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The Marriage of Figaro

[fig-uh-roh]
Le nozze di Figaro, ossia la folle giornata (Trans: The Marriage of Figaro or the Day of Madness), K. 492, is an opera buffa (comic opera) composed in 1786 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with Italian libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, based on a stage comedy by Pierre Beaumarchais, La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro (1784). Although the play by Beaumarchais was at first banned in Vienna because of its satire of the aristocracy, the opera became one of Mozart's most successful works. The overture is especially famous and is often played as a concert piece.

Composition

The opera was the first of three celebrated collaborations between Mozart and da Ponte; their later collaborations were Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte. It was Mozart who originally selected Beaumarchais' play and brought it to da Ponte, who turned it into a libretto in six weeks, rewriting it in poetic Italian and removing all of the original's political references. Contrary to the popular myth, the libretto was approved by the Emperor, Joseph II, before any music was written by Mozart.

The Imperial Italian opera company paid Mozart 450 florins for the work; this was three times his (low) salary when he had worked as a court musician in Salzburg . Da Ponte was paid 200 florins.

Emperor Joseph II was indirectly responsible for preserving this magnificent opera score for posterity. Joseph II was looking for an opera to be produced at the imperial court. Mozart's work was one of the works under consideration, along with several others by contemporary composers. With the scant success Mozart had received to that point, he reportedly swore that if his work was passed over, he would toss the entire score into the fire.

Performance history

Figaro premiered at the Burgtheater in Vienna on May 1, 1786, the cast for which is included in the "Roles" section below. Mozart himself directed the first two performances, conducting seated at the keyboard, the custom of the day. Later performances were by Franz Weigl. The first production was given eight further performances, all in 1786..

Although the total of nine performances was nothing like the frequency of performance of Mozart's later success The Magic Flute, which for months was performed roughly every other day , the premiere is generally judged to have been a success. The applause of the audience on the first night resulted in five numbers being encored, seven on May 8th . Joseph II, who, in addition to his empire, was in charge of the Burgtheater, was concerned by the length of the performance and directed his aide Count Rosenberg as follows:

To prevent the excessive duration of operas, without however prejudicing the fame often sought by opera singers from the repetition of vocal pieces, I deem the enclosed notice to the public (that no piece for more than a single voice is to be repeated) to be the most reasonable expedient. You will therefore cause some posters to this effect to be printed.

The requested posters were printed up and posted in the Burgtheater in time for the third performance on 24 May .

The newspaper Wiener Realzeitung carried a review of the opera in its issue of 11 July, 1786. It alludes to interference probably produced by paid hecklers, but praises the work warmly:

Mozart's music was generally admired by connoisseurs already at the first performance, if I except only those whose self-love and conceit will not allow them to find merit in anything not written by themselves.

The public, however … did not really know on the first day where it stood. It heard many a bravo from unbiassed connoisseurs, but obstreperous louts in the uppermost storey exerted their hired lungs with all their might to deafen singers and audience alike with their St! and Pst; and consequently opinions were divided at the end of the piece.

Apart from that, it is true that the first performance was none of the best, owing to the difficulties of the composition.

But now, after several performances, one would be subscribing either to the cabal or to tastelessness if one were to maintain that Herr Mozart's music is anything but a masterpiece of art.

It contains so many beauties, and such a wealth of ideas, as can be drawn only from the source of innate genius.

The Hungarian poet Franz Kazinczy was in the audience for a May performance, and later remembered the powerful impression the work made on him:

[Nancy] Storace [see below], the beautiful singer, enchanted eye, ear, and soul. — Mozart directed the orchestra, playing his fortepiano; the joy which this music causes is so far removed from all sensuality that one cannot speak of it. Where could words be found that are worthy to describe such joy?

Joseph Haydn appreciated the opera greatly, writing to a friend that he heard it in his dreams. In summer 1790 Haydn attempted to produce the work with his own company at Eszterháza, but was prevented from doing so by the death of his patron, Nikolaus Esterházy .

