Marriage Reinterpreted – Figaro’s Passage to India

Opera San José’s “The Marriage of Figaro” culminates in an exuberant dance
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By Henry Etzkowitz

This week-end is your chance to enjoy San Jose Opera Company’s well sung,
creatively staged, laugh filled extravaganza. Taking artistic license, before leaving for a
Texas opera company, the director transposed Mozart’s comedy of manners from
Europe to her ancestral homeland or more precisely to a useful simulacrum of Indian
heritage. Cultural transmogrification was mostly realized through couture, taking full
advantage of sari and scarf. Males varied between traditional Indian and Victorian
costume, along with colorful British military dress, think redcoat, (displayed in profusion
in the observances of the late British monarch’s funeral).

Maya Kherani (center) is Susanna in Opera San José’s “The Marriage of Figaro.”

Culture Clash
Mozart’s “folie a trois’” is set in motion by the plot device of the European ruler’s feudal
tradition customary right to deflower a bride in advance of the wedding night. This
“breaking into” sexual activity ritual, presumes absence of premarital sex, a doubtful
presumption even in conservative societies. In any event, the initial plot wrinkle,
abandonment of ancient custom by enlightened ruler, who backslides or at least
decides to make an exception for a particularly attractive upcoming bride. Resistance to
his decision provides the plotline for the evening ‘s entertainment, including comedic
cross-dressing and nubile maiden dance performance.

Cherubino (Deepa Johnny) is disguised as a woman by Susanna (Maya Kherani) in Opera San José’s “The Marriage of Figaro.”

A traditional European custom is left in place as plot engine. My informants from the
community have no knowledge of an Indian counterpart to European feudal prerogative,
some of whose analogous themes still persist as in the Swedish professor’s privilege
control over their intellectual property. A potential candidate might be found in the
patriarchal honorific custom of Suttee, the wife of a deceased husband’s funerary pyre,
Rescue of an unutilized child bride portrayed in Around the World in Eighty Days added
romantic potential to an adventure story as a secondary  plot point.

Susanna (Maya Kherani) and Countess Almaviva (Maria Natale) confer with Cherubino (Deepa Johnny) in disguise in Opera San José’s “The Marriage of Figaro.”

Expanding Potential Audience
Moving venues and eras often freshens up an operatic war horse. In addition to
brightening up Mozart’s classic, subcontinent motif served to draw in another ethnic
community to the San Jose opera universe in addition to the Italian community,
traditionally relied upon as a support base. San Jose’s Figaro has been ballyhooed as
a Bollywood extravaganza, presumably to attract a broader, youthful audience. To test
this implicit hypothesis, the reviewer invited two millennial acquaintances, Jialei
and her friend, to accompany him, following up with a brief email questionnaire:

What was “high point” of performance?

Faithful love. (Andy)

Smart actress

What was “low point” of performance?

No low point. (Andy)

Sometimes the self-thoughts are too long.

Would you like to go to another opera?
If yes, how much would be reasonable ticket price?

No, this opera is very great. (Andy)

Cinderella. 50-100 dollars.

Any comment you wish to add?

Perfect opera. (Andy)

Everything is perfect.

Shruthi Shyam dances in Opera San José’s “The Marriage of Figaro.”


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