Who’d have thought that modern American audiences would go to musicals starring men in tights and wigs singing about the trials and tribulations of our Founding Fathers? And yet, fans of the musicals 1776 and more recently HAMILTON are quite comfortable with 18th century figures and issues which still impact us today. And remember in HAMILTON we are told : “Ev’ryone give it up for America’s favorite fighting Frenchman! … Lafayette!” So it shouldn’t be too much of a leap to enjoy three operas in a row, July 25, 26, and 27 at the Chautauqua Institution, all based on plays by another hero of both the American and French revolution. Everybody give it up for Beaumarchais!
Pierre Beaumarchais? That’s right. He was a real covert operative back in the day. You can look him up on Wikipedia: “An early French supporter of American independence, Beaumarchais lobbied the French government on behalf of the American rebels during the American War of Independence. Beaumarchais oversaw covert aid from the French and Spanish governments to supply arms and financial assistance to the rebels in the years before France’s formal entry into the war in 1778. He later struggled to recover money he had personally invested in the scheme. Beaumarchais was also a participant in the early stages of the French Revolution. He is probably best known, however, for his theatrical works, especially the three Figaro plays.”
As explained by Chautauqua Opera’s General & Artistic Director, Steve Osgood, those three Figaro plays are the basis of the big “Opera Trilogy” weekend, July 25, 26, 27. It starts with Rossini’s opera THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, then Mozart’s THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO in a new version as ¡Figaro! (90210), and ends with THE GHOSTS OF VERSAILLES, based on a play called THE GUILTY WIFE. According to Osgood, that third play was Beaumarchais’ attempt to settle some personal scores, and so that plot doesn’t really work. But what librettist William Hoffman and composer John Corigliano did was frame that play inside of another plot – an attempt by the ghost of Marie Antoinette to get the ghost of Beaumarchais to re-create his wily and clever character Figaro to get her out of a jam. It was a major commission by the Metropolitan Opera for their 100th anniversary in 1980 and was, and is, kind of a big deal.
The Chautauqua Opera Company used to put on one opera, then rehearse, then put on another. But recognizing that other music festivals such as Glimmerglass (in Cooperstown, NY) put on operas in repertory, so that an “opera-tourist” can visit a venue and take in several operas in a few days, Osgood thought that the “Figaro Weekend” would draw folks from afar. It seems to be working. Speaking of Glimmerglass, by the way, they too are offering THE GHOSTS OF VERSAILLES this summer.
In “About the Operas” on the Chautauqua website we read about THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, music by Gioachino Rossini; libretto by Cesare Sterbini, to be performed July 25 at 7:30 p.m. in Norton Hall on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution. “In Rossini’s lively comic opera, a young Count Almaviva (in disguise) is wooing the spirited and savvy Rosina, Dr. Bartolo’s young ward. Dr. Bartolo plans to marry Rosina himself, but Seville’s favorite trickster, Figaro, is on the scene to foil his schemes and help the young lovers unite, with hilarity and hijinks aplenty.”
If theater and opera are up your alley, this weekend, Thursday – Saturday will offer something unique.
¡FIGARO! (90210) is an update of THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, with music by W.A. Mozart; and a new libretto by Vid Guerrerio, based on Le Nozze di Figaro by Lorenzo da Ponte, July 26 at 4:00 p;.m. in Norton Hall. “Vid Guerrerio’s multicultural adaptation of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro sets the action in modern-day Beverly Hills. Hollywood elite Paul and Roxanne Conti (Count Almaviva and Rosina) are now married with a daughter, and Figaro and his soon-to-be-bride Susana are undocumented workers on their estate. Hailed by Opera News as “dynamic, thought-provoking, respectful, and, yes, hilarious,” Guerrerio’s English and Spanish libretto infuses Mozart’s masterpiece with humor, heart, and present-day discussions of race, class, and American identity.”
And the third opera, THE GHOSTS OF VERSAIALLES, WITH music by John Corigliano; libretto by William Hoffman, has only one performance planned this summer, on the final day of the “triology,” Saturday July 27 at 8:15 p.m. in the Amphitheater. Here’s the plot: “Marie Antoinette and her court are bored of the afterlife, and bitter about their deaths. The love-struck ghost of Beaumarchais believes he can change the queen’s untimely fate by using the power of art. He brings his beloved Figaro and company back to life in a new opera, but when Figaro refuses to stick to the script, Beaumarchais must enter his own story. Alternately hilarious and heart breaking, this grand opera buffa is one of America’s operatic masterpieces.”
There are always far too many events, talks, and performances at the Chautauqua Institution for one person to take in, so many people choose a “track” and go deep into one art form. If theater and opera are up your alley, this weekend, Thursday – Saturday will offer something unique. Details here.
Lead image: Cast of Chautauqua Opera Company’s THE BARBER OF SEVILLE during a dress rehearsal Wednesday, July 3, 2019 in Norton Hall. Photo credit: Dave Munch, Chautauquan Daily Photo Editor