Other early performances

The Emperor requested a special performance at his palace theater in Laxenberg, which took place in June .

The work was not performed in Vienna during 1787 or 1788, but starting in 1789 there was a revival production.. For this occasion Mozart replaced both arias of Susanna with new compositions, better suited to the voice of Adriana Ferrarese del Bene who took the role. For Venite, inginocchiatevi! he wrote in August 1789 Un moto di gioia (K. 579), and for Deh vieni he wrote in July 1789 Al desio di chi t'adora (K. 577).

The opera was produced in Prague starting in December of 1786 by the Pasquale Bondini company. This production was a tremendous success; the newspaper Prager Oberpostamtszeitung called the work “a masterpiece” , and said “no piece (for everyone here asserts) has ever caused such a sensation.” Local music lovers paid for Mozart to visit Prague and hear the production; he listened on 17 January 1787, and conducted it himself on the 22nd . The success of the Prague production led to the commissioning of the next Mozart/Da Ponte opera, Don Giovanni, premiered in Prague in 1787; see Mozart and Prague.

Contemporary reputation

It is now regarded as a cornerstone of the standard operatic repertoire and it appears as number six on Opera America's list of the 20 most-performed operas in North America.

Roles

Role Voice type Premiere Cast, May 1, 1786
(Conductor: W.A. Mozart)
Count Almaviva baritone Stefano Mandini
Countess Almaviva soprano Luisa Laschi
Susanna soprano Ann Storace
Figaro bass Francesco Benucci
Cherubino,
the Count's page
mezzo-soprano Dorotea Bussani
Marcellina mezzo-soprano Maria Mandini
Bartolo,
doctor from Seville
bass Francesco Bussani
Basilio,
music master
tenor Michael Kelly
Don Curzio,
judge
tenor Michael Kelly
Barbarina,
Antonio's daughter
soprano Anna Gottlieb
Antonio,
the Count's gardener, Susanna's uncle
bass Francesco Bussani
Chorus of peasants, villagers, servants

Synopsis

The action of The Marriage of Figaro takes place after the events in The Barber of Seville, and recounts a single day in the palace of the Count Almaviva in Spain. Rosina is now the Countess; her husband, the Count, is seeking the favors of Susanna, who is to be wed to her love, Figaro, the Count's valet. When the Count detects the interest of the young page, Cherubino, in the Countess, he tries to get rid of Cherubino by giving him an officer's commission in his own regiment. Figaro, Susanna, and the Countess conspire to embarrass the Count and expose his infidelity. Meanwhile Figaro is caught up in a dispute with Bartolo and Marcellina, which ends when he is revealed to be their son. At night, all find themselves on the palace grounds, where a comic series of cases of mistaken identity results in the Count's humiliation and then forgiveness by the Countess.

Place: Count Almaviva's palace (château) of Aguas-Frescas, three leagues outside Seville, Spain.

Act 1

Figaro and Susanna's room

Figaro is happily measuring the space where the bridal bed will fit while Susanna is trying on her wedding bonnet in front of the mirror (in the present day, a more traditional French floral wreath or a modern veil are often substituted, often in combo with a bonnet, so as to accommodate what Susanna happily describes as her wedding "capellino"). (Duet: Cinque, dieci, venti, trenta — "Five, ten, twenty, thirty"). Figaro is quite pleased with their new room; Susanna far less so. She is bothered by its proximity to the Count's chambers: it seems he has been making advances toward her and plans on exercising his "droit de seigneur", the purported feudal right of a lord to bed a servant girl on her wedding night before her husband can sleep with her. The Count had the right abolished when he married Rosina, but he now cunningly desires to reinstate it. Figaro is livid and plans revenge on the Count (Cavatina: Se vuol ballare, signor contino — "If you want to dance, sir Count").

