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Opera in four acts
Libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte
World premiere: May 1 1786, Burgtheater, Vienna
1st performance of this production March 4 2007
Sung in Italian with German and English surtitles. ca. 3hrs 15mins, including one interval
Introductory talk, in German, in the Holzfoyer half an hour before performances begin
Almaviva (hero in: Barbier von Sevilla) has married Rosina, Bartolo’s ward. Figaro, the Barber, is now his valet and has fallen in love with Susanna, Countess Almaviva's maid. It is the morning of their wedding: Susanna tells Figaro that the Count will give her a dowry if she will allow him to carry out his fuedal rights, and be first man to sleep with her. Figaro determines to to thwart the Count’s plans. Another problem arises: the old maid Marcellina secured a promise from Figaro that he would marry her, today, if he failed to repay a sum of money she lent him. With the help of Bartolo, Figaro’s old enemy, she intends to make Figaro keep his word. Cherubino, a page, is in love with the Countess. The Count found him alone with Barbarina and banished him. Cherubino begs Susanna to ask the Countess to help. They hear the Count approaching. Cherubino hides. The Count tries to convince Susanna of his affections but is interrupted by the arrival of Don Basilio. He hides. Basilio accuses Susanna of flirting with the Count and Cherubino. When he tells her to warn Cherubino not to make his infatuation for the Countess so obvious the furious Count can bear it no longer and makes his presence known. He demonstrates how he found Cherubino and Barbarina hiding under a table and… The Count orders Cherubino to leave immediately. Figaro and Susanna beg for leniency. The Count relents and gives him the post in his regiment instead. Figaro commiserates with the boy that instead of pestering all the girls in the castle he will now have to march through the mud with a musket. ACT 2 The Countess is miserable about her husband’s apparent indifference. She listens to Figaro’s plan to make the Count jealous, and reignite his love for her. He will ensure that the Count finds out about a rendezvous the Countess (Susanna in disguise) is planning with her lover and, let it be known that Susanna (Cherubino in disguise) agrees to meet the Count in the garden. While the Countess and Susanna dress Cherubino as a woman they hear the Count. He has heard about his wife’s lover and is furious. Cherubino and Susanna hide. The Countess swears that she is alone except for her maid, who is trying on a dress in the dressing room, but refuses to let him go in a check. He orders her to accompany him to fetch the necessary tools for breaking open door and locks the room. Cherubino jumps from the balcony and Susanna hides. Almaviva and his wife are astonished to find Susanna, alone, in the dressing room. The Count apologises to his wife. Antonio, the gardener, who has been drinking, enters with a flower pot which he says was broken by a man leaping down from the balcony. Figaro says that it was him. He was hoping to see Susanna but panicked when he heard the Count. But Antonio also found some papers in the garden. The Count asks Figaro to tell him what they are. The ladies manage to convey to him that it is Cherubino’s commission and, when asked how it came to be in Figaro’s possession, help again by whispering that the commission had not been sealed. The Count calms down. Marcellina arrives with her lawyer, Don Curzio, demanding that the Count make Figaro keep his word and marry her. ACT 3 The Countess urges Susanna to make an assignation with the Count. He is delighted at Susanna’s apparent change of heart. She agrees to meet him in the garden in return for the dowry, which she intends to use to repay Figaro’s debt. Figaro is confronted Marcellina but says that he can’t marry without his parents' consent– and this will be difficult because he does not know who they are. He was a foundling, but the clothes he was wearing indicated that he was of noble birth. Marcellina asks if he has a curious birthmark on his arm. When she sees it she realises that Figaro is her long lost child, and tells him that Bartolo is his father. Susanna is furious when she sees Figaro hugging Marcellina until she finds out that she is his mother. A double wedding is now planned. Barbarina is hiding Cherubino, dressing him as a village girl. The Countess longs for things to be as they used to be. The gardener tells the Count that Cherubino is still in the castle, in disguise. The Countess makes Susanna write a letter to the Count to say where and when they will meet. The Countess has changed her mind and intends to disguise herself as Susanna instead of Cherubino. The letter is sealed with a pin, which the Count is to return to Susanna. Girls bring flowers to the Countess. Cherubino is unmasked. The Count orders him to leave but Barbarina says that he promised her she could have anything she wanted in return for the kisses she gave him, and she wants Cherubino. The Count backs down. The weddings can take place. Susanna kneels before the Count and gives him the letter. He pricks his finger on the pin, which drops on the floor. Figaro laughs to see that the Count has been given a love letter, little knowing that it is from Susanna. ACT 4 Barbarina is trying to find the pin. Figaro is horrified when she tells him that she must find a pin to return to Susanna on the Count's behalf. Marcellina tells him not to worry as things may not be as they seem. Figaro decides to set a trap for his bride and hides. The Countess, Susanna and Marcellina know that Figaro is watching. Susanna makes him jealous by singing of her longing for her lover, the Count. Susanna and the Countess withdraw, to swap clothes. Cherubino finds the Countess (dressed as Susanna). The Count sees them together and steps between them as Cherubino tries to give her a kiss. Cherubino runs off and the Count begins to flirt with „Susanna“ – they hear something and rush off in opposite directions. Figaro approaches Susanna (dressed as Countess) to tell her all that he has seen. He recognises Susanna's voice and begins to flirt with the „Countess“, but goes too far and Susanna boxes his ears. He says he loves her, and she forgives him. Seeing the Count looking for Susanna, they decide to arouse his jealousy by continuing to flirt with each other. The Count is livid and calls for everyone to come and witness what his faithless wife has been up to. He refuses his „wife’s“ pleas for forgiveness until the Countess appears and he realises that it was she, and not Susanna, who came to meet him in the garden. The Count feels suitably ashamed and asks his wife to forgive him, which she does. Everybody prepares to round off the evening with festivities.
Has Count Almaviva's right to the first night with his female servants been abolished at last? Actually, yes. Or not yet? The Count intends to ignore it anyway, especially in view of the forthcoming marriage between the maid Susanna and valet Figaro... Mozart set Lorenzo Da Ponte's masterful libretto, based on Beaumarchais' society critical comedy, to music just before the French revolution, a politcally highly explosive time between the autumn of 1785 and spring of 1786. A piece against »vice, abuse and capriciousness under the mask of the ruling class«, one of the best libretti ever written. Their Figaro is in many ways a work with revolutionary vigour: the two authors denounce, mercilessly, the pleasing self image of the aristocracy. Disguises, late night rendezvous, jumping out of windows and staged setting off on journies, in which the characters deliberately, and undeliberately, get into drive the turbulent story onwards. One of the most perfect musical comedies in operatic literature – timeless, clever, full of surprising turns and a fascinating wealth of music.