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5.110014 - MOZART: Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492 (Highlights)
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) – Highlights


In Mozart’s native Salzburg, where he had been intermittently employed at the court of his father’s patron, the Archbishop, there had been little opportunity for the composition of opera, a form towards which his ambitions had always tended. As a boy he had responded to opportunities offered in Milan and in 1781 saw his opera Idomeneo staged in Munich. In the same year, during a visit to Vienna in the entourage of the Archbishop, he broke with his employer, establishing himself in the imperial capital in initially successful but precarious independence. An early opportunity came in a German opera, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, for the new German company encouraged by the Emperor. It was only in 1786 that further chance offered itself with a commission for an Italian opera for the court theatre. This was a setting of a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte based on the second of the plays by Beaumarchais on the subject of Figaro, barber of Seville and now steward to Count Almaviva, whose marriage he had successfully aided.


The opera won considerable success both in Vienna and subsequently in Prague, and was revived in the former in 1789, when two new arias were substituted for Susanna, the second of which, from the last act, is here included. The choice of subject had seemed, in the climate of the time, open to criticism and the play by Beaumarchais had, in fact, been banned as possibly subversive in its overt ridicule of the aristocracy. Da Ponte’s libretto, however, met with the Emperor’s approval, an idiomatic translation of the original French play into Italian operatic form.




After the sparkling Overture [1], the curtain rises on a half-furnished room in the castle of Count Almaviva. Figaro, the Count’s personal servant, is measuring the room for their bed, while the girl he is to marry, Susanna, the Countess’s maid, is looking in the mirror, adjusting her bonnet. Both are busy with their own activities. Susanna asks Figaro to look at her new bonnet, which he now admires. The room allocated to them is conveniently placed, next to the Count’s and the Countess’s apartments, so that Susanna can answer the bell when the Countess rings, and Figaro the Count. It is also dangerously convenient for the Count and Susanna, should the Count so desire, since he seems to regret his abnegation of the droit de seigneur. Figaro, alone, now realises the Count’s intentions and resolves to turn the tables on him [2].


Dr Bartolo, former guardian of the Countess, and Marcellina, once his housekeeper and mistress and now in the service of the Count, enter. Marcellina is seeking advice on money that she is owed by Figaro, who, in default, must marry her, although she is considerably older than he is. Bartolo, outwitted by Figaro, who had cheated him out of his ward and her money, seeks revenge [3]. If Susanna rejects the Count as a lover, then surely he will not give her the dowry he has promised on her coming marriage and Figaro will then have to marry Marcellina. Bartolo leaves, to fulfil his ambition of revenge, while Marcellina is joined by her rival, Susanna. Marcellina pretends not to see her, and comments aloud on her prospects of marriage, each pretending politeness to the other, as they meet, in a duet in which each eventually offers the other more pointed insults, before Marcellina storms out.


Susanna is now joined by the young nobleman nick-named Cherubino, little cherub, a page in the Count’s entourage. He is in love with the Countess, his godmother, and with any woman he can find, already having incurred the Count’s displeasure. He explains his amorous feelings to Susanna [4]. The Count appears and Cherubino quickly hides behind the chair in the centre of the room, anxious to avoid the Count’s further suspicions of his womanising. The Count now sits in the chair and assures Susanna of his love for her, as already made known to her by the music-master Don Basilio. He suggests an assignation in the garden that evening, but is interrupted by the arrival of Don Basilio. He is distracted for a moment, as he tries to hide behind the chair, allowing Cherubino time to move quickly into the chair, to be covered by a dress that Susanna had by her. Basilio is looking for the Count to warn him that Figaro is looking for him. He mentions the behaviour of Cherubino, who is paying far too much attention to the Countess, as everyone knows. At this the Count emerges from hiding, unable to restrain himself any longer. He orders Cherubino to be sought out. Susanna, anxious to avoid further trouble, pretends to faint, reviving to order the two men out of her room. The Count, now determined to be rid of Cherubino, describes how he had found him with Barbarina, hiding under the table, to be uncovered. Suiting the action to the word, he seizes the dress from the chair, and Cherubino is revealed. The Count wants Figaro to know what he imagines may have been going on, but is deterred by the realisation that Cherubino has heard his own amorous protestations to Susanna and her rejection of him. Explanations are interrupted by the arrival of Figaro with a band of villagers, come to thank the Count for his rejection of the droit de seigneur, incited by Figaro, who thus aims to defeat the Count’s designs on Susanna. Cherubino seeks the Count’s pardon, when the villagers have gone, and the Count agrees, sending him away at once to join his own regiment as an officer, hardly the outcome that Cherubino had expected. Figaro, of course, has his own plans, but he makes fun of Cherubino in an aria [5], describing the delights of army life in the most popular of all arias from the opera.


