The Marriage of Figaro

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Le nozze di Figaro, Anonymous watercolour.

The Marriage of Figaro, or the Day of Madness (It. Le nozze di Figaro, ossia la folle giornata, K. 492) is an opera in four acts composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1785-1786 to an Italian libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte. First perfomed in Vienna's Burgtheater on May 1, 1786, it ranks as one of Mozart's crowning operatic achievements. Figaro (a beloved operatic character who appears also in Rossini's Barber of Seville) is attempting to cleverly thwart the machinations of Count Almaviva, who wishes to seduce Figaro's fiancée Susanna before their wedding night.

The original story for Mozart's opera came from a 1784 French play by Pierre Beaumarchais. Due to its mockery of the aristocracy, the play's performance was forbidden in Vienna, but according to biographers Mozart and da Ponte snatched up a printed copy before they were banned as well. When the opera version had been commissioned, Emperor Joseph II approved the libretto, and Figaro enjoyed a modest success in its first performances. However, during the period of Metternich's reforms in the early 19th century, the opera's performance was banned as well.

Contents

Roles

Role Voice type
Count Almavivabaritone
Countess Rosina Almavivasoprano
Susanna her maid,
bethrothed to Figaro
soprano
Figaro valet to Count Almavivabass-baritone
Cherubino the Count's pagemezzo-soprano[1]
Marcellina housekeeper to Bartolomezzo-soprano
Bartolo a doctor from Seville
also a practicing lawyer
bass
Basilio music mastertenor
Don Curzio magistratetenor
Barbarina daughter of Antoniosoprano
Antonio,
gardener, Susanna's uncle
baritone or bass
Chorus of peasants, villagers, servants

Synopsis

The plot of The Marriage of Figaro takes place in Count Almaviva's palace in Seville, Spain after the events of Rossini's opera The Barber of Seville, although Mozart's opera was written 30 years earlier. There was, however, an earlier opera based on Beaumarchais' Barber written by the Italian composer Giovanni Paisiello, and its Viennese performance in 1782 would have surely contributed to Mozart and da Ponte's interest in writing a sequel once Beaumarchais had written his sequel two years later.

Act I

As the curtain rises, Figaro is measuring his new apartment while he and Susanna warmly anticipate their coming marriage. Susanna tells Figaro that his boss Count Almaviva has made advances at her, and wishes to reinstate the "feudal right" of noblemen to bed maidens before their wedding night. Figaro vows to beat Almaviva at his own game and departs.

Bartolo, a doctor whom Figaro had outwitted in Barber, enters with Marcelline, who has hired him to stop the wedding from taking place, wishing to marry Figaro herself. Bartolo is happy to oblige as vengeance for past wrongs. Susanna and Marcellina exchange insults, and Marcellina exits with Bartolo in a huff. Cherubino, a young page who can't control his attraction to all women, especially the Countess Rosina, asks for Susanna's help in assuaging the Count's anger. Just then, the Count enters and Cherubino hides behind a chair. Almaviva tries to convince an unwilling Susanna to sleep with him, but his attempts are humorously derailed by the entrance of Basilio, the morally degenerate music teacher. The Count also hides behind the chair, which Cherubino is forced to abandon at the last moment for the top of the chair, hiding under a dress.

Basilio begins gossiping about Cherubino's obvious attraction to the Countess, at which the Count angrily comes out of hiding. He discovers Cherubino hiding by lifting up the dress, and just as that moment Cherubino is saved by the entrance of Figaro and the peasants. Figaro praises the Count excessively for his enlightement in rescinding the feudal right, and in front of his subjects Almaviva is forced to uphold the rescinsion, but refuses to make a formal gesture promising to leave Susanna alone. He then gives Cherubino a military dispatch as a means of punishment, and Figaro closes the act by teasing Cherubino.

Act II

The act begins with the Countess alone in her chamber, lamenting her husband's unfaitfulness. Susanna (who is the Countess's maid) enters to console her. Figaro joins them, telling of his plan to keep the Count occupied with phony anonymous letters warning him of plots by other men to seduce the Countess; he has aleady given one such letter to Basilio.

Cherubino comes in, shirking military duty (at Figaro's suggestion) by asking Susanna and the Countess to dress him as a girl. After noticing that the Count's military dispatch was not officially signed, they are unable to finish dressing Cherubino, as Almaviva suddenly knocks on the door. Cherubino hides in the closet with Susanna and Rosina lets the Count in. He hears a noise coming from the closet, and demands the Countess open it, but she insists it's only Susanna trying on her wedding dress. Susanna sneaks into the room, and the Count suspiciously insists again that Rosina unlock the closet. When she refuses, he forces her to go with him to another room to fetch his key, taking the precaution of locking all of the doors first.

