Page 1


“mad day”


space, politics, personality, and power in Le Nozze di Figaro

Julie Shapiro, MLA 2017 University of Virginia School of Architecture Fall 2016


corriam tutti a festeggiar!



“The usual story about Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (1786) is that it is a copout. Taking the radical Beaumarchais drama of 1778, whose essential point and emphasis is political, a denunciation of the ancien regime and the hierarchies it imposes, Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte have fashioned an innocuous drama of personal love, defanging the text by omitting, for example, Figaro’s long fifthact monologue denouncing feudal hierarchy and substituting a more extensive treatment of women and their private desires. The Beaumarchais play, which is usually understood to be a major harbinger of the French Revolution, was refused production for many years, and even in 1784, when it was allowed production in France, becoming wildly popular, it remained controversial. Mozart and Da Ponte, by contrast, decided (so the story goes) to escape controversy. The relatively progressive Joseph II had forbidden the Beaumarchais play to be performed in theatres within his realm. Da Ponte, however, persuaded the Emperor that an acceptable opera could be written on the basis of the play. In the process, however, says the received story,he and Mozart, despite producing a wonderful love-drama,sold out the radicalism of the original. I shall argue, by contrast, that the opera is as political and as radical as the play, and more deeply so: for it investigates the human sentiments that are the necessary foundation for a public culture of liberty, equality, and fraternity.” -Martha Nussbaum, 2010

While Nussbaum and other scholars have established the social and political depth of Figaro, the spatial dimensions of the opera, and their political significance have not been studied in a contemporary framework. The full title of Beaumarchais’ play is: La Folle Journée, ou Le Mariage de Figaro (The Mad Day, or The Marriage of Figaro). Mozart and Da Ponte’s adaptation maintains the time frame of a single day, making domestic and class relationships the subject of the “madness”, and thus defending their importance as fundamental to social formation and justice. This project (shown here in an early, exploratory phase) draws on the idea of “a day in the life” enacted in the everyday spaces of city landscapes. It asks how Le Nozze di Figaro--through its medium and its content--can reformulate landscape research, to help designers more fully read the interplay of space and culture that determines which publics actually access and enjoy “public” space. Julie Shapiro, Dec. 18, 2016 University of Virginia School of Architecture















10 overture

e gia il resto il capira...

overture 11

introduction Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro suggests ways of reading landscape and interpreting its role as both a venue for and product of social relations. There is no “neutral” space in this opera; rather, spaces are portrayed as differently accessible and legible to different people. Despite the apparently familiar set-up of house vs. forest (nature/ culture, inside/outside, human/nonhuman etc), the environments of the opera are actually subtle and dynamic, offering possibilities for finegrained readings of socio-spatial interaction. Figaro as a text implies frameworks for investigating and designing landscapes. Drawing on the content (story, characters) of the opera, as well as its media (visual performance, music, choreography) this study seeks to derive analytical methods and design tactics to address subtle dynamics of identity, access, and expression in public space. While there is scholarship on the social and political implications of Figaro, and some literature on the opera’s relationship to the pastoral, I have not found a comprehensive spatial reading of the opera that integrates analysis of the opera’s settings/built environment with its representation of social relationships. Taking on this topic through a landscape architecture lens, I feel driven to relate the themes of the opera to contemporary politics of everyday space, and I think the opera has potential to mediate new approaches to equitable, inclusive, and sensitive landscape design. To this end, I am drawing on contemporary research from scholars who focus on marginalized populations (particularly women and teenagers) in urban landscapes. I believe that the “lessons” of the opera may act as conceptual guides, while the contemporary studies keep designers grounded in our own time and place(s). The mode or tone of the opera--its exuberance, humor, sincerity, and beauty—-provides a kind of warmth and a “liberatory” model for enacting social justice through artistic means.

12 introduction

That is the first half of the goals for this research: to gain sensitivity in reading “who is in a landscape”: how social hierarchies and systems of economic power determine spatial privileges that are legible in the daily life of any city. The second goal is to develop a landscape intervention that draws on this analysis. At this early stage in considering design strategies, the idea is to create an actual set—a venue for a staging of Figaro—that remains in the landscape after the performance as a catalyst for appropriation, adaptation, and spontaneous performance or play. A landscape feature that is used in the opera to reveal or explain the role of space in power, may then become part of the landscape, to inspire play, experimentation, and new modes of inhabiting the public site. At this point, I see the themes of the metered floor (symbolic of the ordered, surveilled condition in the manor house) and the shadowy forest (where social roles and power erode and blur, and identities shift) as spatial types that might generate a set and a public landscape. In the next phase of the project, I will work to refine this as a design concept, and to realize it through studio work and independent research.