The second act opens in the Countess’s chamber, a fine room with a window overlooking the garden, an alcove and three doors, one of which leads to a closet and another to the servants’ room. The Countess complains sadly of her husband’s apparent neglect [6]. She is joined by Susanna, who has already told her of the Count’s proposition. Figaro enters, assuring the Countess that all will be well. His plan has been to let the Count know, through Basilio, that his wife has an assignation that evening in the garden, and to arrange an assignation for the Count with Susanna, replaced for the occasion by Cherubino in disguise. Cherubino appears, with a song he has written for the Countess, and is persuaded, with much embarrassment, to sing it, an account of his feelings [7]. The Countess congratulates him and Susanna now sets to dressing him in female disguise. She rehearses him in his new rôle, telling him to kneel [8], to turn round and take some steps. The two women are delighted at the result, but the Countess tells him to roll up his sleeve, revealing a ribbon he has kept of the Countess’s and a cut which he pretends to have bandaged with the ribbon, in fact ingredients of a love-charm. The Countess takes the ribbon. She sends Susanna for a new dress, but is moved by Cherubino’s plight. At this moment the Count is heard approaching, jealous to learn of his wife’s supposed infidelity and suspicious to find her door locked. Cherubino, now half-dressed, takes refuge in the closet, which she locks as the Count enters, seeking an explanation from his wife. His suspicion is further aroused when Cherubino bumps into something in the closet. The Countess, who has already told her husband that she has sent Susanna for another dress, now tells him that the noise from the locked closet must be Susanna, who now slips back into the room, hiding herself in the alcove. The Count orders Susanna to come out, the Countess tells her not to; he voices his suspicions of a lover, she her predicament and Susanna her resolution to help. The Count now determines to have the door opened by force. He locks Susanna’s door and takes the Countess with him in his search for help. Their absence allows Susanna to emerge from the alcove and tell Cherubino to make his escape, which he does by bravely leaping out of the window into the garden below [9]. The Count and Countess return and she tells him that it is Cherubino who is locked in the closet, although only an innocent charade had been planned. [10] The Count is furious and orders the boy to come out, but is met, when the door is unlocked, by Susanna. He is now forced to seek his wife’s forgiveness for his accusations and anger. Figaro appears, prepared for his wedding, but the Count now suspects his part in the note he had received telling him of the Countess’s planned infidelity. Figaro denies any complicity, although the Countess and Susanna suggest other excuses. At this moment Antonio, the gardener, appears, complaining that a man has jumped from the balcony onto his flowers. Thinking quickly, Figaro claims that it was he and, when Antonio produces a paper that the apparent fugitive had dropped, in fact Cherubino’s commission, is able to point out that the document needed to be completed with the Count’s seal. At this juncture Marcellina bursts in, accompanied by Dr Bartolo and Don Basilio and demanding justice from the Count since she has a written promise of marriage from Figaro. The Count agrees to give the matter his consideration.


