Figaro, John and Abigail

marriage-of-figaro-program Mental Multivitamin calls it synthesis / serendipity / synchronicity. It’s that glorious connection between what you just read/saw/heard and—in an unexpected way—what you are currently reading/seeing/hearing.

The practice of reading (deep and wide) is in effect laying down a swath of Velcro loops. And along comes something that enhances, expands, expatiates on what you already know: those are the Velcro hooks.

That aha! moment brings me great joy. My husband wishes he had written down every hunting experience he’s had since he was seven…for the pleasure of reliving them. I wish I had noted each experience of synthesis / serendipity / synchronicity in my reading life; for there have been many and, alas, my mind grows dim.

::today’s synthesis::

For a year I have been plowing through Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present. It is demanding and daunting. Twenty years ago I wouldn’t have had the fortitude and background knowledge to pull through. But it is rewarding in the same way that losing thirty pounds is rewarding.

Barzun writes several pages about Beaumarchais, the author of The Marriage of Figaro, artisan, wit, pamphleteer, and secret agent. Have you heard of him? Me, neither. Barzun calls him “the most effective helper of the [American] colonists in their war.” Do you find that an arresting description?

Mozart wrote an opera based on Beaumarchais’ story which challenged the French aristocracy, making Figaro, a valet (or barber), more noble than his master.

:: Pause, Barzun. ::

When I’ve been home alone this week, I have listened to Joseph J. Ellis’ history, First Family: Abigail and John Adams. After a five year separation, Abigail and her daughter Nabby joined John and John Quincy in Paris. The Adams family “attended an early performance of The Marriage of Figaro.”  Hello! I just read about significance of Figaro!! I reveled in the realization that for a time John and Abigail Adams and Mozart were both living and breathing in relative proximity.

::Pause, Abigail and John::

Three weeks ago I visited my friend Lisa in North Carolina. She had been culling books from her shelves and gave me a quaint 1913 book called Opera Synopses. In it I found more information on The Marriage of Figaro ; I learned the story is a direct continuation of Rossini’s opera The Barber of Seville (created by Beaumarchais).

::return to Barzun::

Fascinating! I went back to Barzun’s tome and there it all was: “the man who wrote The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro before the librettists of Rossini and Mozart gave the two plays another meaning for the musical state.”

I had previously read that sentence, but because I didn’t have any Velcro loops of interest or connection, that fact just bounced off my brain. The synthesis, the recognition, made those words adhere.

So what? Although I am familiar with the overture and several arias, I have never seen the opera. I started to watch it on YouTube this morning, while I wrapped Christmas presents, but quickly realized that three hours of opera wasn’t on the agenda today. And if I’m going to be thorough (cough, cough) I should start by watching The Barber of Seville first.

So little time…


10 thoughts on “Figaro, John and Abigail

  1. Loved it! Your east-coast serendipitous-loving kindred spirit gets thrills like this too. When that happens, I want to tell everyone, but most of them lack both of the necessary pieces of Velcro (an analogy I love). I think it was Andrew Kern (Circe) who called this moments “harmonic convergences.” Anyway, loved reading your reading convergences because I understand the thrills! 🙂

  2. Janice, I did a Google search and that was the image that seemed most fitting to go with John and Abigail Adams. But now I need to know your connection with the Skagit Opera? (please)

    • Carol, my connection is with the Skagit Valley (not the Opera itself–I didn’t even know there was one!). My family is from there, and I attended the community college where the concert hall is now located. I believe earlier this year you posted pictures from the area, too?

  3. May another Skagit Valley native add raisins and chopped walnuts to the cinnamon you’ve already had sprinkled on this post? Though born in Anacortes, Barzun is the keyword that drew me to your synthesis. I enjoyed the connections you made with his Beaumarchais observations. If you feel sufficient reverberation from Youtube versions of Barber and Figaro, and decide to follow Barzun’s lead in other things, you might try “Why Opera?” or many other short pieces in A Jacques Barzun Reader. Workouts as vigorous as From Dawn to Decadence not guaranteed, but you will find pleasure there.

    • Thank you for your kind words. Your raisins and chopped walnuts are greatly appreciated!

      I plan to read more Barzun when I’m done with Dawn to Decadence. Thank you for the recommendation. I’d love to read his essay on opera. My brother is a tenor with the San Francisco Opera Chorus; I have a vested interest in opera!

      And lucky you, a native of Skagit Valley. [I have a mental block with Skagit: is it hard ‘g’ or a soft ‘g;? There are a handful of place names the pronunciation of which I can’t make stick: another one is Wilkes Barre.]

      • As it happens, Carol, my name is John Adams, so serendipity’s getting rampant here, though I am not married to an Abigail. Accent for “Skagit” is on the first syllable with “a” as in apple, and the “g” is soft like a j, making it “SKA-jit” – a lovely place by any name.

        I have yet to attend an opera, or hear one for that matter. Following all of Barzun’s recommendations would make for a busy (and expensive) social calendar. Reading him is far more reasonable – in every sense – and valuable. If your library has access to Vogue magazine’s back issues (through the EBSCO host service, maybe?), there is a Barzun article called “The Place and the Price of Excellence” in the February 1, 1959 issue that I highly recommend (and is not in A Jacques Barzun Reader. Wishing you frequent synchronicity.

  4. What a lovely post. I know almost nothing about opera, Barzun, or Beaumarchais, but I don know the feeing of serendipity in reading and learning that you are writing about. It’s a good experience, akin to C.S. Lewis’s concept of “joy”, a feeling that the world works together in concert.

Comments are cinnamon on my oatmeal!

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