I have been feverishly preparing for my first Figaro rehearsal, which is next Wednesday in Lafayette, Lousiana. It has been fun revisiting this score- in a lot of ways, it is like seeing an old friend again. Only this time, it's a friend I'll be living with for a year! As I mentioned before, I have sung this role before. Most recently, at the Minnesota Opera in 2007. However, the production I'm preparing for is in english, and the last time I sang this in english was in 2000.
It's amazing how muscle memory works. I'd like to think my technique has evolved a little in the past nine years (I'm sure that there are some of you who would vociferously disagree...Dan!), but I find myself tying myself up in all kinds of knots singing this score, and it has largely to do with the language. I have had to dissect the words, just like I would do with a new Italian aria and relearn how to sing the english vowels, while integrating my improved technique. There is also a slight possibility that I am just horribly out of shape (vocally as well as physically), but I refuse to think that way. That's crazy talk.
The translation we are using is the beloved Ruth and Thomas Martin, fabled in story and song. I'm not going to trash R&T or discuss the pros and cons of singing an opera in english vs. original language; many more eloquent writers than I have done so, and at great length. I'll just say that, as absurd as opera is under the best of circumstances (and it is), it is doubly absurd in translation. Hey, I love singing in english. I love the immediacy of communicating in one's native tongue. But in translation, the syntax gets all jacked up in order to fit the english words what the composer has already set. And the rhyme schemes? Hilarious, usually. Granted, the people who write these translations have an impossible task. But when I stop and think about the whole cast of Figaro singing "All day long we were tormented, angry, foolish, and excited" at the top of their lungs, it makes me giggle. And there's a line in Barber where Figaro says over and over, "I hear a tinkle, it must be money!" I saw a Barber once where, during the Largo, Figaro sang "I am the king of lather and foam!!!!"
But my all time favorite has to be in Act III of Nozze, where Figaro walks in and says, "Hey Susanna, what's up?"
I've done a lot of opera in translation, and I totally think that it can work that way. The R&T Martin isn't bad. It's just ridiculous. But now that I think about it, if I was really fluent in Italian, it would probably sound just as silly. Hey man, that's opera.