Figaro departs, and Dr. Bartolo arrives with Marcellina, his old housekeeper. Marcellina has hired Bartolo as her counsel, since Figaro had once promised to marry her if he should default on a loan she had made to him, and she intends to enforce that promise. Bartolo, still irked at Figaro for having facilitated the union of the Count and Rosina (in The Barber of Seville), promises, in comical lawyer-speak, to help Marcellina (aria: La vendetta — "Vengeance").

Bartolo departs, Susanna returns, and Marcellina and Susanna share an exchange of very politely delivered insults (duet: Via, resti servita, madama brillante — "After you, brilliant madam"), and Susanna triumphs in the exchange by "complimenting" her rival's old age. The older woman departs in a fury.

Cherubino then arrives and, after describing his emerging infatuation with all women and particularly with his "beautiful godmother" the Countess (aria: Non so più cosa son — "I don't know anymore what I am"), asks for Susanna's aid with the Count. It seems the Count is angry with Cherubino's amorous ways, having discovered him with the gardener's daughter, Barbarina, and plans to punish him. Cherubino wants Susanna to ask the Countess to intercede on his behalf. When the Count appears, Cherubino hides behind a chair, not wanting to be seen alone with Susanna. The Count uses the opportunity of finding Susanna alone to personally step up his demands for favours from her, including financial inducements to sell herself to him. As Basilio, the slimy music teacher, arrives, the Count, not wanting to be caught alone with Susanna, hides behind the chair. Cherubino leaves that hiding place just in time, and jumps onto the chair while Susanna scrambles to cover him with a dress. Now the Count is behind the chair and Cherubino is on the chair covered by a dress.

When Basilio starts to gossip about Cherubino's obvious attraction to the Countess, the Count angrily leaps from his hiding place and he lifts the dress from the chair to illustrate how he found Cherubino under a table in Barbarina's room—again to find Cherubino! The young man is only saved from punishment by the entrance of the peasants of the Count's estate, this entrance being a preemptive attempt by Figaro to commit the Count to a formal gesture symbolizing the promise of Susanna's entering into the marriage unsullied. The Count evades Figaro's plan by postponing the gesture. Still keen on punishing Cherubino, the Count is alerted that the youth had overheard his inappropriate advances towards Susanna. This covert blackmail forces the Count to pardon him grudgingly, but he is summarily to be dispatched to Seville for army duty. Figaro gives him advice about his new, female-less, harsh, military life (aria: Non piú andrai — "No more gallavanting").

Act 2

The Countess' Bedroom

The Countess laments her husband's infidelity. (aria: Porgi, amor, qualche ristoro — "Grant, love, some comfort"). Susanna comes in to prepare the Countess for the day; she has evidently updated the Countess on the latest news regarding the Count's overtures to her, since she responds to the Countess's questions by telling her that she is now fully informed and adds that the Count is not trying to "seduce" her, he is merely offering her a monetary contract in return for her affection. Figaro then arrives and hatches a plan to trick the Count: Susanna will give him a note indicating she wants to meet him that night in the garden; Cherubino will be waiting there, dressed as a woman; and the Countess will arrive and catch him red-handed. Furthermore, Figaro has already sent a letter to the Count (via Basilio) that indicates the Countess has a rendezvous that evening of her own.

