The Marriage of Figaro, Opera by W. A. Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro is an opera classic; a work, which despite on the surface appearing to be a frothy farce, is deep down one of the most complete commentaries on the human condition ever to be performed on the stage.
Its source was Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais’ seditious 1784 play, La Folle Journée, ou le mariage de Figaro (The Mad Day, or The Marriage of Figaro), which had upset the social mores of pre-revolutionary Paris by suggesting that servants had both the intelligence and guile to outwit their masters. At pains to avoid further controversy - after all, their patron was Joseph II, the Holy Roman Emperor and Marie Antoinette’s brother - Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart’s librettist, pared back the original drama’s political content, but none of its humour and pathos.
Figaro and Susanna are to be married. But Count Almaviva has his own plans for his wife’s maid. Despite his statement to the contrary, the Count has absolutely no intention of renouncing his right, as lord of the manor, to bed whoever he likes in his household and that includes his servants on their wedding night. And so begins a sequence of madcap schemes - hiding in cupboards, sending false love letters and donning improbable disguises - all designed to humiliate Almaviva, but which have the rest of characters tying themselves up in knots too.
From the opening notes of the overture, which anticipate the frenzy ahead, through to the final aria, which provides the opera with its most tender moment, Mozart does not waste a single note. Neither does he aim for pure comedy. The Marriage of Figaro has the power to make us laugh and cry, and it is those who have lost in love - the Countess when she laments what has become of her own marriage in “Dove sono i bei momenti” and the Count when he begs his wife to forgive his philandering as he sings “Contessa perdono” - for whom Mozart reserves his best music.
The premiere of The Marriage of Figaro was held on 1 May 1786 at the Burgtheater in Vienna. It is astonishing to think that its initial run lasted only nine nights; however, the reason was not due to any shortcomings on Mozart’s part, but because those who were supporters of the composer’s rivals came to deliberately disrupt the opera with their boos and catcalls. How things have changed. More than two hundred years later, The Marriage of Figaro is one of the most regularly performed works in the repertory and certain to receive a rapturous reception on its return to Vienna at the Volksoper Wien.