SFOpera - The Marriage of Figaro - Director’s Note

The Marriage of Figaro - Director’s Note

The narrative structure of beginning, middle, and end is as old as storytelling itself. Human beings have always loved tales that establish a situation, develop it with conflicts and complications, then resolve it for better or worse. The three operas of W. A. Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte are complex, profound, and intensely personal. They align with this structure in a way that is not only entertaining but illuminating. 

We yearn for personal fulfilment, and at the same time strive to connect and collaborate with our fellow human beings. Sometimes this duality is in perfect harmony, at other times it is in direct conflict. Where better to set intimate, personal entanglements than a household, and where better to examine the struggle of public responsibility versus private fulfilment than the great social experiment that is The United States of America? Imagine a great house that is built just after a revolution, finds its feet just as a society’s grounds are shifting, and then falls into ruin, serving as a refuge for the survivors of a bleak and uncertain future.

Imagine, too, that within the walls of this place are hopeful, passionate, desperate, and determined people, young and old. They love, they hurt, and they persist. This illustrates perfectly the push and pull of human life. We strive to live freely for ourselves while giving to, and taking from, others with whom we share this journey.

This, then, is the Great American House of Mozart and Da Ponte. We will present these three masterworks as paragons of this narrative arc, a trilogy as epic in scope as the entirety of America and as deeply personal as the hopes and desires of every individual within it. We begin with The Marriage of Figaro, which is all about new beginnings, hope and possibility. The time period is its original one, the late 18th century. The location is unspecific, somewhere near the heart of a brand-new America. This is a post-revolutionary time and place, a world of vast possibility for some, but great resentment and resistance for others. It is a house and a nation under construction, representing a hopeful future in which people strive to express their individual freedom within a framework of responsibility to each other.

A house is a place for people to live, and this house is one where modes of living themselves are also under construction. These are all new Americans (as is virtually every American citizen, at one point or another) and they are gathered in this new space, in this new society, to figure out how to co-exist for better or for worse. Some, like Susanna and Figaro, are determined to carve out a fresh identity, to use this emerging culture to establish new customs and go forward into a bright and boundless future. Others like Almaviva and Bartolo want nothing more than to cling to the status quo, to resist change and retain all the privileges of their old positions. Still others, like the Countess Rosina and, indeed, so many of us, are deeply conflicted, torn between a wish for a more hopeful, progressive world and a nostalgia for a bygone era that seems—through the gauze of memory—to have been a simpler, better time.

In the building of any great enterprise, like the creation of a magnificent estate, or the establishment of a boldly ambitious nation, or even the outset of a marriage between two soulmates, mistakes and missteps will be made. People can be hurt, dreams quashed, and treasured ways of life altered forever. But that’s the price of progress, for every human heart as well as our collective soul. We win some, and we learn some.

If you listen to Mozart and Da Ponte, you will learn a lot.

The More Things Change: Making Figaro’s Meaning