Well, as many of you know, my explanation of the plots of opera at my events is strictly my own ‘reduced opera version’.
To be honest, I just love the plots of operas and it really helps me understand why people today still love story lines the likes you can find in ‘Coronation Street’ and the ‘Young and the Restless’ (for those State/Canada side).
Let me give you an example: the Marriage of Figaro well, let’s just look at the 1st Act – Figaro starts off measuring a room, that his master has given to him and his fiancée, Susannah, and during this interchange he’s going on about how wonderful the room is and she is trying to tell him that it’s not so great as he thinks – ‘everything comes at a price.’
In other words, the Count, who is ‘giving’ them this special room in the estate, next to the Count’s bedroom; isn’t because the Count is so generous and thoughtful nor wanting Figaro at his side, but so Susannah, being the clever little creature she is, can be close, so that the Count can have easy access to Susannah for those times that he sends Figaro on an ‘errand’ and then has free and easy access to Susannah.
By the end of this scene, she finally gets through to Figaro, but ladies, you know what it’s like to get through to them sometimes, especially in the early days of a relationship, when it seems to matter more that you don’t argue too much, but keep it all bliss and happiness. It can take a bit.
What I have described above is a bit of the façade of what happens with Opera, it’s busy, it’s full of all these little plots. For the tale above I have only introduced 3 of the 11 characters which are involved in this plot, so that will give you an idea of what is to follow of the many plot lines which can come up in an opera of anywhere from 2 to 3 hours.
Where I want to encourage you to look is not at this façade of complication, but let’s just dig out the ‘wisdom’ that Mozart is really pointing to; at this time in history, servants were seen, but not heard – like that old Victorian ideal of children.
Mozart was the 1st to show what really happens when you scratch the surface a little to see what was really going on behind closed doors and rub it in the noses of the wealthy. Plus, and because she is a woman in the 17th century who has fallen in love with a flawed, but delightful man, who can’t see the reality of his employers desire to gain access to his soon to be wife. In the end, Susannah has sussed this out, manages to break the news to Figaro, but as the story goes on, she then manages to save her reputation, as the Count tries to renew an old right of gaining access to the Bride on her wedding night before the groom – not going to go too much into this plot line, but suffice it to say, it’s a nice little twist, she then manages to outwit the rest of the characters, the other 10, to make an ‘All’s Well that Ends Well’.
So here we are in the 18th century, a man is writing, what today would be the equivalent of a TV soap, as that is how popular opera was at the time, and he is telling everyone that a young female servant is smarter than all the wealthy people around her, the men and even the older characters, which should have so much more wisdom than her.
So what would be the equivalent today? A modern story in a soap might be, the council estate waitress, who is about to marry her, council estate boyfriend, but the owner of the chippie they work at has offered them free accommodation in the flat and/or house which is attached to said owner’s home/restaurant and only because he thinks he has a right to black mailing the young lady into having sex with him, as otherwise he’ll kick them both out and they will not find another job in their town. Oh, almost forgot, she can’t tell her husband as the results will still be the same. I suppose in today’s world she may even be pregnant, but by the end of the TV soap story line, not only has she kept her job, but she has outwitted the evil owner and managed to keep her job, get the wife of said employer to help her to catch her owner husband out and keep the nasty older couple from marrying the younger couple themselves – can’t tell all about the older couples plot line as it would take too long. Anyway, as you can see, in TV soaps this would happen over weeks, but Mozart manages this feat in a matter of hours and the audience actually understands and has a great laugh along the way.
I guess sometimes I fear that opera is seen as this thing for only the educated, but I think they are wrong, it’s just an earlier form of TV soap operas, so if you love the later, you will love the former. I just find that understanding a bit more of the history just helps bring out the wisdom and genius of Mozart, but you don’t need that to enjoy this very fun piece, with some tunes I am sure you have heard in a commercial or movie at some point in your life.
You see this classical stuff is being played all around us all the time, we just don’t realise it. The people who do know how timeless this art form is do know and use it to their advantage, in my case, it’s to sing at restaurants and do my best to bring it back to the people and pull it down off the top shelf of stuffiness.
Really, the best thing to get to know Mozart’s characters today, would be to dig out that old film, Amadeus, which I’m sure the history buffs will pull their noses up at, but while it may not always be historically correct, it does capture the personality of Mozart and he was anything, but a stuffy shirt – he really was a fun, loving guy, with an extraordinary talent.
So, my only thing against Mozart when it comes to naming this piece is he wasn’t able to go the full distance and actually call it, for me, what it needed to be called, which is the Marriage of Susannah, as this piece really does show how women, as the clever creatures we truly are!
Have you ever been to an opera? Has this article encouraged you to go or not? Why?