Carola Bebermeier, Melanie Unseld (eds.): „La cosa è scabrosa“. Das Ereignis „Figaro“ und die Wiener Opernpraxis der Mozart-Zeit. Vienna et al. 2018 (Musik – Kultur – Gender, ed. Dorle Dracklé, Dagmar von Hoff, Nina Noeske, and Susanne Rode-Breymann, vol. 16)

La cosa e scabrosa
©Böhlau Verlag

Theatrical performances are always an “event” … on, behind, and before the stage. Even in the classic stage situation with its imaginary fourth wall, theatre—as a performative act—requires an audience. Particularly comedy calculates for reactions to its humour coming from the hall, reactions with which the performers have to strike a new balance in every performance. The level of the performative is thus a fragile phenomenon, with a première frequently not yet being the best performance. Despite this, reviews of premières are employed as authoritative representations of critics’ and audiences’ value judgements—even in historical hindsight. So in order to understand the phenomenon of music theatre, it would seem mandatory that one do justice to the contingent nature of individual performances and to the multitude of people involved therein.

The volume on W. A. Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro at issue here attempts to take a closer look at “the event of Figaro in 1786”, as editors Carola Bebermeier and Melanie Unseld call it, from various perspectives of music-related cultural action as well as to shed light on this work and its performance within the broader context of Viennese operatic practice. This volume’s contributions are based on talks given at a symposium that was held by the University of Oldenburg in cooperation with the Oldenburg State Theatre.

Following a compact overview of cultural action as a concept, the texts by the contributing authors (who hail above all from the fields of musicology and theatre studies) are formulated from various perspectives: their chapters cover “Theatre As a Space of Communication” (i.e., the relationship between audience and stage), the response to Figaro by its 1786 audience, the significance of singer-performers in composition, performance and interplay with the audience, and the theatrical customs and discourses of that era. Interesting—not least from the perspective of theatrical practice—is how socially critical tendencies were attributed to this opera more and more often over the history of its reception. And special attention is also paid to questions about the inter-textual relationships that play an important role in the genre of opera buffa, which relies on not only superficial wit but also subversive comedy.

This volume’s discussion of the diversity of interactions between work and performance is rooted in an anti-hierarchical mode of thinking that trains its gaze on the various protagonists, and said discussion also facilitates a more understandable portrayal of the aspects and influencing factors involved in dramatic musical works’ creation as well as in such works’ production processes within a broader context.

What’s more, the consistently well-founded and multifaceted contributions convincingly show how there really is no other way to get to the bottom of an “event” such as “Figaro 1786”. One can therefore hope that numerous readers—particularly those involved with theatre on, before, and behind the stage—will discover this book.

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