- Opera comica in 4 acts
- Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
- Libretto: Lorenzo da Ponte, after Beaumarchais
- First performed: Burgtheater, Vienna, 1 May 1786, conducted by Mozart
- (Parts of this post come from an article published in The Canberra Times, 10 August 2016.)
|IL CONTE D’ALMAVIVA, Spanish grandee||Bass||Stefano Mandini|
|LA CONTESSA ROSINA, His wife||Soprano||Luisa Laschi|
|FIGARO, The Count’s valet||Bass||Francesco Benucci|
|SUSANNA, The Countess’s maid||Soprano||Nancy Storace|
|BARBARINA, Antonio’s daughter||Mezzo-soprano||Anna Gottlieb|
|CHERUBINO, Page||Soprano||Dorotea Bussani|
|DR. BARTOLO||Buffo bass||Francesco Bussani|
|MARCELLINA, Housekeeper||Soprano||Maria Mandini|
|DON BASILIO, Singing teacher||Tenor||Michael Kelly|
|ANTONIO, Gardener||Bass||Francesco Bussani|
|DON CURZIO, Judge||Tenor||Michael Kelly|
Wedding preparations can be hell. For audiences, however, Mozart’s comedy The Marriage of Figaro is four acts of delight.
Criticising The Marriage of Figaro is, as Evelyn Waugh remarked of P.G. Wodehouse, “like taking a spade to soufflé”. The Wodehouse analogy is apt; Figaro is the operatic equivalent of the Blandings novels or The Code of the Woosters.
The opera is based on Pierre Beaumarchais’ 1778 play – an enormous success throughout Europe, as much for its polished wit as for its attack on aristocratic privilege. “It is the Revolution already put into action,” Napoleon said. In Vienna, Emperor Joseph II deemed the play immoral and banned it, worried by its revolutionary tone, but he relaxed his ban in 1786 for Mozart’s opera, which turned the politically charged play into a warm and witty comedy of manners.
It balances a farcical plot – pig-headed aristocrats, clever servants, romantic complications, cunning plans involving letters, women playing men dressed up as women, and characters hiding under chairs or in cupboards, and jumping out of windows – with an elegant, witty score and human characters. Today, it is a perennial favourite, #6 in the list of the world’s most performed operas.
The story takes place over the course of a crazy mixed-up day in a Spanish castle. The Count’s valet Figaro is about to marry Susanna, the Countess’s maid. The Count, however, has fallen in lust with Susanna, and rues abolishing the droit de seigneur. So he plans to stop the marriage. Figaro owes money to Marcellina, his enemy Dr. Bartolo’s elderly, ugly housekeeper; if he doesn’t pay her back, he’ll have to marry her instead. The clever valet, on the other hand, wants to outwit his master, and make him dance to the servant’s tune. Meanwhile, the Countess and Susanna plot to make a fool of the erring Count and reunite him with his wife. And Cherubino, the amorous teenage pageboy (played, of course, by a woman), keeps walking into the middle of these schemes, and tangling them up. By the end, though, everything is sorted out. The Countess forgives her husband; Marcellina turns out to be Figaro’s mother; and Figaro and Susanna are duly mated.
The complicated story moves briskly, with all the precision of intricate clockwork. (Beaumarchais was at one time watchmaker to the King., so knew both court life and precision engineering first-hand.)
It’s not all laughs, though. The five major characters come across as people rather than types, and Mozart understands the Countess’s grief at being abandoned, and her wounded pride at seeking help from servants; the Count’s bullish jealousy; and the teenage Cherubino’s crushes on anyone with an XX chromosome.
The masterly score contains such famous pieces as Figaro’s “Non più andrai farfallone amoroso”, Cherubino’s “Voi che sapete”, the Countess and Susanna’s duet “Sull’ aria”, and the Countess’s “Dove sono”. The ensembles are inventive, notably the 20-minute Act II finale, which starts as a duet and ends as a septet, and the Act IV finale, dexterously steering characters in and out of pavilions, before the Countess’s beautiful phrase of forgiveness.
“In my opinion,” Brahms said, “each number in Figaro is a miracle; it is totally beyond me how anyone could create anything so perfect; nothing like it was ever done again, not even by Beethoven.”
Faced with perfection – as Stephen Fry said of Wodehouse – all one can do is “bask in its warmth and splendour”.
