Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Più docile io sono, e dico di sì.

Do you remember the end of the last scene of the Marriage of Figaro?

It’s the point where Count Almaviva has discovered Figaro and Susanna’s tricks, and declares that he will never forgive them. And then the Countess arrives - she had pretended to be Susanna, and the Count had courted her in disguise, and the Count realises this. At this moment the Count realises the jig is up.

Although creating the sublime was, for Mozart, something like breathing is for the rest of us, I’m not sure he achieves it more fully anywhere than this moment where the music stops after Count Almaviva says:

“Contessa, Perdono”

We sit and we wait, and it feels like forever, because we do not know if the Contessa will say "I forgive you", we do not know if she, who has just been seduced by her husband while pretending to be another woman, will forgive him.

We have spent nearly three hours watching him try to seduce Susanna, and basically be a terrible asshole to everyone, especially his wife, who, on our first encounter, is on the verge of suicide over her husband’s conduct - Porgi, amor, qualche ristoro!

The very idea of forgiveness seems problematic to our modern eyes and ears - how awful it is to ask for forgiveness, when forgiveness is no longer a gesture that acknowledges a human relationship, but is a matter before the courts. The acceptance of responsibility now is as much a material gesture as it is an emotional one.

Yet to forgive! What other event heals us so quickly, so fully, as to see someone, on bent knee, asking us to acknowledge them, and in that very moment, the moment when you have all the power in the world over this person, you dissolve it? And in that moment of forgiveness, when all might be lost, everyone is redeemed - how this flies in the steely bureaucratic resolve required of modern life!

So we are stuck, afraid to ask for forgiveness and afraid to give it. And the comfort that our new “social” world gives to this fear - safely ensconced at our computers, in our vaunted privacy, we can lash out at those without fear of the possibility of that face staring back at you, those tears, the moment when you realise that you must accept their apology, because, despite everything, they mean something to you. Not their words, but them.

The Count begs for forgiveness.

The Countess replies, and as she does, we cannot help but imagine that, through all the pain the Count has caused her, the Countess cannot forgive him - how can she? How can she, even though she loves him? Indeed, because she loves him, how can she forgive him for this, the betrayal of their covenant?

But she does. She forgives him.

Is this not everything we want in life?


Anonymous said...

which recording were you just listening to?

three weeks ago I was in a baroque italiante villa in the north of portugal, walking, at night, in the moonlight, in a boschetto with a just met person, trading quotations from LNdF: i did a pretty good falsetto rendition of

L'ho perduta... me meschina...
ah, chi sa dove sarà?

and forgiveness... well, it's a noble feeling... to be able to forgive you have to have a broad gesture... you almost have to be born a count -- or a countess!

otoh, one only begs forgiveness when one knows there is no other way for the other party BUT to forgive! ?

Anonymous said...

(of course the contessa is going to firgive... what choice does she really have?)

Andrew W. said...

I was listening to the recording on my mp3 player...it was the one with Bartoli and conducted by Abbado.

I wish he actually held the pause a little longer, just so that what I was saying would be confirmed, but it's right there in the score - a full stop with a fermata. Pure Genius.

And I don't know - I mean, we know the Count gets let off the hook, but who of us hasn't begged for forgiveness only to be rebuffed? Or is it just me?

I like this idea of nobility though, and there may be something to the fact that the decline of a particular kind of aristocracy has led to the increasing difficulties of most people to apologize...