Susanna lets Cherubino into the room but locks the door because the Countess is worried about the jealous Count's reaction should he find Cherubino there. Susanna urges him to sing the song he wrote in honor of the Countess (aria: Voi che sapete che cosa é amor — "You ladies who know what love is, see if I have it in my heart"). After the song, they proceed to attire him in women's clothes (aria of Susanna: Venite, inginocchiatevi! — "Come, kneel down before me"). At this time, the Countess sees Cherubino's commission, and notes that the Count was obviously in such a hurry that he forgot to seal it with his signet ring (which was necessary to make it an official document). Susanna returns to her room for some clothing in which to dress Cherubino. While the Countess and Cherubino are waiting for Susanna's return, they suddenly hear the Count arriving, so Cherubino hides in the closet. The Count demands to be allowed into the room and the Countess reluctantly unlocks. The Count enters, angry at the information in the note that he has received from Figaro (via Basilio), hears a noise from the closet, and tries to open it, but it is locked. The Countess pretends it is only Susanna, trying on her wedding dress. Unobserved, Susanna re-enters the bedroom with the clothing and conceals herself after she realises what is wrong (She knows that to reveal her presence would only result in the worst possible consequences to the Countess). Furious and suspicious, the Count leaves with the Countess to find a way to get the door open. As they leave, he locks all the bedroom doors to prevent the intruder from escaping. Susanna emerges and frees Cherubino, who escapes by jumping through the window into the garden. Susanna then takes his place in the closet. (duet: Aprite, presto, aprite — "Open the door, quickly!").

The Count and Countess return. The Countess finally admits that Cherubino is hidden in the closet. The raging Count draws his sword, promising to kill Cherubino, but when the door is opened, they both find to their astonishment only Susanna. The Countess claims that she has told the Count that Cherubino was in the closet only to test him. Now, shamed by his jealousy, the Count begs for forgiveness. When the Count presses about the letter accusing the Countess of infidelity, Susanna and the Countess reveal that the letter was written by Figaro, and then delivered through Basilio. Figaro then arrives and tries to initiate the beginning of the wedding festivities, but the Count stops him and asks who wrote the anonymous note given to him by Basilio. Figaro manages to evade the question, only to have Antonio, the alcoholic gardener, arrive, complaining about a man jumping out of the window into his plantings, and ruining his carnation flowerpots. Antonio brings a letter which, he says, was dropped by the escaping man, and Figaro claims it was he who jumped out the window and fakes that he also hurt his foot. However, the document is Cherubino's appointment to the army. The Countess and Susanna recognize the letter (having seen it previously) and whisper the information on to Figaro, who gets out of this scrape by saying Cherubino gave it to him because it still needed the Count's seal. Marcellina, Bartolo and Basilio now appear, and the former brings her charge against Figaro, demanding that he honor his contract to marry her. The Count secretly rejoices at their arrival. The wedding is postponed in order that the Count may investigate. The scene ends in a tempestuous septet and the Countess, anxious and upset, faints.

Act 3

The wedding hall

The Count mulls over the situation, confused by the preceding events. At the urging of the Countess, Susanna enters and she agrees to arrange to meet the Count later that night (duet: Crudel, perché finora — "Cruel girl, why until now have you allowed me to languish") since the Countess herself plans to meet the Count but disguised as Susanna. As Susanna leaves, the Count overhears her telling Figaro that he has already won the case. Realizing that he is being tricked (aria: Hai già vinta la causa — "You've already won the case?"), he is determined to make Figaro pay by forcing him to marry Marcellina.

Figaro's trial follows, and the judgment is that Figaro must marry Marcellina. Figaro appeals to the Count, but the Count supports the judgment. When Figaro declares himself to be of noble birth and that he was stolen from his parents when he was a baby, the subsequent discussion reveals that Figaro is the long-lost illegitimate son of Bartolo and Marcellina. A touching scene of reconciliation occurs. Because a mother cannot marry her son, Figaro is let off the hook. During the celebrations, Susanna enters with a payment to release Figaro from his debt to Marcellina. Seeing Figaro and Marcellina in celebration, Susanna mistakenly believes that Figaro is happily reconciled to marriage with Marcellina. With some difficulty, Susanna is convinced of the truth of the situation, and joins the celebration. Bartolo, overcome with emotion, agrees to marry Marcellina that evening in a double wedding (sextet: Riconosci in questo amplesso una madre — "Recognize a mother in this hug").

