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Thread: Nozze di Figaro: "Oh Susanna" and "In The Pines"

  1. #1
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    Default Nozze di Figaro: "Oh Susanna" and "In The Pines"

    This question may seem "out there" ... or, conversely, perhaps it's a familiar question that opera experts have discussed before. I'm planning a podcast episode ("Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera") about the character of Figaro, and I also just saw a *wonderful* "Nozze di Figaro" at the Met featuring Nadine Sierra, Luca Pisaroni, Susanna Phillips and Adam Plachetka during which this question occurred to me.

    In Figaro's jealousy aria in Act 4, he poignantly sings "Oh Susanna, Susanna! Quanto pena mi costi". The melody of this line seems very similar to the famous Stephen Foster American folk song "Oh Susanna", specifically the key line "Oh Susanna, don't you cry for me".

    Coincidence? Not a coincidence? I think it must be a quotation. I'm imagining that "Nozze di Figaro" must have played a lot in 19th century America. I have no idea whether or not listeners recognized the Mozart quote, but whether or not it was recognized it seems likely that Stephen Foster was indulging in a moment of parody. Agree or disagree?

    Interestingly, I noted another connection between this opera and American folk music while watching this "Nozze". Susanna plots her simulated (and ultimately innocent) mock-betrayal of Figaro "in the pines". Of course, the entire Act 4 climax, in which Figaro and the Count both burn with jealousy, takes place "in the pines". Was this the source of Leadbelly's famous folk song "In The Pines", which is about a guy burning with jealousy?

    Once again, I'm ready to believe it must be, and that the popularity of "Nozze" must explain the unlikely placement of Mozart references in American folk music. I'd like to know what the experts on this forum think of this connection.
    Last edited by marceliotstein; Dec-02-2019 at 15:05.

  2. #2
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    You can read about the history of the song "In the Pines" here:

    This is pretty typical of the rural American folk tradition where there are different versions and variants of the song as they were passed down by word of mouth and people would add, change or take out bits to make a new version. These songs were based on the experiences of people in rural communities and there's no evidence that they were influenced by high culture whether poetry or music on either side of the Atlantic.

    That said, Mozart did influence American folk music (the melody of 'Non piu andrai' was used for the song 'You'll roam no more'.) You would probably find this article interesting about Da Ponte and Mozarts music in the USA:

    When it comes to "Oh Susanna" the melodies of the two excerpts you mention are too dissimilar to be a quotation. I would suggest that you heard the words 'Oh Susanna' and it reminded you of the song.


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