Crucial/unresolved/ongoing questions: What is specifically meant by “performance” in the context of this research? How does this relate/compare to historic understandings of the term for landscape architects? What is it about theatrical performance that is inspiring, inviting, and useful as precedent/starting point for designing landscapes? -Julie Shapiro, MLA Candidate December 18, 2016

introduction 13

people, places, politics “This is the respect in which Figaro is a truly revolutionary work, all questions of politics and society aside. For the first time music has found the means of embodying the interplay of living people, the feelings and passions and thoughts of rounded human beings, servants and masters, as they arise in response to life, each speaking in their own characteristic idiom, all inhabiting an actual world, enchanted yet recognizable, companionable but full of danger.” -David Cairns

“Mozart was creating a musical path toward forgiveness and away from all this violent speech, and the violent action of a law which respects some people’s lives more than others. So it’s an astonishing document in the history of humanity.” -Peter Sellars

“Mozart also eschews Rousseauian homogeneity, emphasizing that the new fraternity must protect spaces for the free play of mischief, craziness, humor, and individuality – all of which are connected, in the opera, to the women’s world.” -Martha Nussbaum

14 people, places, politics

Cinque, dieci... Figaro measures out space for the marriage bed in the room that he is to share with Susanna, his bride-to-be But Susanna points out that this “most desirable room in the house” is easily accessible to their employer, Count Almaviva, who is intent on sleeping with Susanna. Disparate readings of space by different people--the opening of the opera!

Susanna: “Cosi, se il mattino il caro Contino...din din! e ti manda tre miglia lontan, a mia porta il diavol lo porta ed eco in tre salti... Ascolta! Se udir brami il resto, di scaccia i sospetti, che torto, mi fan.”

people, places, politics 15

“Mozart’s very courageous and breathtaking gesture is to treat all people of all classes as equals in the quartets and sextets and trios, where people of very different social status are treated equally by the music. Their humanity is equally honored and represented — including people of all social classes making huge mistakes in judging each other.” -P. Sellars “The opera absolutely requires that the drama leave the castle and move out of doors, into the night—the final stage of the crazy day—and into a new dimension of poetic enchantment and human awareness, so that reconciliation may be achieved.” -D. Cairns

people of interest Countess Almaviva--long-suffering wife of the Count, who accuses her of infidelity, but is himself unfaithful Susanna--the Countess’s maid, engaged to Figaro, who is the Count’s manservant Cherubino--a page in the household--hopelessly in love with the Countess (and all women)

places: The House (acts 1-3) The Garden/Forest (act 4)

16 people, places, politics

people, places, politics 17

landscape/theatre “Architecture and the performing space are always set in a context. To understand this, it is important to research and understand the history of the space. What secrets do these walls tell? For stones speak, and space holds memories. In this way the dramaturgy of the space is created.” -Pamela Howard

“The meanings that attach to landscape, we suggest, can elaborate the nature and implications of this “spatial turn” in modern drama and theater. Landscape names the modern theater’s new spatial paradigm. A discipline that bases itself on “reading the landscape” has significant points of contact with literary theory, especially with semiotics and deconstruction. Underlying the work of interpretation practiced by Jackson’s heirs in cultural geography is the notion that landscapes are communicative devices that encode and transmit information, and that the skilled interpreter can learn to decode both their conventions and the specific messages they encode. Following hard upon this notion of the landscape as text, however, comes the recognition that landscapes, like texts, are not singular or stable signifying systems, and, further, that a single text is susceptible to many different readings.” -Una Chaudhuri and Elinor Fuchs

