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Music 10B, Winter 2022: History of Music, 1745 – 1848
Writing Assignment Four: Staging The Marriage of Figaro (1786)
Deadline: Sunday, January 30, 9pm via Gauchospace
This week we have been looking at Opera Buffa, or comic opera. We’ve seen how
Opera Buffa was a form of social commentary in the eighteenth century, with characters
and plots that subtly (or sometimes less than subtly) mocked the ruling classes, and
envisioned worlds in which the underdog comes out on top. For this assignment, you
are going to explore how these stories are crafted through music (part I), and how they
are then re-envisioned for present day audiences (part II). Your focus will be the Act II
ensemble finale of The Marriage of Figaro—the scene that we focused on in our case
study lecture for this week.
The essay you submit for this week’s assignment will be in two parts, totaling between
600 and 750 words in length (though you can go up to 1000 words if you wish). In the
first part, you will briefly discuss the scene itself, by completing the questions below. In
the second part—which will likely be the longer one—you will either review a
production of Figaro, or propose your own staging of the opera, providing reasons for
your creative decisions that connect back to Mozart and DaPonte’s opera.
Part I: Regardless of the prompt you choose, in the first part of your essay the focus is
on the Act II ensemble finale of The Marriage of Figaro. In this section of the essay,
discuss the following issues:
– How are music and drama working together here? How is the music conveying
the interpersonal dynamics of the scene at hand, particularly the relationship
between characters of different genders and social classes? How is Mozart using
music to increase the dramatic intensity as the scene progresses?
– As an example to illustrate your response to the questions above, pick a specific
moment of the Act II ensemble finale, and describe how the music conveys the
social status of the characters. Look back to this week’s lectures, and the excerpt
you read from Mary Hunter’s Mozart’s Operas to complete this part of the
prompt: both of these will give you ideas about what to listen for, and how to
describe what you’re seeing and hearing. You will want to cite the Hunter book
to support your claims: use specific page numbers, but parenthetical citations
will suffice, e.g. (Hunter, 139).
Part II, Option A: If you decide to review a production of The Marriage of Figaro, will
want to address the following topics. Write as if you were an art critic for the New York
Times. You can find examples of reviews in the arts column of this newspaper, if you
need inspiration.
– Describe how this production has set the opera (time, place, scenario – to the
extent that you can decipher this from watching). How is the production
“translating” aspects of the original production? Do you think these creative
decisions work for you as an audience, and what makes these decisions work—or
not work—musically and dramatically?
– What elements of the plot—and particularly the dynamics between the
characters—come through in this production? Discuss at least one musicaldramatic specific example in your response.
– Do you think this production has reconciled eighteenth-century social hierarchies
(particularly of class and gender) with contemporary ideas about these topics? If
so, how? If not, what have they done instead?
– What is your reaction to the creative decisions made in this production overall?
Do you think this production translates the conventions of opera buffa in a
convincing way—why or why not? (Craft a well-informed opinion using your newfound knowledge of the musical and dramatic conventions of eighteenth-century
comic opera).
You’ve watched a 2015 production from Salzburg for this week’s case study—that can
be your example if you would like. But there are lots of other productions available on
YouTube, or online through the library, though: feel free to look around and pick one of
these examples if you’d like instead—just list the production that you’re focusing on
(with a production date, location, director, and a link) in the bibliography at the end of
your essay.
Part II, Option B: Alternatively, you can propose your own staging of this opera,
together with a brief rationale of your creative decisions that focuses on the appeal and
potential challenges of presenting this opera to contemporary audiences. You will want
to consider:
– Where and when do you plan your production: who is your intended audience,
and how will your chosen setting appeal to this crowd? How will your setting
account for the social dynamics of the original opera (e.g. will the characters of
the opera take on specific roles to account for their status)? What other factors
might you consider—explain your rationale as if you were presenting a proposal
for this opera to a funding agency (i.e. make a pitch! Support with evidence!)
– What elements of Mozart and DaPonte’s opera, specifically in the Ensemble
Finale of Act II, present challenges when thinking about contemporary
audiences: how will you confront questions of social hierarchy and sexism that
are embroiled within the plot in a way that resonates for contemporary
audiences?
– Are there opportunities within Mozart and Da Ponte’s opera that allow you to
address present day social issues through your production and appeal to a
contemporary audience (not necessarily through a modern-day staging—though
you’re welcome to propose this if you would like. But also think more broadly
about social dynamics, or potential educational elements of your production—
like program notes and pre-concert talks)?

Aims and Expectations

This assignment has three aims. The first is to enhance your understanding of opera
buffa by discussing the musical-dramatic features of the Act II ensemble finale from The
Marriage of Figaro. The second is to consider the continued appeal of opera buffa in
the present day—either by analyzing a contemporary production of Figaro, or by
proposing your own staging of the opera. The third is to practice writing in a style that
you might end up using in your career: arts journalism or grant writing. With these aims
in mind, you will be graded on your ability to describe the musical and dramatic
features of this scene in ways that support your ideas. If you decide to review a
production, we’ll look at the ways you present informed ideas into your review. If you
decide to propose a staging, we’ll look at how you incorporate what you’ve learned
about the conventions of opera buffa into your creative decisions.
Formatting Guidelines
– The two parts of your essay should be between 600 and 750 words in length total
(though you can expand to 1000 words if you wish). Use Times New Roman, 12-
point font, double spaced, and one-inch margins. Write in full sentences and
paragraphs. Please label the sections of your essay, and clearly note which
option you have taken for the second part. interpersonal dynamics
– You will likely want to cite Mary Hunter’s book, and perhaps one (or both) of the interpersonal dynamics
online essays we have read this week. Use parenthetical citations within the essay
itself (including page numbers for the Hunter!), and then prepare a bibliography
to include at the end of your assignment. If you consult other sources, cite those
in the bibliography, too. The bibliography is not a part of your word count. Links
to the Chicago Manual of Style are available on GauchoSpace if you need interpersonal dynamics
citation guidelines.
– Save your assignment as a MSWord doc and give your file the title Last
Name_Music 10B Assignment 4. Upload to gauchospace by the deadline.

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