If you haven’t yet attended one of FGO’s SongFests, it’s time to remedy that! Lasting between 75-90 minutes, SongFest isn’t your grandma’s park-and-bark formal concert. The Florida Grand Opera Studio Artists present a fully staged concert of carefully curated favorites and surprises, all based on a unique theme. It makes for a great introduction to opera, a lovely date night, and an inspiring and entertaining afternoon for aficionados.
This week, FGO presents FROM THE PAGE TO THE STAGE: GREAT LITERARY WORKS REIMAGINED ON THE OPERATIC STAGE. Let’s take a look at the source material for some of the works you’ll be hearing.
THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO/LE MARIAGE DE FIGARO
The Marriage of Figaro is part of a trilogy by the French playwright Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (who was also a musician, watchmaker, diplomat, spy, inventor, and supporter of the American revolution and among many other things). All three plays in his Figaro triology have been realized as operas, most famously The Barber of Seville (Rossini), The Marriage of Figaro (Mozart), but also the lesser-known final chapter, The Guilty Mother (Poulenc). The Marriage of Figaro was the first to be set, and encountered many difficulties with censors because it mocked the aristocracy and denounced its privileges (Marie Antoinette liked it, but King Louis XIV was firm about banning it). In retrospect, it can be viewed as a foreshadowing of the French Revolution. After Beaumarchais moved the original French setting to Spain and made some revisions to the text, Louis XIV finally approved its presentation, although the censors still refused. Fun fact: the play’s opening ran for 68 straight performances with the highest box office receipts of any other 18th– century French play, and Benjamin Franklin attended one of the early performances.
In 1830, the French playwright, archeologist, historian, and translator Prosper Mérimée visited Spain, where he heard about a man who had murdered his mistress. This story, combined with his interest in the Romani people, inspired him to write the novella Carmen. It was published first in a periodical, in incomplete form, and later as a book. The plot is narrated by the author who meets its characters at various stages of the story as it unfolds. Carmen is married, and Jose is an ex-dragoon turned notorious bandit who kills him so they can be together. Like Bizet’s opera, the novella was not a great success during its author’s lifetime, but it gained great popularity once the opera became famous and remains Mérimée’s best-known work.
LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR/THE BRIDE OF LAMMERMOOR
Scottish Baronet and writer Sir Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor based his tragic love story on a historical incident between two Scottish families. Young Janet Dalyrimple and Archibald, the third Lord Rutherford, had a secret betrothal, but her parents disapproved of his politics and insisted on a marriage with a more suitable prospect. On the wedding night, screams were heard from the marital bedroom. The groom had been stabbed repeatedly and the bride, apparently insane, was found trembling in a corner, dressed in a bloody shift. Unlike in the novel and Lucia di Lammermoor, the opera it inspired, the bridegroom survived. The heroine, however, like her operatic counterpart, soon dies. Scott followed the original story pretty faithfully, albeit with a few gothic embellishments (such as the hero perishing in a patch of quicksand). However, the operatic plot differs significantly, with Lucia’s brother taking the role of the villain in place of Lucy’s mother in the novel, and many fewer characters.
If you enjoy a little bit of history, context, and gossip from back in the day along with your music, you’ll get all that and more with From the Page to the Stage. Tickets are just $15, free to donors and subscribers, and must be reserved at fgo.org.