, was because of another “should-be-household name” by the name of Lorenzo da Ponte.
While da Ponte originally lived in Europe, his controversial behavior as a priest in Venice sent him packing his bags to America, where he resided in Elizabeth, New Jersey; Sunbury, PA; and Manhattan, New York.
Luckily for him, being a frequent traveler was not his only gift — he revealed himself to have a knack for literature during his work in a small bookstore.
This gift was so apparent, that he was offered a job to be a professor at Columbia College, which then later presented him with the opportunity to found America’s very first opera house. Essentially, he was the cultural bridge from Europe to America.
“Mozart is not easy listening… it takes full concentration and knowing what it is Mozart is trying to present,” Dr. Galperin said as he concluded his presentation.
And with the professor’s incredible amount of insight to the struggles of the human condition, I can personally say that I see immense amounts of value in this opera that I never would’ve known before.
After the event, the audience spoke about what other new perspectives that Dr. Galperin had revealed in the audience.
“As someone who is practicing bass arias for vocal lessons from this opera, I thought it was good to know the historical significance,” Ely Reyes, another ESU student, commented.
While the most recent presentation of “The Marriage of Figaro” in Cinemark Theater has passed, there is no doubt in my mind that I will be paying extra attention to see when this opera makes its way to a nearby stage or silver screen — and I invite any theatre/opera buff, or even someone who is just looking for a fun night out, to do the same.
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