Thursday 13 October 2011

The trials and pleasures of a Oneworld Classics’ intern

In between stuffing hundreds of envelopes with our catalogues to send out to our avid readers, I’ve somehow managed to significantly educate myself about two of the most exciting operas around: Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. The bright yellow Le nozze di Figaro guide is one of the thickest in the series and there is certainly no shortage of material, including alternative ariettas written for the librettist’s mistress, a whistle-stop tour in how to analyze recitative, and a performance history where the author definitely does not lack choice! The guide traces the history from Mozart’s original inspiration by the acerbic Beaumarchais play commenting on French society right through to the twenty-first century productions that seem to favour jocks, celebrity culture and fast cars.

Learning about the tragic antihero Eugene Onegin has been just as rewarding, not least because of my first, rather underwhelming, exposure to the opera. My parents took me to a rather drab local production when I was far too young for it, but, reading about the plot, the characters, and the live wire of emotions that underscores the music and the drama of it all, I still can’t understand how, even aged 11, I managed to be bored by it! Even in the more academic history of the work, I was surprised by the huge variety of interpretations that have been produced, despite most managing to stay loyal to the rural folk setting that is so key to the characters’ inevitable fates.

Discovering the in-depth histories behind these operas combined with a pre-existing love for their music has certainly whet my appetite for ENO’s season. Fiona Shaw, who directs The Marriage of Figaro, demonstrates physically all the madness of the plot in this ‘Folle Journée’ using a revolving stage – watch her discuss it on the Andrew Marr Show here. I’m especially excited to see Eugene Onegin as it features tenor Toby Spence, a personal idol of mine.

Imogen Sebba