The Aleph in Opera

The Marriage of Figaro, the finale of Act I: we have Figaro and Susanna, with the help of the Countess, pleading for the Count to let them proceed with their wedding (“Oh my lord, don’t refuse our wishes”). The Count, who wants Susanna for himself, is trying to stall. He needs Marcelina to come to legally bind Figaro to marry her, creating for the Count a beeline for Susanna. All the Count can do is plea to the heavens (“Marcelina, how slow you are incoming”).

Cosi Fan Tutte, the quartet towards the end of Act II: Guglilelmo and Ferrando are disguised as suitors for their fiancees, trying to win a bet with their friend that their significant others will be faithful and deny any advances. Wrong. The women fall for their disguised fiances and want to marry them. We’re at the day of the wedding and the toast is being made; a toast to forget the past and to start a new life as husband and wife. Both women and Ferrando sing the toast. When it gets to Guglilelmo to sing the toast he’s still reeling from discovering how quick his fiancee has turned on him. He’s had enough of these games, muttering under his breath how he wishes the fiancees would drink poison.

Jorge Luis Borges has a story about encountering the Aleph, a mythical object that contains infinity within it.

One of the beautiful characteristics of opera is its capacity for volume. Both examples from Mozart are woven with intrigue, with conflicting intentions, with longing, with betrayal. All of this happens within a slice of time in these two examples: voices layering over each other expressing different things. The infinity of human expression is revealed in measures.

Things rarely happen linearly and consecutively. More often than not layers are formed, we feel different things at the same time. As much as opera can be chastised for its distancing from reality (who in her right mind sings all the time anyway?), it comes close to mirroring life in this way.


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