18 landscape/theatre

Theatre of Dionysus, Athens

landscape/theatre 19

Inigo Jones, sets for Florimene, 1635

20 landscape/theatre

William Kent, Venus’ Vale, Rousham, 1738-41

“But when Jones turns the world of the theater inside out again, so that the perspectival space of the theater interior with its scenic facades is applied to the planning and construction of the facial facade of the (outdoor) theater building itself and the external environment of the capital surrounding the theater, then a ‘reterritorialization’ occurs in which the realm encompassing the theater becomes materialized as a form of physical landscape scenery. This then became the landscape face, or facade, of the city (in this case the ‘capital,’ or head, city) and, after Kent, that of the countryside as well. Landscape hereby ceases to be conceptualized as a region or place, and becomes a perspectival scene which, according to Denis Cosgrove and W.J.T Mitchell, is quintessentially ‘modern’(Cosgrove 1984; Mitchell 1994)” -Kenneth Olwig

landscape/theatre 21

22 landscape/theatre

“Space is to design what movement is to dance or sound is to music. Like movement space is something that we use every day in all our activities … walking down the street, opening a door, laying down, sitting up etc. Our task in this course is to first become consciously aware of space so that we may experiment with ways of controlling it.” -Anna Halprin “Much of my own professional life has been involved in this apparent dichotomy: between the score and the performance … In the long run, I found that what I had really been working toward, what I really wanted to explore, was nothing less than the creative process – what energizes it – how it functions … Perhaps, most importantly, I found that by themselves scores could not deal with the humanistic aspects of life situations including individual passions, wills, and values. And it seemed necessary to round out the scheme so that human communications – including values and decisions as well as performance – could be accounted for in the process.” -Lawrence Halprin

landscape/theatre 23

24 landscape/theatre

landscape/theatre 25

“Within a city are other spaces that are also a part of the cultural life of its people. Some spaces are public, in squares and streets, and others, less obvious, are used for sports, social and religious events that take place inside buildings. Alongside their public arenas, cities are also full of empty marginal spaces that sit unloved, forlorn and forgotten, where performances and events are just waiting to happen. Sometimes the city itself becomes a theatre, its surrounding buildings the scenery or the background for projections. Against its structures the collective memories and aspirations of its populace are played out in dramatic or celebratory ways. Space is a vital ingredient of scenography and dramaturgy. The worldview of scenography reveals that space is the first and most important challenge for a scenographer. Space is part of the scenographic vocabulary. We talk about translating and adapting space; creating suggestive space and linking space with dramatic time. We think of space in action‌â€? -P. Howard

26 landscape/theatre

landscape/theatre 27

28 landscape/theatre

When we see hegemonic gender-space as something that is not just contested but also constantly being brought into being through the everyday actions of men and women in space, rather than something women are subjected to by external totalitarian forces, it allows us to imagine possibilities of interrupting and opening up gaps in the relentless replication of unequal gender formations; gaps within which we can re-imagine a rightful place for women in the city. -S. Phadke, S. Ranade, S. Khan

The role of public spaces, generally, is changing from previous decades. No longer are they settings for spontaneous social meetings (Sennett 1977). These activities now occur at coffee shops, supermarkets, and health clubs. Public spaces are instead designed to support specific activities such as transportation (Sennett 1977). Teenagers, however, still want to and need to use public spaces as social gathering places. Recent efforts to revitalize and beautify public spaces along with efforts to increase safety in these areas have resulted in these spaces becoming even less welcoming to teens (Valentine et al 1998; Breibart 1998) -Patsy Eubanks Owens

*see also, Charlottesville Downtown Mall

landscape/theatre 29

Streets are spaces where people make claims. Streets are also spaces where these claims are shot down. Streets are spaces of surveillance and spaces of fear. They are also spaces of excitement and thrills. How might one imagine a street utopia, if indeed such a thing exists? Or in other words, how might one mobilise the varied dynamics of the street in the quest of a more liberatory politics. -Shilpa Ranade

A gathering of teens in New Orleans’ City Park, for example, transforms the pastoral Classical Peristyle and Gazebo into an active setting of physical, creative, and social engagement by youth (Figure 1). The peristyle preliminarily defines a setting of cultural decadence through social performance. The cultural creation of a space intended for weddings, jazz concerts, or peace and quiet is negated by the clamour of skateboards on pavement, rails, and steps. The acoustical cacophony of sound reverberates off the roof above. The transformation of the site is facilitated by the addition of props and skateboards. The teens are clearly performing. A failed flip trick and a body falling on the stage have a different acoustical value than a smoothly executed manoeuver. The image emerging out of the setting is their own creation and completes their own definition of the space. The teens have successfully manipulated the setting to make the transition to being-in-the-world. Richardson notes that “Out of that response meaning arises, and that meaning is objectified upon the setting so that the setting becomes a full statement, a read text, and therefore the material image of the situation”(p.434). ‘Meaning,’ for Richardson, is the interdependent social response to a situation that creates or completes a setting. -Benjamin Shirtcliff (2015) 30 landscape/theatre

