The Heart of the Matter
by Carol Perry
To understand Countess Almaviva we must first go back to where it all began. We meet and get to know Rosina originally in Pierre Beaumarchais’ Figaro plays. She and Count Almaviva meet, fall in love and marry, but then grow apart. Although Figaro is the lead player, Rosina however has a more personal character arc. Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia and Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro explore Rosina’s trajectory from a spunky and clever ward of the state to a forlorn and forgotten countess. Even though times have changed for women considerably since the days of the aristocracy, Countess Almaviva (and the young, idealistic Rosina she once was) is still a sympathetic and relatable character to today’s audiences. In fact, modern women could argue whether Rosina even deserves to be called a “guilty mother” at all.
In order to get back to Rosina’s roots, I had the privilege of interviewing mezzo-soprano Megan Marino, who will be singing Rosina with Opera Fort Collins’ Il barbiere di Siviglia on June 1st. When I ask her to describe Rosina, she declares, “She is spicy, feisty and probably ‘too smart’ for her time period!” We discuss the challenges that such a complex character brings: “It’s very important to me that I am being honest and staying focused on her main objective without being too bratty. Nothing worse than a bratty Rosina!” Ms. Marino then opines that Maestro Rossini has a lot of influence when it comes to her personality: “She has such sensual, florid writing. Every thought and feeling is there in the score.” Of course, in addition to the music, the costume element in this production is also informative. This writer had the pleasure of a sneak peek into the 1950’s setting, conceptualized by director Brian Luedloff. Marino gushes, “I have the honor of wearing original, perfectly-tailored dresses in period couture. Five of them! So Rosina.” We also discuss how at the end of the opera it seems like all of Rosina’s wildest dreams are coming true; she has unwittingly stumbled into the life of a princess. “She thinks she’s found the man of her dreams. Little does she know, she’s found Mr. Right Now.”
Women in today’s world can relate to Rosina’s plight. Young girls grow up watching Disney princesses marry their Prince Charmings and live happily ever after, but that was always the end of the story. In Beaumarchais’ plays, we see how poisoned her fairy tale has become when the curtain rises on The Marriage of Figaro, and then her desperate search for love in The Guilty Mother. In the second play, Rosina copes with the disgrace of her husband’s wandering eye. Again, she is trapped by a man, and while these circumstances differ, it draws a parallel to her imprisonment by Doctor Bartolo. Now as a noble lady, she has more status, but still not enough power to escape her situation. It is unsurprising to see the lesser status of women here in the 18th century, and so she cannot be faulted for not being independent in Beaumarchais’ time. The audience is not privy to the daily life that transpires in between the first and second plays, however one can certainly imagine. Megan Marino offers her insights:
“Many men at first seem to be intrigued by an independent, spicy lady who dances to her own drummer, as is the case with the Count. However, no matter how progressive the man, this can become difficult for them to deal with day in and day out. Sometimes you just want someone to just do what you say, right? Let’s face it, our society still is very male dominant. Progressive women are often considered difficult, but when men behave as such they’re considered powerful. Personally I don’t deal well with being told what to do, and I think Rosina is like that, too. She doesn’t want to answer to anyone and why should she? She’s not doing anything wrong, she’s just living her life.”
Now, the final question: Is Rosina deserving of the title The Guilty Mother? Conventionally speaking, yes, she was unfaithful to her husband and lied to him about the paternity of their child together. However, if we look back on Rosina’s circumstances and how powerless she would have been if she had left the Count, we cannot blame her for finding happiness and love in a desperate situation. Megan Marino agrees, sharing a personal story:
“While I’ve never been married myself, I once thought I had found my Mr. Right. But, I knew he was up to something (you just know, just like Countess Almaviva knew). At the same time I was starting to develop feelings for someone else. Would I have even put myself in that type of situation had I been receiving the attention I so desperately craved in my relationship at the time? Probably not. I like to think maybe that’s how it goes with the Almavivas. The count is just a product of his society. I do not necessarily think he’s a bad person. He’s just mixed up about what is right and how to treat people. This world is never black and white, there’s a wide spectrum of grey. It’s just a matter of how much you can tolerate before you explode.”
Ms. Marino goes on to explain how she has observed Countess Almaviva from both the perspective of Susanna and Cherubino, and how her personal experience helps her understand the maturing Rosina. Audiences always need to find relatable characters, and Rosina is so universally sympathetic, especially to fellow women. She is not perfect, and does not claim to be. If she is guilty of anything, it is her overwhelming search for love at any cost, and her struggle humanizes her to audiences around the world. If Figaro is the brains of the Beaumarchais’ plays, then Rosina, without a doubt, is the heart.
Very special thanks to mezzo-soprano Megan Marino for her contributions to this article, check her out at http://www.meganmarino.com/ . Ms. Marino and Ms. Perry will be performing in Opera Fort Collins Il Barbiere di Siviglia this Friday, June 1st, at 7:30pm in the newly renovated Lincoln Center. Tickets are selling fast for this excellent production, so please visit www.operafortcollins.org to purchase, and for more information check out the Coloradoan article about the show here.
Detroit native Carol Perry recently graduated with her Master of Music degree in Voice Performance from Colorado State University. Most recently Carol performed the role of Miss Jessel in Colorado State University’s production of The Turn of the Screw, and last summer she sang Fiordiligi in Orvieto, Italy. Prior to that, she traveled to Shanghai for a collaborative concert at East China Normal University. She very much enjoys writing for Operagasm, and her featured articles include a reviews of Opera Colorado’s Le Nozze di Figaro and Rusalka, and in-depth look at Britten’s Turn of the Screw. She is singing Berta in the Opera Fort Collins’ production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and is over the moon to be a part of such a fantastic show.