The Marriage of Figaro
An opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 1786
A Review and Synopsis
Countess Almaviva (Rosina)
Susanna, Rosina’s Maid
Figaro, the Count’s Valet and Head Servant
Cherubino, the Count’s Page (Soprano role)
Dr Bertolo (Doctor and Lawyer)
Marcellina, Housekeeper to Dr Bertolo
Basilio, Music Teacher
Don Curzio, Judge
Antonio, the Count’s Gardener, Susanna’s Uncle
Barbarina, Antonio’s Daughter, Susanna’s Cousin
Set in the estate of Count Almaviva just outside Seville, this opera is a light hearted comedy and depicts the chaotic, sometimes amusing, sometimes compromising and embarrassing scenes arising from a tangle of complicated romantic liaisons and jealousies which have developed over time within the Count’s household, reaching a moment of truth on the day of the proposed wedding of servants Figaro and Susanna.
In the past, Figaro has made an enemy of Dr Bartolo, interfering with his pursuit and ambitions to marry Rosina and influencing her to favour the Count; naturally Figaro is nervous and fears for his own wedding plans when Dr Bartolo arrives on the scene. Has he come with malevolent intentions? The Count himself is by now a little bored with life and, becoming a bit of a philanderer, has taken a fancy to Susanna, his wife’s maid. Sensing a little reluctance, it is Susanna's wedding day after all, he reminds her of his ancient right to sleep with the bride-to-be on her wedding night and hints that he might invoke it.
Subsequent events conspire to cause alarm and confusion too, with the imminent threat that the wedding will be cancelled or delayed, unless the Count’s wishes are agreed to, no doubt encouraged by Dr Bartolo. It transpires also that Figaro owes money to Marcellina, the doctor’s housekeeper and has promised to marry her in the past, she too has arrived with her boss to call in the debt or give Figaro ‘option two’ to cancel the debt by marrying her, a woman old enough to be his mother. To complicate matters even further, Cherubino, the Count’s Page is having trouble controlling his insatiable womanising, falling in love at the drop of a hat, making eyes and amorous overtures to one and all, including taking a fancy to the Countess herself, and has been caught in ‘flagrante delicto’ with the gardener’s daughter Barbarina. The Count is outraged by his behaviour, rather hypocritically under the circumstances, and decides to banish him from the estate into a military life with the army in Seville.
What a mess! However, undaunted, Figaro and Susanna hatch a plan and join forces with the Countess to embarrass the Count and foil his plans by exposing his wicked ways. This is where the plot descends into complete slapstick comedy in the tradition of the best Whitehall farce, as the scheme develops, a series of mishaps occur when conspiritors, facing discovery are forced to hide, during which they overhear conversations confirming their suspicions and providing firm evidence. Happily, despite several unexpected close shaves, the plotters escape detection and an invitation to a secret tryst is sent to the Count purporting to come from Susanna. Needless to say the intention is for the Countess to turn up at the meeting place dressed as Susanna to teach the Count a lesson.
In the final scenes we find the Count recognising his foolishness and suitably contrite, begging the Countess for forgiveness and being reconciled. It later transpires that Marcellina is Figaro’s mother and Dr Bartolo probably his father, which of course lets Figaro off the hook, he can’t marry her now and she cancels the debt. Finally, peace and harmony is restored and romance rekindled throughout the household, the Count and Countess celebrate their new found happiness at what is now a double wedding, not only Susanna and Figaro, but Marcellina and Dr Bartolo as well. Cherubino is spared military service as he hoped, and they all live happily ever after.
The music in this piece includes some of Mozart’s best, with sumptuous arias and choruses, ranking alongside the best from this prolific composer. Notably: ‘Se Vuol Ballare’; ‘Non Piu Andrai’; ‘Progi Amor’ and ‘Voi Che Sapeta’. I prefer opera to be sung in the original language or in Italian rather than English, provided you know the plot you have to completely rely on body language and your imagination. It enhances the mystery and adds a completely different dimension to the experience. This opera’s upbeat playful comedy and wonderful light music are a real tonic, with beautiful melodies that compare well with the memorable ‘Oh Isis and Osiris’ from the Magic Flute and Soave sia il Vento from Cosi Fan Tutti, it stands alongside the best in the premier league and comes well recommended.
Palfreyman June 2021
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