Bells are ringing

Wooden panel on which servants' bells are mounted with pull-cords attached
Servants’ bells at Oughtershaw Hall, Yorkshire Dales, England (courtesy of Sykes Holiday Cottages)

How The Marriage of Figaro, the Mozart opera in which servants come out on top, made a convert of this future psychotherapist and singer — and how it could convert you

Myra Durkin didn’t know much about opera when she encountered The Marriage of Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro), as a high schooler in New York City. But Mozart’s chart-topping 1786 hit excited her enough that she went on to study voice. She may have stumbled on the perfect introduction to the sometimes daunting world of opera. In this series of highlights from Episode 2 of our podcast, The Necessary Show, Myra makes the case for Figaro.

7 reasons to give The Marriage of Figaro a try (even if you think you hate opera)

1 It’s about “real people.” The story, based on an anti-royalty play by Pierre Beaumarchais, has the servants Figaro and Susanna setting a trap to ensnare their arrogant employer. The music “expresses people’s characters and desires and disappointments in great detail.”

2 “There are very funny scenes” — many involving a sex-crazed teen (Cherubino) and the Count’s scheme to bed Susanna on the night of her wedding to Figaro. “And there’s a lot of conflict.”

3 It may be a perfect work of art (Johannes Brahms thought so). “It’s three and a half hours long, so it’s perfection in a large sense.”

4 In contrast to the high decibels of grand opera and Wagner, Mozart demands a “lighter, purer” sound. And there’s not a Viking helmet in sight (with apologies to the soprano Mona Somm, who here renders Brünhilde with utmost power, precision, and taste).

Richard Wagner: “Hojotoho,” Die Walkűre. Mona Somm, soprano.

5 One magical duet, “Sull’aria,” has the power to melt the hearts of hardened criminals — or at least it does when Tim Robbins plays it over a prison loudspeaker in the movie The Shawshank Redemption.

Mozart: Duettino “Sull’aria,” The Marriage of Figaro (Garsington Opera). Jennifer France as Susanna, Kirsten MacKinnon as Countess.

6 Figaro may whet your appetite for other approachable operas, such as Mozart’s Magic Flute (“very easy to understand … very dramatic and also beautiful), Puccini’s La Bohème (“gorgeous,” “sad story”) and Bizet’s Carmen (full of “catchy tunes that you’ve heard a million times”).

7 This.

Mozart: Finale, Act II, The Marriage of Figaro. Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro alla Scala (Milan), directed by Gerard Korsten.

Musical examples in the podcast
Figaro as a modern butler holds the Sun tabloid.

VIDEO The BBC’s wickedly funny updated production (1994), in English, presented in 3 parts. Musical direction by Tony Britten, stage direction by Nicholas Broadhurst.

PODCAST “Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro: Sleepless in Sevilla.” A rich examination of the aria “Dove sono,” hosted by Rhiannon Giddens as part of the Aria Code podcast series.

MYRA DURKIN, a psychotherapist specializing in performance issues, self-hypnosis, sex and intimacy, and other areas, lives and practices in Somerville, Massachusetts. She attended Harvard College and received a master’s degree from the Simmons School of Social Work. She is also a musician. She holds degrees in voice from the Mannes College of Music and Boston University, and has taught voice at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. She has performed as a soloist in concerts and operas, including the roles of Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro and Despina in Così fan tutte, in New York City and Boston.

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