The third act opens in a state room prepared for the wedding. The Count, alone, puzzles over the anonymous note he has received and the events of the previous scene. Unheard by the Count, the Countess and Susanna have entered and the Countess persuades Susanna to arrange an assignation with the Count, for which the two of them can exchange dresses, so that he will in fact meet his own wife. Susanna approaches the Count and asks him for smelling-salts for his wife. The Count tells her she will need them herself, when Figaro marries Marcellina, something that can be avoided, if she does as she is asked. Susanna pretends to agree. As she leaves she meets Figaro and tells him the case is already won, without a lawyer. The Count overhears and now again suspects a plot against him [11]. He can easily marry Figaro off, if not to Marcellina, then to Antonio’s daughter, Barbarina. He is unwilling to see a servant happy, while he is in torment. Don Curzio appears, with Marcellina, Dr Bartolo and Figaro, announcing the case settled: Figaro must either pay up or marry Marcellina. Now Figaro appeals to the Count, but the others are delighted at the decision. Nevertheless he declares the impossibility of marriage without the consent of his noble parents: he had been stolen as a baby and perhaps in due course may find his parents again. Marcellina, however, recognises in Figaro her son, of whom Dr Bartolo was the father. Susanna enters, ready with money to pay Figaro’s debt. Seeing him with Marcellina, she imagines them already married, but soon all is explained. Marcellina and Dr Bartolo will marry, while Figaro is free to marry Susanna. As they leave, Barbarina rushes in with Cherubino, whom she promises to disguise as a girl. As they leave, the Countess returns, eager to know how Susanna has fared with the Count. She goes on to lament her husband’s inconstancy and the days of love that are now gone [12]. As she goes out, the Count comes in, with Antonio, who explains to his master that Cherubino is still at the castle and is in Antonio’s house, disguising himself as a girl. They leave and the Countess and Susanna return, the former telling her maid to take down a note that she will dictate, arranging a meeting with the Count. The note is duly written, to be read back again to her mistress by Susanna. The missive is sealed by a pin that the Count is asked to return. The girls of the estate now come to honour the Countess, led by Barbarina and including, in their midst, the disguised Cherubino. The Count, forewarned by Antonio, who has given him the hat Cherubino had dropped, recognises his page at once. His anger is only deflected by Barbarina, who asks for the boy as her husband. Figaro comes in, ready for the festivities, but awakening the Count’s suspicion, since any lameness he had once claimed after his alleged leap from the window seems to have vanished. During the wedding dance the Count pricks his finger on the pin that sealed Susanna’s note, which she has handed him, Figaro observing that it must be a love letter that the Count is holding. All ends in apparent satisfaction. Figaro will be married and the Count will have his way.


The fourth act is set in the castle gardens, with two pavilions, one to the right and one to the left. It is night. Barbarina is searching for a pin she had dropped, the pin, as she explains to Figaro, who has entered with Marcellina, that the Count had told her to give to Susanna. Figaro now suspects the worst and resolves to confront the pair of them, while Marcellina decides to warn Susanna. As they go, Barbarina runs in and enters the pavilion on the left, where she will meet Cherubino. Figaro appears with Don Basilio and Dr Bartolo, witnesses to Susanna’s infidelity, and tells them to hide, until he gives the signal. [13] Basilio tells Dr Bartolo what is going on and recounts his own behaviour as a young man, before he learned that it was better to act the fool. Alone, Figaro, now fired with jealousy of Susanna, has everything ready: men should open their eyes and see what women are really like. He conceals himself, as the Countess and Susanna, each disguised as the other, and Marcellina enter the garden. Marcellina withdraws to the pavilion on the left, while Susanna will take the air by the laurel bushes and the Countess hide nearby. Susanna now teases Figaro with her resolve to meet the one she loves, reproaching her beloved for his neglect $. Cherubino appears, in uniform, ready to meet Barbarina, but sees the Countess in her disguise as Susanna. [15] He approaches her, but she tells him to be gone.  He tries to kiss her, but succeeds in kissing the Count, who has intervened, while Figaro has observed everything, to the real Susanna’s amusement. Cherubino makes off quickly.  Now the Count is left with his supposed Susanna, giving her a ring and money, and trying to lead her into the pavilion on the left. Figaro emerges, to challenge the couple. The Countess pretends to be afraid and takes refuge in the pavilion on the right, while the Count moves away. Susanna, imitating the voice of the Countess, urges Figaro to keep quiet, agreeing to watch her supposed husband’s infidelity. Figaro, however, recognises Susanna’s voice and urges her to be calm, in spite of her anger at his behaviour. The Count returns, approaching the pavilion, and Figaro now pretends to woo the supposed Countess, Susanna in her disguise, moving together to the left-hand pavilion. The Count intervenes, calling loudly for witnesses as he unmasks Figaro as his wife’s lover and rushes into the pavilion on the left, where he finds Cherubino, Barbarina, Marcellina and the woman he supposes to be his wife. The true Countess emerges from the other pavilion, her identity now clear. All ends in forgiveness and the Count seeks his wife’s pardon for his behaviour.


Keith Anderson

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