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ClassicsOnline Home » MOZART: Nozze di Figaro (Le) (The Marriage of Figaro)
MOZART: Nozze di Figaro (Le) (The Marriage of Figaro) Good sound and interpretation.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro)
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 a 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 in Vienna, at least among
the conoscenti, and subsequently in Prague, where enthusiasm was more general.
It was revived in Vienna in 1789, wwhen a new arietta in the second act and a
rondo in the last act were provided for Susanna, and in the following years.
The part of Susanna had been taken by Nancy Storace in 1786. In 1789 the rôle
was taken by Adriana Ferraresi del Bene, Da Ponte’s mistress, and Mozart
followed his usual custom of tailoring the music to suit the singers involved.
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 and satire directed at particular
individuals in French society, while a proposed performance by a German
theatrical troupe in Vienna met a similar official reaction. In the event the
play was first staged in Paris in public in 1784, winning, at the very least, a
considerable succès de scandale. In Vienna Da Ponte’s libretto met with the
Emperor’s approval, an idiomatic translation of the original French play into
Italian operatic form.
Act I: After the sparkling Overture , 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.  Susanna has some doubt about the
Count’s apparent generosity in allowing them the room.  It 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.
 Susanna tells Figaro of the Count’s attempts to seduce her, employing the
music-master Don Basilio as a go-between, since he seems to regret his
abnegation of the custom of droit de seigneur.
 Figaro, alone, now realises the Count’s intentions and
resolves to teach him a lesson and turn the tables on him.
 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. 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, and
the power of money, paid presumably by the Count to Figaro for the services of
Susanna.  They both attempt to leave, but meet at the door, each pretending
politeness to the other 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 when he was found alone with Barbarina. 
He explains his amorous feelings to Susanna.  The Count is seen approaching
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 takes Susanna’s hand, assuring her 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.  He acts as their
spokesman, and the Count pretends to be unaware of Figaro’s motives, but seeks
a delay in Figaro’s wedding, to allow proper preparation, planning privately to
seek out Marcellina.  The villagers resume their praise of the Count. 
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, describing the delights of army life in
the most popular of all arias from the opera.
Act II:  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.  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 an anonymous letter that he has given 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.
Figaro leaves, singing of the lesson he will teach his master.
 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.  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, to turn round and take some steps. [CD3 ] In
her charming alternative arietta Susanna is more apprehensive about the success
of their ruse.  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.  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 the door, taking 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.  Susanna watches him run off, and herself
goes into the closet, shutting the door behind her.  The Count and Countess
return, the former carrying a hammer and pliers. The Countess tells him that it
is Cherubino who is locked in the closet, although only an innocent charade had
been planned. The Count is furious.
 The Count orders the boy to come out, and the Countess,
continuing to plead her innocence, gives him the key to the door.  To their
surprise it is Susanna who emerges, when the door is unlocked. He goes into the
closet to check that there is no-one else there.
 Susanna quickly tells the Countess how Cherubino had
made his escape. The Count returns, puzzled, and 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.
Act III:  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. Still thinking himself alone, he
plans to make Figaro marry Marcellina, if Susanna has betrayed him to the
Countess. 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, but she tells him that that can be settled when she uses the dowry
the count has promised her to pay Marcellina off. He points out that any dowry
was dependent on something else, and Susanna pretends to agree to his demands.
 He remonstrates with her for her earlier cruelty, but is delighted when she
agrees to meet him in the garden.  Susanna excuses her previous harshness by
claiming that Cherubino was there. In any case they have no need of Basilio as
a go-between. 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. 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. He can surely be identified by the mark on his arm.
Marcellina recognises in Figaro her son Rafaello, of whom Dr Bartolo was the
father.  She seeks to embrace her son. 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 forgives Figaro his debt.
She and Dr Bartolo will marry, while Figaro is free to marry Susanna.  They
leave, and Barbarina rushes in with Cherubino, whom she promises to disguise as
 As they go, 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.  She goes out, and 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,
and hidden by Susanna, as others are heard approaching.  The girls of the
estate now come to honour the Countess, led by Barbarina and including, in
their midst, the disguised Cherubino.  Barbarina introduces Cherubino as
her cousin, and he offers flowers to the Countess, to be rewarded by a kiss
that makes him blush. They are joined by the Count and Antonio, the former
forewarned by Antonio, who has given him the hat Cherubino had dropped. He
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. The Count questions
Figaro, who claims that if Cherubino has admitted jumping from the window, he
could have jumped as well.  A march is heard, and Figaro takes charge,
ordering everyone to their places. The Count and Countess sit, ready to receive
the couples to be married. Two girls praise the Count for his wisdom and
generosity in giving up the droit de seigneur. During the wedding dance that
follows the Count pricks his finger on the pin that sealed the note that
Susanna had managed to pass to him. He drops the pin, understands its
importance and picks it up again. Figaro observes this and thinks that it must
be a love letter that the Count is holding. All ends in apparent satisfaction.
The Count orders wedding celebrations for the evening. Figaro will be married
and the Count, he thinks, will have his way.
Act IV: [1 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. This had been used to seal the letter that Susanna had secretly given
the Count.  She goes, and Figaro now suspects the worst, resolving to
confront the pair of them.  Marcellina, left alone, decides to warn Susanna.
 She wonders why men and women cannot live comfortably together like
 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.  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. 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. They are overheard by Figaro.  Susanna now teases Figaro with her
resolve to meet the one she loves.  In her alternative rondo she adds
reproaches of her beloved for his neglect.  Figaro is horrified at what he
supposes to be Susanna’s infidelity. Cherubino appears, in uniform, ready to
meet Barbarina, but sees the Countess in her disguise as Susanna.  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.
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