Meanwhile, Cherubino comes out of hiding, and jumps out the window to avoid being caught. Susanna goes back in the closet before the Count and Countess return. Very nervous about Cherubino's fate, Rosina begs for Almaviva's understanding. Growing more furious, he curses his wife's unfaithfulness and opens the door, only to find Susanna there as promised. Once the tables are turned, the Countess is able to feign offense at her husband's inability to trust her, and the two women taunt him further in his guilt as he asks for forgiveness. Returning to the subject of the anonymous letter, the women inform him that Figaro had written it.

Figaro enters and wishes to begin the wedding preparations, but the Count still wants to ask him about the note. Susanna successfully telegraphs to Figaro that the Count knows already. Just then, the gardener enters, drunk, complaining that someone destroyed the flower bushes just outside the window. Figaro pretends it had been he, but then the gardener produces the military dispatch that Cherubino had apparently dropped. Picking up the women's telegraphing again, and without missing a beat, Figaro explains that he kept the dispatch as Cherubino left for military service, as the Count had forgotten to sign it. This problem solved, Bartolo and Marcellina enter, claiming that Figaro has a pending contract to marry her. The Count happily postpones the wedding while the matter is looked into.

Act III

Almaviva broods alone in his study on the day's events, plotting his next move to obstruct Figaro's marriage. Meanwhile, Susanna and Rosina hatch a plan to lure the Count into a trap. Susanna comes to see him on a false pretext, then promises to meet him in the garden and fulfill his every wish, if he gives her enough money to pay off Marcellina's case. He hands her a purse full of gold, and as she leaves, he overhears her gloating to the Countess. Angry, he plans to force Figaro to marry Marcellina anyway.

The trial is held and the stuttering Don Curzio lays down the law: Figaro must marry Marcellina. Figaro counters that he would need his parents' permission, and since he hasn't known them since being stolen as a baby, he doesn't have to marry anybody. After probing for details, Marcellina realizes that Figaro is her son by Bartolo. Susanna enters at this point to see Figaro reconciling with them, and believes them to be preparing for marriage. She slaps Figaro, but is then filled in on the news. Bewildered, the Count must concede his case. Bartolo then joyfully announces his wish to marry Marcellina in a double wedding.

In the next scene, the Countess again laments her unhappiness, and Susanna enters. With Rosina dictating, Susanna writes a letter to the count, sealing it with the Countess' pin, with an added postscript that the pin is to be returned. A group of peasant girls enters, among them Cherubino dressed as a country maiden. The Count enters with Antonio, quickly recognizing Cherubino, and is ready to punish him, but Barbarina reminds Almaviva that once when seducing her, he promised to give her anything she wanted. Her wish is to marry Cherubino; the Count is too embarassed to refuse. The act ends with the double wedding of Figaro, Susanna, Bartolo, and Marcellina, while the Count furtively reads Susanna's letter.

Act IV

Barbarina, who was entrusted by the Count to return the pin to Susanna, has instead lost it. Figaro comes in, grilling her about the note before fiding the pin for her. As Barbarina leaves and Marcellina enters, Figaro rages about Susanna's apparent unfaithfulness. Marcellina urges Figaro not to jump to conclusions.

In the garden among the pines, Figaro commiserates with Bartolo and Basilio, asking them to be there when he reveals the truth. Bartolo takes Figaro's side, but Basilio simply retorts "What can he do? It's unwise to go against men in authority. They always win. Even when they only give 90%, they profit."

Figaro condemns the whole female sex as liars and cheats. Susanna and Rosina enter, each dressed in the other's clothes, planning to confuse the Count into seducing his own wife. Figaro falls for the trap at first as Susanna, knowing he's hiding in the trees, exaggeratedly expresses her desire for the Count. Cherubino finds Rosina, and thinking she's Susanna, tries to woo her. The Count enters, again furious with Cherubino, and attempts to punch him, hitting Figaro instead. Then he takes Rosina (thinking she's Susanna) to a secluded spot.

Figaro sees Susanna and attempts to tell her about the Count's misdeeds. He then recognizes who she is, but doesn't let on, instead expressing his love for the Countess. Susanna then gets angry with Figaro, and slaps him. After letting her in on the joke, they both resolve to finish the matter. The Count wanders back, having lost his wife, and Figaro and Susanna egg him on by embracing. Almaviva can't contain his rage at being cuckolded, and calls for everyone to come and witness Figaro's treachery. At the last moment, the Countess enters, reveals herself in front of everyone, and the Count begs for her forgiveness. She obliges, pointing out that she's kinder than he, and the other characters express peace and joy at the day's events coming to a close.


The Marriage of Figaro.jpg

Footnotes

  1. Though the character is a young man, Cherubino has traditionally been sung by a mezzo-soprano. This is known in opera as a "pants role," which means that the audience accepted the character as a man while knowing full well that the singer was a woman. In Figaro Mozart plays with this convention by having Cherubino dress as a woman in Act II.

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