- Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Adapted for Covent Garden, 1819 by Henry Rowley Bishop
It is now widely known and accepted that, after their premieres, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century operas were often altered and adapted for subsequent productions. These modifications could be simple, such as the inclusion of substitute arias, or quite complicated involving character changes and large sections of new music. In spite of the ubiquity of this practice, only in the last twenty years or so have scholars paid attention to some of the more extreme adaptations, examining them as a source of great insight into the audience expectations and the performance practices of a certain time and place. Christina Fuhrmann’s edition of Henry Rowley Bishop’s English-language adaptation of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro is a splendid contribution to this field of study, providing a window into the practice of adaptation in nineteenth-century London. As Fuhrmann states in the introduction: “Bishop’s Figaro. . . is an important example of typical practice that scholars of opera, Mozart, musical [End Page 814] theater, and music in both Britain and the United States will benefit from having readily available” (p. ix).
This edition also provides an artifact of the reception of Mozart’s operas in England. During Mozart’s lifetime, the only portions of his operas heard in Britain were occasional arias and ensembles inserted into other operas, often by performers such as Nancy Storace who originated the role of Susanna in Vienna. In the early nineteenth century, more complete, but still altered, versions began to appear at the King’s Theatre, sung in Italian usually by Italian singers. There were also occasional concert performances of isolated pieces, but the average early-nineteenth-century Londoner would not have known much of Le nozze di Figaro at all, let alone the entire work. Bishop’s adaptation brought the opera into the realm of common parlance and made it accessible by conforming to audience expectations. Bishop’s Figaro was so successful in its audience appeal that it continued to be performed for several years following its premiere: a significant feat in the fickle and novelty-hungry world of British theatrical tastes.
Fuhrmann first explored Bishop’s alterations in her dissertation, “‘Adapted and Arranged for the English Stage’: Continental Operas Transformed for the London Theater, 1814–33” (Ph.D. diss., Washington University, 2001) and a full description of Bishop’s changes to Le nozze di Figaro is now also available in the front matter of this edition. Fuhrmann provides a discussion of the form and structure of Bishop’s Figaro, as well as an explanation of the practice of adaptation, audience expectations, and the work’s reception.
In addition to an excellent introduction that contextualizes the adaptation, the edition also contains a complete piano-vocal score of the opera with interpolated dialogue, the critical apparatus and report, and some items from the autograph score that Fuhrmann used to reconstruct missing numbers. Additionally, Fuhrmann has included a few facsimile pages from the printed and manuscript sources.
Bishop’s adaptation of Figaro premiered at Covent Garden in March 1819. Although operatic repertoire had typically been confined to the King’s Theatre, English-language versions of continental operas were starting to appear at other venues, and Bishop played an essential role in developing the trend for operatic adaptations. Bishop’s Figaro is not only an example of a common practice in nineteenth-century London, but it is also a particularly high-quality example, illustrating how a continental opera can be modified to suit a particular venue and audience.
In order to appeal to the audience at Covent Garden, Bishop had to make some rather large changes to Mozart’s opera, creating a version that is quite different from...