Of course, there’s also the dissenting Marxist view.
The Marriage of Figaro is REVOLTING, because it lacks a revolt. Mozart and Da Ponte recognise the fundamental reality of class struggle: the patriarchal, entitled, titled plutocrat oppresses the working man (and woman). But the opera is ideologically false. It ends with that most hackneyed of conventions: a happy ending, to lull the audience into acquiescence and false consciousness. The “marriage” upholds petit bourgeois moral values and heteronormativity. The classes are reconciled, with no revolution in sight. This is false to the empirical truth of Marxism. The opera should finish, like Dialogues des Carmélites, with the enemies of the people – here, the Count and Countess, and their lackey Don Basilio – guillotined! This is typical of Mozart and Da Ponte’s effete liberal Enlightenment ideology. Worse, Figaro discovers that he is really a member of the bourgeoisie, the son of a property holder, and not a member of the proletariat. Mozart and Da Ponte were class traitors, sycophants of the decadent imperialist Viennese court.
- Giuseppe Taddei (Figaro), Anna Moffo (Susanna), Eberhard Wächter (Conte Almaviva), Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Contessa Almaviva), and Fiorenza Cossotto (Cherubino), with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Carlo Mario Giulini. London, 1960. EMI.
- Hermann Prey (Figaro), Mirella Freni (Susanna), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Conte Almaviva), Kiri Te Kanawa (Contessa Almaviva), and Maria Ewing (Cherubino), with the Wiener Philharmoniker conducted by Karl Böhm. 1975-76. Deutsche Grammophon.
- Bryn Terfel (Figaro), Cecilia Bartoli (Susanna), Dwayne Croft (Conte Almaviva), Renee Fleming (Contessa Almaviva), and Susanne Mentzer (Cherubino), with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus conducted by James Levine. New York, 1998.
A partly furnished room, with a chair in the centre
- Duetto: Cinque … dieci … venti (Susanna, Figaro)
- Duetto: Se a caso Madama la notte ti chiama (Susanna, Figaro)
- Aria: Se vuol ballare (Figaro)
- Aria: La vendetta, oh la vendetta! (Bartolo)
- Duetto: Via, resti servita (Susanna, Marcellina)
- Aria: Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio (Cherubino)
- Terzetto: Cosa sento! tosto andate (Susanna, Basilio, Conte)
- Coro: Giovani liete
- Aria: Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso (Figaro)
A handsome room with an alcove, a dressing room on the left, a door in the background (leading to the servants’ quarters) and a window at the side
- Aria: Porgi, amor, qualche ristoro (Countess)
- Aria: Voi che sapete (Cherubino)
- Aria: Venite, inginocchiatevi (Susanna)
- Replacement aria: Un moto di gioia
- Terzetto: Susanna, or via sortite (Susanna, Contessa, Conte)
- Duetto: Aprite, presto, aprite (Susanna, Cherubino)
- Finale II: Esci omai, garzon malnato
A rich hall, with two thrones, prepared for the wedding ceremony
- Duetto: Crudel! perchè finora (Susanna, Conte)
- Recitativo ed Aria: Vedrò, mentr’io sospiro (Conte)
- Sestetto: Riconosci in questo amplesso
- Recitativo ed Aria: Dove sono i bei momenti (Contessa)
- Duetto: Sull’ aria? Che soave zeffiretto (Susanna, Contessa)
- Coro di Contadine: Ricevete, o padroncina
- Marcia: Ecco la marcia!
- Coro e Recitativo – Finale III: Amanti costanti
The garden, with two pavilions. Night
- Cavatina: L’ho perduta, me meschina (Barbarina)
- Aria: Il capro e la capretta (Marcellina)
- Aria: In quegli anni, in cui val poco (Basilio)
- Recitativo ed Aria: Aprite un po’ quegli occhi (Figaro)
- Recitativo ed Aria: Deh vieni, non tardar (Susanna)
- Replacement aria: Al desio di chi t’adora
- Finale ultimo: Pian pianin
28 thoughts on “73. Le nozze di Figaro [The Marriage of Figaro] (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)”
I agree, the 1960 recording is the definitive one. It is the one I own as well. Mozart is always such a relief!
