Last night I went to The Marriage of Figaro.
I used not to like Mozart. The result of spending my early years listening to Prokofiev and Ravel and Kodály and Fats Waller (thank you, Mother) and, from the age of six, the Beatles. Anything pre-Brahms didn’t do it for me, the harmonic language too conservative. It took me a long time to care about Bach, and even longer to care about Mozart. Now, to my surprise, I particularly love the music I was least interested in then — the piano and violin concertos for instance — though there are still blind spots.
Figaro‘s a great masterpiece, isn’t it, musically and dramatically. Mozart and Da Ponte knew what they were doing. You laugh and you smile and depending on what kind of person you are some lachrymal fluid may come out. (Music and books don’t generally make me cry; films increasingly do. More on that later, perhaps.)
And yet, in spite of my enjoying it, at times immensely so, I kept thinking of Richard Strauss for some reason. Thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if this was Salome instead. There’d be more harmonic interest, and a severed head at the end, and I’d be home by now because it’s much shorter. The second I got out I had to put on Rosenkavalier to recover.
The thing about Mozart is he’s a genius but he does write exactly the kind of music you’d expect him to have written if he’d been alive in Mozart’s time. I have fantasies of going back and exposing him to more recent stuff, starting with Schubert and moving forward through Chopin and Brahms and Wagner and Ravel and Poulenc and Stravinsky and Charlie Parker — and of course he’d get it because he’s Mozart. His face would light up like Beethoven’s when he hears that keyboard demo in the mall in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. He might even see the point of Schoenberg.
I don’t have a list of favourite opera characters, because why would you? but isn’t Cherubino lovely, juvenile sex pest though he be. Perhaps I just have a thing for trouser roles. This article by the estimable Alice Coote is one of the most interesting things I’ve read on the subject. It’s a shame that the tradition seems to have died out. Which operatic characters, post-1900 are played against gender? Octavian in Rosenkavalier is the only one I can think of (possibly why Strauss was on my mind, Octavian and Cherubino having so much in common). Thomas Adès’s Ariel is sung by a coloratura soprano, but perhaps the character is meant to be genderless, I can’t recall. These are idle thoughts. I had a nice time, anyway.