Figaro Figaro

One way or another it was some time before I could broach the subject to Amy of her husband in Kettering. When she first told me that he existed she had made some excuse, and no opportunity to talk about him had occurred since. As she had been rescued by my son only a few months ago from a slave-dealer in the South China Sea I could not help being intrigued.

I was again in Great Secret Miss, as she had named her place.

Now that Paralympics ® over, she said, I think I safe.

Certainly police suspicion seemed to have evaporated with the general public euphoria for the Games™. One of the triumphant processions had passed not far away, but it had not been accompanied, as I had feared, by crowd hysteria and violence. Few windows had been smashed. Amy’s remained intact, with nothing worse than some aggressive graffiti about ‘Our Boys and Girls’.

Inside, people were milling about as usual. I was chatting with Amy, who would however dart off from time to time to attend to some more or less recherché need on the part of the clientele.

A Mozart opera was playing in the background. This made a change: a pleasant one from the all-purpose Oriental muzak that she normally had; though nothing was as beautiful as Amy’s unaccompanied singing.

I didn’t know you liked Mozart.

Amy, who is relentless at improving her general knowledge, told me that she had bought a box set of European classical music. Later investigation showed this to be the Harmonia Mundi set Music of the Enlightenment, a wonderful selection, thirty CDs for less than £1 each. She was working her way through from start to famish. This had had been a joy, she said, until two thirds of the way through there were three operas, back to back.

This third and last. Good luck. This called Le Nozze di Figaro by Mozart.

She pronounced the ‘z’s as in ‘zeitgeist’ as opposed to ‘pizza’.

Ng, I said.

What means Le Nozze di Figaro by Mozart? Not English.

Mozart wrote it, I explained. He was a composer from Austria, near Germany.

Mozart I know. He had symphony before in box. What means Le Nozze di Figaro?

Figaro is a name. Nozze is Austrian for nose. So it is Figaro’s Nose.

Think should be not nozze but nozza, interrupted Amy, who had also applied her mind to comparative syntax.

It would be la nozza if Figaro were female but, in Austrian, where the possessor of the nose is masculine it is correctly le nozze instead. Figaro is a dog, loveable, small – and male. The action of the opera revolves around the concerns of the characters whether Figaro’s nose is sufficiently cold and wet. Suffice to say that in Acts Two and Three there are serious concerns on the matter, some genuine but others generated by confusion caused by a series of hilarious misunderstandings; but by the end of the final act it is triumphantly cold, wet and healthy and the subject of a resounding tutti.

Cherubs? One character he Cherubino.

No, Amy. Cherubs is putti. Cherubino is not a little cherub, but a very big pageboy. It’s just his name. He’s usually sung by a woman. A soprano. A mezzo soprano. Tutti just means everyone.

Ah. And Figaro. What he sing?

What he sing?

He tenor, baritone voice? What voice?

He no sing, I said. He dog.

Ah, she said again.

She paused to let this information sink in.

Is all very – and she said a word in Mandarin that I didn’t understand.


I get dictionary – which she did.

Is very boisterous.

It is. It’s too boisterous for me too. But Figaro is little more than a puppy, a very boisterous dog. And it is an early example of opera buffa – comic opera, opera for the people, as opposed to the high-flown tragedies of earlier in the century. There are serious undercurrents, however, for those who care to look.

Ah! Figaro’s nose symbolic?

Doctorates have been earned on the symbolism of Figaro’s nose.

Still too boisterous.

She pronounced it carefully, with three syllables.

Later in his tragically short life, Mozart wrote a sequel, The Marriage of Figaro, and that is less boisterous.

Dog got married!

In those days dogs in Austria could. And they were subject to certain forms of criminal liability for crimes not extending to dishonesty. They were dangerous times for dogs.

(Enlightenment! said Amy. Pft!)

Cherubino has an aria in the second opera to that effect. How Can Towser Stand Such Times and Live? is how it goes in English, the English of the 1930s when the most popular translation was made; dogs aren’t called Towser any more. Cherubino is by now a bass, of course.

We were interrupted. One of Amy’s girls had a problem with a client and an acupuncture needle. Amy stood up to deal with it.

You do acupuncture now?

Outsource him.

She returned five minutes later. She was holding the booklet for the box set and smiling broadly.

Why you talk bollocks?

She approached the last word cautiously and carried it off with aplomb.

Have you read Mozart’s version?

Anyway, Amy, I said, what’s all this about a husband in Kettering?

Yes I go Kettering. I see husband.

And indeed she had her coat and hat, and without more ado she left.

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