“Noseslide, Armstrong Park” photo, Stephen Serrano

landscape/theatre 31

Migrant workers on their day off, Hong Kong photo, Ed Jones/Getty Images

Loitering is an act one can indulge in without professing allegiance to any particular group, morality or ideology. It is a process that is temporally present. You are a loiterer only while you are loitering. ‌ Loitering can have no purpose other than pleasure. Pleasure which is not linked to consumption has the power to challenge the unspoken notion that only those who can afford it are entitled to pleasure, ensuring that marginal citizens are kept in their place. The possibility of a pleasure that does not cost anything and at the same time brings the ‘undesirables’ out into the streets making them visible, threatens to undermine established notions of urban social order. This idea of apparent urban anarchy might be threatening to the maintenance of the status quo but for women it represents the possibility of redefining the terms of their access to public space, not as clients seeking protection but as citizens claiming their rights. -Phadke, Ranade, Khan

32 landscape/theatre

Adolescent “rights to the city” suffer environmental injustice by a loss of mobility and a general perception of mistrust of youth agency in urban areas. Adolescents are shown in the literature to be intentionally marginalised, oversimplified as a group instead of being a part of many subcultures, possessing limited access to decision-making regarding their environments, found to use the environment differently than adults, and to be dependent on public services more so than adults (Freeman and Riordan, 2002). -Shirtcliff (2015) Many of the conflicts associated with adolescents that currently occur in these public settings are a result of places not being used as they were intended. Perhaps if the intended use of a place included the social and recreational activities of teens, they would be accepted instead of banned. With time, the design of our downtowns, parks, neighborhoods, and schools may evolve from attempting to control the behavior of adolescents in these settings to encouraging their activities. -Owens

from “Skins: First Generation” (UK) 2007

landscape/theatre 33




34 landscape/theatre





Figaro seems to uphold the conventional dichotomy of culture/nature, inside/outside, house/garden


but take a closer look and it is not so straightforward



mysterious pure







resource divine

landscape/theatre 35

Che soave zeffiretto Questa sera spirera Sotto i pini del boschetto... e gia il resto il capira!

What a gentle little breeze Will be blowing this evening Under the pines of the grove... and the rest he’ll understand! (Sull’ aria)

Evocations of the natural world in arias-affiliation of certain characters with the “forest”, or alien logics and of the world outside the Count’s house “The fondness of the women’s world for plotting, joking, every subversion of tradition and obedience, is the sign of something that ultimately becomes crucial to the Enlightenment, in its Kantian and especially Millian forms: the idea of the mind of the individual as containing an untouched free space, a funny unevenness that is both erotic and precious.” -Nussbaum

36 landscape/theatre

Parlo d’amore vegliando, Parlo d’amor sognando, All’acqua, all’ombra, ai monti, Ai fiori, all’erbe, ai fonti, All’eco, all’aria, ai venti, Che il suon de’vani accenti Portano via con se. E se non ho chi m’oda, Parlo d’amor con me!

I speak of love while awake, I speak of love while dreaming, To the water, the shade, the hills, The flowers, the grass, the fountains, The echo, the air, and the winds Which carry away with them The sound of my vain words. And if there’s nobody to hear me, I speak of love to myself!

(Non so piu)

landscape/theatre 37

O come par che all’amoroso foco L’amenita del loco, La terra e il ciel risponda. Come la notte i furti miei risponda Finche non splende in ciel notturna face Finche l’aria e ancor bruna, E il mondo tace. Qui mormora il ruscel, qui scherza l’aura Che col dolce susurro il cor ristaura Qui ridono i fioretti e l’erba e fresca Ai piaceri d’amor qui tutto adesca. Vieni, ben mio, tra queste piante ascose. (Deh vieni, non tardar)

38 landscape/theatre

Oh, how it seems that to amorous fires The comfort of the place, Earth and heaven respond, As the night responds to my ruses. Until night’s torches no longer shine in the sky As long as the air is still dark And the world quiet. Here the river murmurs and the light plays That restores the heart with sweet ripples Here, little flowers laugh and the grass is fresh Here, everything entices one to love’s pleasures Come, my dear, among these hidden plants.

