Haste makes taste

As a rule, genius doesn’t simply create masterworks for the sake of art — it creates, like the rest of us, because of deadlines and paychecks. Genius just does it better.

In 1785, the Emperor Joseph ordered Mozart to write an opera for Vienna. Also in Joseph’s employ at that time was a librettist who’d taken the name of Lorenzo da Ponte. (The writer, it is interesting to note, was illiterate up until the age of 14, when his widowed father wed a 16-year-old Catholic girl and the family was required to convert — catechism and all. The formerly wild child became an ardent reader, even stealing leather from his father’s tannery and selling it to shoemakers to fund his new book habit.)

Evidently bright, da Ponte teamed up with Mozart to compose Don Giovanni and Cosi Fan Tutte.

Following Picasso’s dictum, formalized two centuries later, that “great artists don’t borrow, they steal,” da Ponte lifted his latest story from Beaumarchais’ Le Mariage de Figaro, then all the rage in Paris. Mozart brought his genius to the plot and, in a mere few months’ time, a classic was born.

The Brevard Music Center’s Janiec Opera Company will complete its 2004 season with a performance of The Marriage of Figaro (sung and titled in English) at the Brevard Music Festival.

And just as the opera itself was a quick study, the local production is working on a tight schedule as well.

“We put the entire thing together in two weeks,” Andrew Cummings recently revealed to Xpress.

“We are working with a very simplified set, which simplifies putting it together in such a short period of time,” admits the bass-baritone singer, who handles the title role in the production.

Cummings, based in Philadelphia, has performed in Aida, The Magic Flute, Carmen and Falstaff (also in the title role).

At age 30, he is still older than most of the Figaro cast — but, nevertheless, claims he’s confident in his peers’ expertise.

“Everybody has to be on top of their scores to make this work,” he reminds us.

The comedic story line is a familiar, if complicated, one of lechery and duplicitous lovers — the leads in a movie version could easily be George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

The scene is set at the country house of Count Almaviva. A philanderer himself, he is very jealous of his Countess, whom he suspects of being rather too fond of the overgrown page, Cherubino. Meanwhile, the Count is busy flirting with the Countess’ maid, Susannah. The humor of the opera hangs on the complicated subplots that ensue.

Susannah is engaged to Figaro, the Count’s valet — but the Count proffers a dowry if she will instead slip away with him, which Susannah declines. Figaro requests the Count to honor his marriage by giving away the bride, and the Count assents — but stalls the ceremony in order to renew his pursuit of Susannah, who has quietly joined the Countess and Figaro in a plot to discomfit the Count.

Meanwhile, an older couple arrives — Bartolo, who was once rejected by Susannah, and Marcellina, who’d been unable to snare Figaro. Except that Figaro had promised to marry Marcellina if he failed to repay her an old debt. The payment not having been made, she is here to claim her bridegroom. Seeing his chance, the Count promises that she shall get her rights.

And on and on …

It’s enough to make genius beg a day off.


The Marriage of Figaro will be performed as part of the Brevard Music Festival at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 7 at the Brevard Music Center’s Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium. Tickets cost $23 and $26. Call (888) 384-8682, or see www.brevardmusic.org/events for more information.

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About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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