A year in Dnepropetrovsk

An American volunteer in Ukraine

Свадьба Фигаро (The Marriage of Figaro)

I missed the first act, as a matter of fact. I bought my ticket, which seemed to say that the performance would start at 19.00. It was strange, because it looked like there was some kind of smudge on the 9, but there was no mistaking it for any other number. Well, when I showed up at 7 pm, I found everyone at intermission, buying snacks and stretching their legs in the lobby? What happened, you might ask? Upon closer examination of the ticket, it turns out that the smudge I had seen was really a penmark, making a very poor attempt to transform the 9 into an 8 (and considering that this is not very difficult to do, I was rather frustrated at the whole mess). Fortunately, I am very familiar with the opera, and although it would have been nice to see the first act, it was not necessary for my enjoyment of the rest of the performance. Besides, it’s a long show, and I still had two hours worth of opera left.

When I bought my ticket, I thought it was strange that the title of the opera was written in Russian. Carmina Burana had always been written in the original Latin, not even with the Cyrillic alphabet. Why, then, wasn’t the title written in the original Italian?

I figured it out as soon as the curtain lifted on the elegant sets for Act 2 (the sets were roughly the same for all three acts I saw, and I imagine for the first as well, just cleverly rearranged for different settings. I thought it was very well done, although I would have preferred something new to fix my eyes upon). The Countess began her aria, Porgi Amor, except that she wasn’t singing “porgi amor” at all! The aria, and the entire opera for that matter, were translated into Russian! Well, hey, if you have the resources, why not? The theater doesn’t provide for any translations, either by individual computers in front of you, like in the Metropolitan Opera, or even by projection like in City Opera. It’s difficult to stay interested when you don’t understand what’s going on. Fortunately for me, I knew the plot inside and out, so I was still able to follow along, even though it wasn’t in the more comfortable Italian.

Another interesting change was that Cherubino was played by a man! The part of Cherubino is what is known as a pants role. The character is a man, but he’s written to be played by a women, usually a mezzo-soprano. As is often the case with pants roles, Cherubino ends up disguising himself as a woman twice throughout the course of the opera. While it was pretty funny to see this portly man squeeze into a maiden’s gown, imagine the added layer of finesse if a women, playing a man and usually dressed as such, disguises herself as a woman again. In any case, the man playing Cherubino was excellent, and he was met with raucous applause after his aria, Voi Che Sapete.

For the rest, the talent was pretty excellent, most notably the Countess and the Count. Truly, the Countess was fantastic. Figaro was average, although his costume was strange and made him look like a pirate, so I couldn’t take him seriously (for the most part, however, the costumes were, as always, fantastic). Susanna had a beautiful instrument, but struggled with projection (I believe there were stage mics in this performance, but certainly no individual mics as there had been in Carmina Burana). She also completely botched her one aria, Deh Vieni, Non Tardar. This is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful arias ever written, and Susanna’s performance was very disappointing. Her tempo was so slow, I could see the conductor frantically waving to her to try to keep her on pace. Finally, he motioned to the percussion, who hit his drumsticks every quarter note for two measures in order to set the tempo. It was well done, but still very noticeable. Still Susanna lagged behind and miserably dragged the aria along. Because it was so slow, she had difficulty breathing, and often had to break up her sentences awkwardly to catch her breath. It was such a shame, too, for she really has a lovely voice and had acted rather well up until that point, so there was great potential for this moment.

Despite this faux pas, the performance was excellent, and left me smiling and humming to myself for the rest of the evening.

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