The Marriage of Figaro
Le nozze di Figaro (in English: The Marriage of Figaro) is an opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed in 1786. It was written in Italian. The words (libretto) are by Lorenzo Da Ponte, who based the story on a French play, Le Mariage de Figaro by Pierre Beaumarchais. It was the first of three operas that Mozart wrote together with Lorenzo da Ponte: the others are Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte. They are all comic operas (opera buffa).
Although the play by Beaumarchais was at first not allowed to be performed in Vienna because it made fun 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.
The opera was a tremendous success when it was first performed in Vienna. It was also extremely popular when it was produced in Prague later that year. He was invited back the following year and asked to write a new opera for Prague, so he wrote Don Giovanni.
The story of the opera [change]
A short version of the story [change]
The whole story takes place in one day in the palace of the Count Almaviva in Seville in Spain. Rosina is the Countess and her husband, the Count, wants to make love with a woman named Susanna, who is about to be married to her true love, Figaro, the Count's servant. The Countess has an page boy, Cherubino, who looks after her. Cherubino, however, is starting to fall in love with the Countess. The Count notices this and he tries to get rid of Cherubino by giving him the job of officer's commission in his own army. Figaro, Susanna, and the Countess plan together to embarrass the Count and show how he has being trying to get the attentions of Susanna. Meanwhile Figaro has an argument with Bartolo and Marcellina, which ends when it is shown that he is their son. At night, all these people find themselves in the palace grounds. There is a lot of humour in which people do not recognize one another, thinking they are someone different. In the end it is shown that the Count has been unfaithful and he has to ask his wife to forgive him.
The story in more detail [change]
Act 1 [change]
Figaro and Susanna's room
Figaro is measuring the bedroom to see how the new bed will fit in. Susanna is trying on her wedding bonnet in front of the mirror. Figaro is quite pleased with their new room, but Susanna is not so sure. She is worried because it is so near to the Count's rooms and she knows that the Count fancies her. In the old days an important person such as a Count had the right to sleep with a servant girl on her wedding night before her husband could sleep with her. It was a law that was becoming old-fashioned at that time. In the story the Count had stopped that law when he married Rosina, but he now he wants it back again. Figaro is very angry and makes plans against the Count.
Figaro goes off, and Dr. Bartolo arrives with Marcellina, his old housekeeper. Marcellina has hired Bartolo as her adviser, because Figaro had once promised to marry her if he was not able to pay back some money which she had lent to him, and she wants that promise to come true. Bartolo, still annoyed with Figaro for having made it easy for the Count and Rosina to marry (this had happened in Beaumarchais’ play The Barber of Seville), promises to help Marcellina. It is a comic scene in which he makes fun of lawyers.
Bartolo leaves, Susanna comes back, and Marcellina and Susanna are rude to one another in an over-polite way. Marcellina leaves angrily when Susanna refers to her age.
Cherubino then arrives. He sings a song in which he says he does not understand his new passionate feelings for women, especially for the Countess. He asks for Susanna's help with the Count. It seems the Count is angry with Cherubino's flirting ways. He had discovered him with the gardener's daughter, Barbarina, and plans to punish him. Cherubino wants Susanna to ask the Countess to try to change her husband’s mind. When the Count appears, Cherubino hides behind a chair, because he does not want to be seen alone with Susanna. The Count uses the opportunity of finding Susanna alone to try to win her love, even offering her money. As Basilio, the music teacher, arrives, the Count hides behind the chair because he does not want to be found in a room alone with Susanna. 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 talk about how Cherubino is fond of the Countess, the Count angrily leaps from his hiding place and he lifts the dress from the chair to show how he found Cherubino under a table in Barbarina's room – and again he finds Cherubino! The young man is only saved from punishment by the entrance of the poor workers of the Count's estate. Figaro had organized this entrance of the workers. He wants to force the Count to give up his ideas about sleeping with Susanna. The Count says he will promise later. He is still keen on punishing Cherubino. He realizes that Cherubino heard what he was saying to Susanna. This blackmail makes the Count have to forgive Cherubino, but he sends the young man off for army duty.
Act 2 [change]
The Countess' Bedroom
The Countess is sad about her husband's infidelity. She thinks she cannot be attractive any more as she is getting older. Susanna comes to get the Countess ready for the day. She has told her about what the Count has been saying to her. Figaro then arrives and makes a plan to trick the Count. His plan is that Susanna will give him a note which says she wants to meet him that night in the garden; Cherubino will be waiting there, dressed as a woman so that the Count thinks he is Susanna. The Countess will arrive and catch him. Figaro has already asked Basilio to give the Count a letter which says that the Countess also has her own secret meeting with someone.
Susanna lets Cherubino into the room but locks the door because she is worried about what the Count will do if he find Cherubino there. Susanna asks him to sing the song he wrote in honour of the Countess. After the song, they put him in women's clothes. The Countess sees Cherubino's letter about joining the army, and she notices 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 clothes in which to dress Cherubino. While the Countess and Cherubino are waiting for Susanna to return, they suddenly hear the Count arriving, so Cherubino hides in the cupboard. The Count wants to be allowed into the room and the Countess unlocks the door. The Count enters, angry at the information in the note that he has received from Figaro (given to him by Basilio), hears a noise from the cupboard, and tries to open it, but it is locked. The Countess pretends it is only Susanna, trying on her wedding dress. He does not see Susanna coming back into the bedroom with the clothes and hiding after she realises what is wrong (She knows that to show herself now would be bad for 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 stop the person in the cupboard from escaping. Susanna comes out of hiding and frees Cherubino, who escapes by jumping through the window into the garden. Susanna then takes his place in the cupboard.
