Bugs Bunny by way of Chuck Jones will be my first thought if you tell me we are going to the Opera: especially anything with Figaro in the title.
Now that I am done laughing at the memory (no wait, Figaro!), I also have to admit that opera in my childhood had Grand Old in front of it. It was not so grand and not so old, but I still love it.
The other kind of opera seemed like a good I could save for paradise. After all, a man only has so much time to sample the beauty of the world and many things must be held off. Two things changed my mind: Plato and friends.
Plato will surprise nobody. Plato kept arguing that music and dance were part of the highest kind of education. If I wanted to see the Good, and God knows I do, then my soul demands the medicine of music.
What Plato dreame a group of Western men invented: opera. They imagined they were recreating what had been, but they were heirs to a hundreds of years of Christian culture and so made something new. They meant to ape Athens, but these exiles from Jerusalem still carried the Incarnation in their souls and made soemthing new.
How could I not find the time to exprience such a thing?
And then I met Phillip E. Johnson, lawyer and intellectual gadfly, and found a man who loved opera without a trace of snobbery or pretension. He thought about it, because he thinks about everything, but mostly he hums it.
Anything Phil hums is worth hearing.
Phil introduced us to Kate and Randy, opera singers and Friends of Whom No Greater Can be Conceived. They sang and taught us a new way of thinking of opera: a manifestation of life, full of pain and joy.
Out of all of this came a determination to learn which lead to attending more opera and learning: first that I cannot always stay awake if hit with three hours of something new and second that the opera wil be tolerant of my snoozy ignorance if I give her love.
Last night I drank in “The Marriage of Figaro” in the Berlin Opera house. The story of erotic love gone awry is funny, but the music lifts it from bawdy to beautiful without ever losing the bawdy.
Plato in Symposium dreams of fusing the erotic soul to the quest for Beauty: Mozart succeeds. He does not lose the physical, as Plato comes perilously close to doing, but he tames it with music.
It is probably my ignorance that made me doubt the title by the end of the opera. From the first moment she appears on stage singing of love and pain, the opera is about the Countess for me. She has been rejected by her husband, her true love, who cannot see how magnificent she is, but youthul eros (in the “pants” role) sees her for what she is.
The Count longs for another, but not because he is too erotic, but because he is not erotic enough. His love is too small and so he tries to come between poor Figaro (quite forgetable like all the men) and his beloved.
The Countess keeps growing in power until finally even the Count gets it.
The absurd and funny complications of the plot give plenty of time for the music, but mostly allows each soul to grow to their proper mate. Love is triumphant in the end, but without any hint that it is easy in real life for the Count to find his Countess.
The Countess always knows.
What did I learn from this first exposure to something so great as “The Marriage of Figaro?” I fear to say anything, because it is beyond opinions, but this I will say: Mozart delivers somethign deeply true and beautiful about love, marriage, and romance.
Is it Christian? I have no idea what Mozar intended, but surely a man cannot easily escape hundreds of years of Christian culture. It is Christian as I understand it, earthy as Adam was earthy and as sublime as Eve created in the Image of God.
I must go again.