Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Song of Songs vs. Marriage of Figaro"; Short Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

The Song of Songs vs. The Marriage of Figaro
Continuing Series on Shir ha-Shirim
A Short Essay By Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 6)

(*) First published at  on November 16th, 2014, under "Song of Songs vs. Marriage of Figaro" .

I have been convinced for long that the outline of "The Song of Songs", "Shir ha-Shirim", as poetically ambiguous as it might be in its current form, consists of the story of a maiden taken to the chambers of a king, perhaps as a slave, while she yearns for her beloved, a free-spirited young man, say, a shepherd, who roams the meadows and skips over the mountains, somewhat metaphorically -- while it also allows perhaps poetically for him to be identifiable at the same time with (aspects of) the King.

A line of thought might be pursued on the interplays of power and desire, wealth and love, possession and deprivation, in sharply stratified societies. Thus, a case could be made for this literary work as a cry of love coming to us from ancient times, and that of a woman, the cry of fragile loving souls of those who suffered the conditions of servitude, in monarchies, feudal societies, or other despotic systems. I further propose the idea in a preliminary form, that especially to Beaumarchais, and possibly to later Da Ponte, the 18th century playwright and the librettist of "Marriage of Figaro", respectively, the relevance of this plot in essence to modern times was not lost.

At this point, and pending in-depth research, I offer the following introduction to this theme, which so far I may regard as original. To begin, let's consider the names of the title characters in the play and the opera:

1) Figaro, formerly "the barber of Seville", currently the Count's valet and butler. (*)
 - I find the following explanation interesting and appealing: Figaro, from "fils Caron", a nickname of the playwright, meaning "son of Caron", where "caron" I choose to consider from the Welsh "caru", "to love". That is, "Son of Love", "Beloved Son". [1,2]
- I further consider the Latin root "figare", that is, "to fix"; and acknowledging my want of linguistic knowledge, I propose that the character's job as to "fix or do things", whether as a "barber" or the later "valet", i.e. "the handyman", or more generally, "the man of labor", is reflected in the name. I consider both of the above senses jointly. [3]

2) Suzanne (play), Susanna (opera, Italian). (*)
* Derived unequivocally from the Hebrew "Shoshan" (lily) and "ShoshanAh" (rose), both appearing repeatedly in the Song of Songs. Chapter 2 opens with:
"I am the lily (chavatzelet) of Sharon, the rose of the valleys."
"Like the rose (shoshanah) among the thorny flowers (thistles), so is my beloved among the maidens."

3) Countess Rosine / Rosina: (*)
Diminutive of "rose"; equivalent to "Shoshanah" in Hebrew. Note that in the first play before "Marriage...", that is, "The Barber of Seville", Rosine is the fair lady locked up by a doctor, who by Figaro's intervention, finally marries the Count. (**)

4) Count Almaviva. (*)
From "alma" ("soul", Italian, Spanish) and "viva", (alive, lively); that is, "lively soul".

5) Chérubine / Cherubino. (*)
Diminutive of Cherub, "little angel".

Considering the above names, and plots, I speculate that Beaumarchais developed the first of the plays, "Barber...", more linearly along the love triangle of the "Song of Songs", and offered a more literal transposition of the plot, based on then standard contemporary translation and accepted narrative of the book -- that is, with the Doctor acting as the King and his guards, and the Count being the Lover (our Free-Spirited Shepherd, yet also the King Solomon) who finally reaches his love, Rosina" (Shoshanah). Whilst in "Marriage...", with a seemingly more subtle treatment of the theme, it's Figaro (now our Shepherd) whose love of Susanna (Shoshanah) is threatened by the Count (King's) power to possess. Still, a more literal representation of the "hapless lover" is further nested in the storyline as Cherubino, who's ordered away by the Count to serve in his army as punishment for his romantic adventures which are interfering with the Count's. Notwithstanding the immense differences in period, tone, style, spirit, etc., the parallels between the plots of the plays and the "Song..." do not seem coincidental. (I postpone to detail my own contrasting reading of the plot of "Song..." to another occasion.)

The line of research may further continue to find parallels in the details of the lyrics; which would require a separate essay.

(*) See under Marriage of Figaro, opera and play, characters.
(**) See under "Barber of Seville".
[1] Behind the Name "Figaro":
[2] Behind the Name, "Caron":
[3] See "figare" on Google Translator.

© 2014, Series by Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

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