A conversation about ¡Figaro! 90210 and immigrants’ rights at the opera.
Mozart’s 1786 opera Le nozze di Figaro has been set in a Trump Tower penthouse and at a Jewish wedding in contemporary Germany. Now, for a week in New York City, Vid Guerrerio’s adaptation, ¡Figaro! 90210, sets Mozart’s music to an English/Spanish libretto—and puts Conti in a red baseball cap. Of course, the plot still features two spirited, ingenious working people trying to free themselves from the abuses of the powerful, but now Figaro and Susana are undocumented Mexican household workers singing their opening duet in Spanish, on the grounds of the Beverly Hills mansion of their pussy-grabbing employer, Mr. Conti. Susana explains that the boss has given them a pool-house apartment to facilitate his assaults on her: “I see this coming when he tell me he help me get my visa … ‘Good girls, they get green cards. Girls who don’t obey their boss get deported.’ ”
Le nozze di Figaro lends itself well to this kind of reworking; rebellion is in its DNA. Its eighteenth-century premiere came only a few years before the French and Haitian Revolutions. The opera derived from a play by Beaumarchais (who was also an arms dealer for the American Revolution) of which Louis XVI said, “For this play not to be a danger, the Bastille would have to be torn down first”; Napoleon, for his part, called it “the Revolution in action.” The opera’s librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, lightened the play’s political radicalism to bypass Austrian censors, earning Joseph II’s approval and a special palace performance commission. Yet the plot remains subtly subversive, addressing both the vulnerability and moral superiority of women and workers, and the violence of the ruling classes and their henchmen. After the marvelously entertaining opening night, the two of us compared notes to figure out what kind of audience ¡Figaro! 90210 was for. Not everybody, we observed, was happy with the adaptation. Read More