landscape/theatre 39

“Venite inginocchiatevi� Marlis Petersen (Susanna)and Isabel Leonard (Cherubino)in Le Nozze di Figaro Metropolitan Opera, 2014

40 landscape/theatre

Responses, some spatial, to M. Nussbaum 2010 (motes, October 2016) The musical idiom, breathless and yet tender, is utterly unlike the tense accents of the adult males. Indeed, it is the musical idiom, far more than the Beaumarchais-inspired text, which makes us see that Cherubino’s sensibility is poetic and romantic, rather than simply energetic. (18) I think Nussbaum is actually attributing too much subversiveness to him. He is under threat of violence/oppression by the Count, yes, but he is also getting away with A LOT by being in-between, in ways that the women cannot “It has often been sensed that Susanna’s tender aria, “Come, kneel down,” Venite, inginocchiattevi, is a pivotal moment in the opera, that something profound is going on when Susanna, first perfecting Cherubino’s female disguise, then takes a look at him and sings, “If women fall in love with him, they certainly have their good reasons” (se l’amano le femmine, han certo il lor perchè.) The music is perhaps the most sensuous and tender in the opera, as Susanna, asking him to turn around, adjusts his collar and his hands, shows him how to walk like a woman– and then notices how the guise complements the young man’s mischievous eyes and graceful bearing: che furba guardatura, che vezzo, che figura! What Mozart slyly suggests, by making this aria so riveting, and, at the same time, so playful, is that here, in an intimate moment of tenderness, that the seeds of overthrow for the ancien regime are decisively sown.” (20) Also problematic valence to this: the women must teach, they give their identity to the young man, and how do they benefit--he is granted mutability, but they can’t dress up as men and enjoy masculine affect... why must the women’s subversive behavior be mediated/crystallized by a male? “Third, Cherubino, unlike all the other males, is utterly vulnerable…”(19) He is actually not. Because he is a male, he is not vulnerable the way Contessa is. He has liberty to express vulnerability, but actually this is a privilege he enjoys that the Countess can’t--she expresses sorrow instead. Plus, he has a girlfriend, who he is having sex with? But also totally focused on Countess? Not malevolent, but somewhat similar to Count in ways MN is not acknowledging... His movements--escaping out the window, hiding behind chair, wardrobe, etc. and roaming around the forest in the evening--reveal a freedom unlike that of any other character. He is between worlds, associated with the women’s realm, but always with the option to choose the rights and privileges of adult men. Nussbaum is too generous and simplistic in her fully benign characterization of Cherubino; this is a complex character on the edge of adulthood, experimenting with moral choices and feeling out the tension between self-discipline and unbridled passion, and his spatial behavior hints at this.

landscape/theatre 41

ACT IV: “...e perche io non posso quelche il Conte ognor fara?� and why am i not permitted what the Count does every day? (that is, to kiss Susanna)

42 landscape/theatre

Assumptions and realities of (gendered) privilege, and unequal safety and dignity in public space. Urban public spaces as unique indicators or manifestations of social inequity in a society. Performance (movement, activities, self-presentation) is understood as worthy of study; the hypothesis is that these performances can yield new knowledge of the function of city landscapes, and how they uphold existing social order or offer new possibilities for socio-spatial relations.

Ruth Orking: “American Girl in Italy�

landscape/theatre 43

Toward design

THE METERED FLOOR choreographic ground plane, negotiation, visibility/surveillance

44 toward design

toward design 45

THE SHADOWY FOREST array of vertical planes, discovery, concealment, encounter

46 toward design

toward design 47

Sketchbook: a stage set for Figaro that remains in the landscape to be appropriated, reused, negotiated after the performance evolution/adaptation/erosion of the original structures----> novel landscape experiments in performance One idea: permutations of the metered floor floor as primary/central set feature, like the pool of water in Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses, Mary Zimmerman photo by Teresa Wood

48 toward design

toward design 49

“This is detestable, it will never be played!� -Louis XVI, upon reading manuscript of Le Mariage de Figaro

50 toward design

piu docile io sono, e dico che si...

toward design 51

Reading List

52 reading list

as of December 2016

reading list 53

Landscape in Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro"  
Landscape in Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro"  

Ideas on spatial legibility and accessibility in Mozart and Da Ponte's opera, and its relevance for contemporary public space and social jus...