The Count and Countess return. The Countess finally admits that Cherubino is hidden in the cupboard. The Count draws his sword, promising to kill Cherubino, but when the door is opened, they are both amazed to find Susanna there. The Countess says that she has told the Count that Cherubino was in the cupboard only to test him. Now, shamed by his jealousy, the Count begs for forgiveness. When the Count asks her to explain about the letter accusing the Countess of infidelity, Susanna and the Countess explain that the letter was written by Figaro, and then delivered through Basilio. Figaro then arrives and tries to start the wedding feast, but the Count stops him and asks who wrote the unsigned note given to him by Basilio. Figaro manages to avoid the question, only to have Antonio, the drunken gardener, arrive, complaining about a man jumping out of the window into his plants, and ruining his flowerpots. Antonio brings a letter which, he says, was dropped by the escaping man, and Figaro says it was he who jumped out the window and pretends that he also hurt his foot. However, the letter is Cherubino's appointment to the army. The Countess and Susanna recognize the letter (they had already seen it) and whisper the information to Figaro, who gets out of this situation by saying Cherubino gave it to him because it still needed the Count's seal. Marcellina, Bartolo and Basilio now appear. Marcellina demands that Figaro should honour his contract to marry her. The Count is enjoying this interruption. The wedding will take place later so that the Count can study the problem. The scene ends in a septet (a song for seven voices) and the Countess, anxious and upset, faints.
Act 3 [change]
The wedding hall
The Count thinks about the situation. Susanna enters and agrees to arrange to meet the Count later that because 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, he is determined to force Figaro to marry Marcellina.
Figaro's trial follows, and the judgment is that Figaro must marry Marcellina. Figaro appeals to the Count, but the Count will not change the decision. When Figaro says that he himself is of noble birth and that he was stolen from his parents when he was a baby, it then turns out that Figaro is the long-lost illegitimate son of Bartolo and Marcellina.. Because a mother cannot marry her son, Figaro is let off. During the celebrations, Susanna enters with a payment to free Figaro from his debt to Marcellina. Seeing Figaro and Marcellina in celebration, Susanna thinks that Figaro is happy about marrying Marcellina. The situation is explained to Susanna, and she joins the celebration. Bartolo is very emotional and agrees to marry Marcellina that evening in a double wedding.
All leave, and the Countess, alone, sings about the loss of her happiness. Susanna enters and tells her the latest 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 pine trees." The Count is told to return the pin which fastens the letter.
A chorus of young country workers, among them Cherubino disguised as a girl, arrives to serenade the Countess. The Count arrives with Antonio, and, discovering the page boy, is furious. Barbarina (a peasant girl, Antonio's daughter), calms him down and 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 to marry Cherubino. Very 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, thinks it is from another of the Count's secret meetings, and laughs to himself. As the curtain drops, the two newly married couples rejoice.
Act 4 [change]
Count has sent the pin back to Susanna, giving it to Barbarina. Unfortunately, Barbarina has lost it. Figaro and Marcellina see Barbarina, and Figaro asks her what she is doing. When he hears the pin is Susanna's, he is very jealous, especially as he recognises the pin to be the one that fastened the letter to the Count. Thinking that Susanna is secretly meeting the Count, Figaro complains to his mother, and swears to take revenge on the Count and Susanna. Marcellina tells him to be careful, but Figaro will not listen. Figaro rushes off, and Marcellina decides to tell Susanna of Figaro's intentions.
Figaro tells Bartolo and Basilio to come to help him when he gives the signal. They go off, and Figaro thinks about how women are. Susanna and the Countess arrive, dressed in each other's clothes. Marcellina is with them. She has told 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 near to where Figaro is so that he can hear it. Figaro is hiding behind a bush and, thinking the song is for the Count, becomes more and more jealous (this is what Susanna wanted).
The Countess arrives in Susanna's dress. Unfortunately Cherubino has also arrived, and, thinking the Countess is Susanna, tries to kiss the supposed Susanna, but is stopped by the Count. The Count is running after the supposed Susanna (really the Countess), but he cannot get her. They both run off when they notice 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 joins in the joke by being very polite to her as if she were the Countess; Susanna, not knowing that Figaro knows it is she, becomes jealous: she thinks Figaro is going to ask the Countess for his love, and so she slaps him. Figaro then tells them that he has recognized Susanna's voice, and they make peace.
Figaro pretends to declare his love for the supposed Countess as the Count appears. The furious Count calls for his people and for weapons: his servant is trying to make love to 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. He refuses to forgive Figaro and the supposed Countess, the real Countess appears and shows who she is; 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 The Countess sweetly forgives her husband and all are happy. They celebrate as the curtain falls.