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The Marriage of Figaro

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 1756—1791

Opera in 4 acts
Libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte after Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais
World premiere May 1 1786, Burgtheater, Vienna

This production first seen October 1 2023
Sung in Italian with German & English surtitles

Introductory talks (in German) begin 30 minutes before curtain up in the Holzfoyer and can be heard here

Morning. Count Almaviva’s castle, shortly before his servants Figaro and Susanna’s wedding. The Count wants to reinstate his feudal right, one he abolished himself, to the first night with female servants, because he’s crazy about the Countess’ maid Susanna. Figaro’s not going to let this happen. Marcellina, Doctor Bartolo’s housekeeper, once obtained a promise of marriage from Figaro as surety against borrowed money. With Bartolo’s help, she intends to make him keep it. Cherubino, the Count’s page, is in love with all women: And now – he admits to Susanna – he’s smitten by the Countess. The insanely jealous Count bursts in. Cherubino manages to hide. The Count, in turn, is taken by surprise by Don Basilio, the music teacher, so hides too. When Basilio mentions Cherubino’s interest in the Countess, the Count emerges from his hiding place. While demonstrating how he caught Cherubino with the gardener Antonio’s daughter Barbarina, he finds the page. He orders him to join the military, to get rid of him. Figaro pretends to take his leave too: he needs Cherubino for his plot against the Count. ACT II Midday. The Countess is saddened by her unfaithful husband. Figaro comes up with a plan to bring the Count to his senses: by letting him find out about a rendezvous between the Countess (Susanna in disguise) and her lover. Susanna, in turn, is to agree to a tryst with the Count, at which Cherubino, in her clothes, will appear. The Count calls on his wife while the page is being disguised. Cherubino hides in her dressing room. The Countess says her maid’s in there, but refuses to open the door. The Count, intent on breaking it open, locks the outer door before going – with the Countess – to fetch the necessary tool. Susanna hurries to the dressing room and calls Cherubino. The only way the page can escape is by jumping out of the window. When the Count and Countess return they find Susanna alone in the dressing room. The Count seems satisfied until the gardener Antonio comes in with flowers damaged by a man jumping down from the window. Figaro, pretending to limp, says it was him. Marcellina and Bartolo suddenly appear to make good Figaro’s promise to marry the housekeeper. Figaro and Susanna’s wedding will have to be postponed. ACT Ill Evening. The Count tries to force Susanna to love him by threatening to back up Marcellina’s claims. When the case is brought before the judge Don Curzio, it transpires that Figaro is Marcellina and Bartolo’s illegitimate son, so nothing now stands in the way of him marrying Susanna. The older couple will be married at the same ceremony. Barbarina dressed Cherubino as a girl so he can stay in the castle unrecognised, but Antonio blows the page’s cover in front of the Count. The Countess dictates a letter to Susanna for the Count, stating the time and place for their meeting that night. The Countess intends to go to the rendezvous herself, dressed as Susanna, instead of sending Cherubino. The Count is to return the pin used to seal the letter to Susanna, to signify his agreement. Susanna passes the letter to the Count during the wedding ceremony. ACT IV That night. Barbarina has lost the pin the Count gave her for Susanna. Figaro finds out, from her answers to his questions, that a rendezvous has been planned, so thinks his new wife’s being unfaithful. He hides. The Countess, Susanna and Marcellina know Figaro’s watching. Susanna sings about her longings for her »lover«, to rouse his jealousy. Susanna and the Countess withdraw, to swap clothes. Cherubino approaches the (dressed as Susanna) Countess. The Count intervenes. The young man escapes. Almaviva flirts with the supposed maidservant. Although Figaro realises it’s Susanna (dressed as the Countess), he pretends to be enamoured of her Ladyship. Susanna reveals her true identity when Figaro goes too far, but forgives him when he says he recognised her voice straight away. The newlyweds continue with the game, to fan the flames of the Count’s jealousy. He summons everybody to witness his wife’s infidelity, refusing to forgive the Countess (Susanna in disguise), until she emerges from her hiding place. The Count must beg for forgiveness. The Countess gives in. Celebrations begin.

The rules in Count Almaviva’s castle seem to function at first. The wedding between his servants Figaro and Susanna is imminent, but the Count wants to reinstate his right to be the first man to sleep with female staff, because he’s desirous of his wife’s maid, Figaro’s bride, Susanna. He tries to prevent the wedding, with help from thirsting for revenge Doctor Bartolo and his housekeeper Marcellina, while Susanna and Figaro want to win through, come what may ... 

Mozart’s masterly setting to music of Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto was written just before the French revolution, a time of upheaval. Their biting comedy harks back to Commedia dell’arte and questions how predictable different ways of life are. The story of a crazy day in Tilmann Köhler’s production turns into a game of love and survival.