All leave, and the Countess, alone, ponders the loss of her happiness (aria: Dove sono i bei momenti — "Where are they, the beautiful moments"). Susanna enters and updates her regarding the plan to trap the Count. The Countess dictates a love letter for Susanna to give to the Count, which suggests that he meet her that night, "under the pines." The Count is instructed to return the pin which fastens the letter. (duet: Sull'aria… Che soave zeffiretto — "On the breeze… What a gentle little Zephyr").

A chorus of young peasants, among them Cherubino disguised as a girl, arrives to serenade the Countess. The Count arrives with Antonio, and, discovering the page, is enraged. His anger is quickly diffused by Barbarina (a peasant girl, Antonio's daughter), who reminds him of a promise he made to her: "Barbarina, if you will love me, I will give you anything you want." What she wants, it seems, is Cherubino's hand in marriage. Thoroughly embarrassed, the Count allows Cherubino to stay.

The act closes with the double wedding, during the course of which Susanna delivers her letter to the Count. Figaro sees the note with the pin in it, assumes it is from another of the Count's trysts, and laughs to himself. As the curtain drops, the two newlywed couples rejoice.

Act 4

Following the directions in the letter, the Count has sent the pin back to Susanna, giving it to Barbarina. Unfortunately, Barbarina has lost it (aria: L'ho perduta, me meschina — "I lost it, poor me"). Figaro and Marcellina see Barbarina, and Figaro asks her what she is doing. When he hears the pin is Susanna's, he is overcome with jealousy, especially as he recognises the pin to be the one that fastened the letter to the Count. Thinking that Susanna is meeting the Count behind his back, Figaro complains to his mother, and swears to be avenged on the Count and Susanna. Marcellina urges caution, but Figaro will not listen. Figaro rushes off, and Marcellina resolves to inform Susanna of Figaro's intentions.

Actuated by jealousy, Figaro tells Bartolo and Basilio to come to his aid when he gives the signal. After commenting on the situation, they depart, and, left alone, Figaro muses on the inconstancy of women (aria: Aprite un po' quegli occhi — "Open your eyes"). Susanna and the Countess arrive, dressed in each other's clothes. Marcellina is with them, having informed Susanna of Figaro's suspicions and plans. After they discuss the plan, Marcellina and the Countess leave, and Susanna deliberately sings a love song to her beloved within Figaro's hearing (aria: Deh, vieni, non tardar — "Oh come, don't delay"). Figaro is hiding behind a bush and, thinking the song is for the Count, becomes increasingly jealous (which is Susanna's intention).

The Countess arrives in Susanna's dress. Unfortunately Cherubino has also arrived, and, thinking the Countess to be Susanna, tries to kiss the supposed Susanna, but is prevented by the interference of the Count. The Count is pursuing the supposed Susanna (really the Countess), who eludes him; they both run off when they detect Figaro nearby. Then the real Susanna arrives in the Countess' clothes. Figaro starts to tell her of the Count's intentions, but suddenly recognizes his bride. He plays along with the joke by paying deference to her as the Countess; Susanna, not knowing that Figaro knows it is she, becomes jealous: she thinks Figaro is making a pass at the Countess and promptly rewards him with slaps. Figaro finally lets on that he has recognized Susanna's voice, and they make peace.

Playacting, Figaro declares his love for the supposed Countess as the Count appears. The enraged Count calls for his people and for arms: his servant is seducing his wife. Bartolo, Basilio and Antonio arrive with torches as, one by one, the Count drags out Cherubino, Barbarina, Marcellina and the "Countess" from behind the pavilion. During his tirade as he refuses to forgive Figaro and the supposed Countess, the real Countess appears and reveals her true identity; the Count realizes he has been trapped (the supposed Susanna he was trying to seduce was actually his wife), and he simply kneels and asks for forgiveness (Contessa, perdono — "Countess, forgive me"). The Countess, more kind than he (Piú docile io sono — "I am more kind"), forgives her husband and all are contented. They celebrate as the curtain falls.