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I’ve just updated the review since you read it…
You know giving the fact that Rosina was once one of the prolet…oh never mind! Why exactly did you do this, unless you are trying to get back at me for being an ass about Kassya and giving me a flashing neon sign to change it pronto? (Even I’m not happy with my review anymore, I was much too harsh, and I’ve become addicted to it after hearing it three whole times). What about Mozart and Da Ponte? At least Mozart provided this thing with an amaze balls score! What about Beaumarchais that treacherous pseudo-Marxist who wrote the thing in the first place? Blame LA SOURCE! It really didn’t contribute to the review at all to add in a Marxist interpretation of a beloved classic. It would be like dissing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs because Hitler liked it. In fact speaking of dictators momentarily I seriously thought the North Koreans had just invaded your blog! Given the opera’s pre-French Revolutionary context (it was written in 1786), I’m not sure if referencing Poulenc was apt (or if Poulenc should ever be referenced except in hushed tones in tea rooms)…
I got the joke! 😉
Et votre revue de Kassya? J’écoute….
Blame my tendency to play devil’s advocate! Haven’t you ever sat down in a café, and written a convincing argument for cannibalism?
HAHAHAHA! You know I’ve actually gotten about forty minutes into Die schweigsame Frau! I haven’t written anything yet but I’m slowly making my way through the video.
And wouldn’t it be the “People’s Democratic Republican Army”? Or is that too bourgeois?
I am enjoying this…too much! I need to review another Strauss opera in order to get myself into a foul mood again. Maybe I should bore myself to death with Capriccio?
No, not Capriccio! Why not Die schweigsame Frau?
Kassya is up.
I wonder when the Omniscient Generator is going to give you Cosi fan tutte? I’m rather indifferent to it personally but I’d like to know what you think of it.
That’s in the lap of the gods!
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I first watched The magic flute many years ago and I found the music beautiful, but the plot absolutely dreadful. If there’s an opera from Mozart to criticise is that one, with its almost unbelievable misogyny. I just gave up on M. Then I watched the one you recommends, with Freni. Even with some very strange close-ups, it gave me back faith in Mozart. It is not only decorated with beautiful music, it is so entertaining! And the critics are also valid, but they only show the human nature that we all share in a certain point
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The Marxist criticism of Figaro is entirely tongue-in-cheek (although I can imagine plenty of Regie directors agreeing…). But The Magic Flute… I’m not sure why it’s done so often. As you say, it’s very misogynistic (and racist, too). At one point, I had a post up, in which i described it like this:
A rather dim prince joins a woman-hating, slave-owning cult, and goes through their weird initiation rituals. The cult leader kidnaps girls ‘for their own good’; has a strict regime of corporal punishment for transgressions (like recapturing escaped prisoners); and has hundreds of brainwashed followers. But he must be good, because he peppers his speech with references to love and brotherhood.
Not sisterhood, of course. The hero is sent on his quest by the Queen of the Night – but she has an XX chromosome, so she’s wrong. “Then it is a woman who has beguiled you? A woman does little, gossips much. Young man, do you believe wagging tongues?” (Act I, sc. 15). Tamino swallows this line quickly; by Act II (sc. 5), he tells Papageno the Queen “is a woman, and has women’s wits!”. The Queen is told not to “delve into mysteries that are unfathomable to a woman’s mind. Your duty, and that of your daughter, is to submit to the guidance of wise men” (Act II, sc. 8). Pamina wants to go back to her mother; Sarastro will not grant her freedom, because her happiness would break if he left Pamina in her mother’s hands. The Queen of the Night is “a proud woman. A man must guide your hearts, For without one every woman tends To step out of her natural sphere” (Act I, sc. 18). There’s even a little duet (‘Bewahret euch vor Weibertücken’): the first duty of the Brotherhood is to beware women’s wiles; death and despair await those led astray by women.
The libretto is equally unsound on race relations. There’s one black character – who wants to rape white women. “Blacks are ugly, and whites are beautiful,” Monostatos sings.
At the end of the opera, the religious cult sends nearly all the women and the black guy to hell. So much for Sarastro’s claim that in these holy halls they know no vengeance, and forgive their enemies.
The Magic Flute is a product of its time, some say. So are Il mondo alla rovescia, set on an island where women rule, and where men find themselves on the receiving end of the objectifying gaze; and Die Neger, where a black servant and a white maid sing an interracial love duet. Both are by Salieri.
Very good post, indeed. Should been on the site already! The end with Salieri is a master move. I’m really enjoying reading your site!