Instrumentation

The Marriage of Figaro is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, two timpani, and strings; the recitativos are accompanied by harpsichord and cello.

Critical discussion

Lorenzo da Ponte wrote a preface to the first published version of the libretto, in which he boldly claimed that he and Mozart had created a new form of music drama:
In spite … of every effort … to be brief, the opera will not be one of the shortest to have appeared on our stage, for which we hope sufficient excuse will be found in the variety of threads from which the action of this play [i.e. Beaumarchais's] is woven, the vastness and grandeur of the same, the multiplicity of the musical numbers that had to be made in order not to leave the actors too long unemployed, to diminish the vexation and monotony of long recitatives, and to express with varied colours the various emotions that occur, but above all in our desire to offer as it were a new kind of spectacle to a public of so refined a taste and understanding.

Charles Rosen (in The Classical Style) proposes to take da Ponte's words quite seriously, noting the "richness of the ensemble writing", which carries forward the action in a far more dramatic way than recitatives would. Rosen also suggests that the musical language of the classical style was adapted by Mozart to convey the drama: many sections of the opera musically resemble sonata form; by movement through a sequence of keys, they build up and resolve musical tension, providing a natural musical reflection of the drama. As Rosen says:

The synthesis of accelerating complexity and symmetrical resolution which was at the heart of Mozart's style enabled him to find a musical equivalent for the great stage works which were his dramatic models. The Marriage of Figaro in Mozart's version is the dramatic equal, and in many respects the superior, of Beaumarchais's work.

Other arias (not mentioned above)

  • "Il capro e la capretta" — Marcellina in Act IV, scene IV (frequently cut)
  • "In quegli anni" — Don Basilio in Act IV, scene VI (frequently cut)

Later uses of the music

A phrase from The Marriage of Figaro, with the words "Così fan tutte le belle", was later reused in the overture to Così fan tutte. The music of Figaro's Act One finale aria, Non più andrai, is used as the regimental slow march of the Coldstream Guards of the British Army and is quoted in the second act of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni. Mozart "recycled" the music of the Agnus Dei of his "Krönungsmesse" KV317 (Coronation Mass), for the Countess' Dove sono, in C major instead of the original F major. The same motif was used in his early bassoon concerto. Franz Liszt quoted the opera in his Fantasy on Themes from Mozart's Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. The overture was used in the opening to the 1983 film Trading Places.

Media

Selected recordings

Year Cast
(Figaro, Susanna, Count, Countess, Cherubino)
Conductor,
Opera House and Orchestra
Label
1955 Cesare Siepi
Hilde Gueden
Alfred Poell
Lisa Della Casa
Suzanne Danco
Erich Kleiber
Wiener Philharmoniker
Audio CD: Decca
1959 Giuseppe Taddei
Anna Moffo
Eberhard Wächter
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
Fiorenza Cossotto
Carlo Maria Giulini
Philharmonia Orchestra
Audio CD: EMI
1968 Hermann Prey
Edith Mathis
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Gundula Janowitz
Tatiana Troyanos
Karl Bohm
Berlin Opera orchestra and chorus
Audio CD: Deutsche Grammophon
1981 Samuel Ramey
Lucia Popp
Thomas Allen
Kiri Te Kanawa
Frederica von Stade
Georg Solti
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Audio CD: Decca
1992 Ferruccio Furlanetto
Dawn Upshaw
Thomas Hampson
Kiri Te Kanawa
Anne Sofie von Otter
James Levine
Metropolitan Opera orchestra and chorus
Audio CD: Deutsche Grammophon
2004 Lorenzo Regazzo
Patrizia Ciofi
Simon Keenlyside
Véronique Gens
Angelika Kirchschlager
Rene Jacobs
Concerto Köln
Audio CD: Harmonia Mundi

See also

Notes

References

External links

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