The Marriage of Figaro

Getting to the altar has never been more fraught with complications. A frisky count, his neglected wife, the object of his desire and her weary, but cunning fiancé — plus a cadre of manic characters — create and then navigate chaos. All in the name of love.

Synopsis

There’s plenty of scheming and skirt-chasing in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. The sequel to the slapstick escapades of Figaro, Count Almaviva and Rosina begun in The Barber of Seville. The action takes place on a single day of madness in the palace of Count Almaviva, a few years after The Barber of Seville. In a domestic comedy filled with twists and turns, there are times you will wonder if the bride – being chased relentlessly by Almaviva – will ever make it to the altar with her intended. There are pranks and pitfalls before love and honor save the day.

The Marriage of Figaro is a comic opera in four acts composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. It premiered in 1786. The play by Beaumarchais was banned in France and most of Europe for its revolutionary spirit. After editing by the imperial censors, Austro-Hungarian emperor Joseph II allowed the premiere at the Burgtheater in Vienna.

ACT I

A country estate outside Seville in the late 18th century; The Marriage of Figaro takes place several years after the Barber of Seville.

The wedding of Figaro and Susanna is to take place that evening and as a gift, the Count has given them a room to convert into their bedroom – the new quarters conveniently situated between the Countess’ and the Count’s bedrooms so the servants can better attend their respective masters. Figaro is measuring the room for their bed, while Susanna models a new bonnet. She is not happy with the new living arrangements: “While you are off on errands for the Count, he could slip into our room some evening – he has designs on me,” she explains.

Figaro resolves to foil the Count’s plan. Enter Dr. Bartolo and Marcellina. He is still smarting from the escapades of The Barber of Seville, and the barber has promised to marry Marcellina if he can’t repay a debt to her. After Bartolo and Marcellina leave, Cherubino enters. He is desperately in love with every girl he meets. He rushes in to tell Susanna that the Count has caught him misbehaving with the gardener’s daughter, Barbarina. When they hear the Count approaching, Cherubino hides behind the armchair.

The Count enters to intimate his intentions toward Susanna. But just as he is about to approach her, Don Basilio entersThe Count does not want to be found in a compromising situation, so he also hides behind the armchair – as he does, Cherubino quickly slips under the sheet that is covering the chair. Basilio suggests that Cherubino has been lurking around Susanna’s door – and that the page even has a desire for the Countess. When the Count hears this, he flies into a jealous rage. He discovers Cherubino hiding under the armchair cover and realizes that he has heard everything. To get rid of him, he sends him off to the army – a turn of events Figaro delights in.

ACT II

We are now reintroduced to Rosina, the Countess Almaviva. The youthful girl of The Barber of Seville has changed greatly since her wedding. Her husband neglects her, and her life is filled with loneliness.

Enter Susanna with Cherubino, who is carrying his written orders admitting him to the Count’s army. They ask the Countess to help keep Cherubino out of the army. The women decide to disguise him as a chambermaid. When they hear the Count returning from a hunting trip, Cherubino hides in the Countess’ closet. The Count is suspicious. The Countess feigns indignation at her husband’s accusation, but he is resolved to catch her in an infidelity.

When they leave the room to get tools to break down the closet door, Susanna lets Cherubino out – he jumps out the window into the garden and scurries off – but, he loses his army commission in the process. When the Count returns, the door is opened to reveal Susanna, to his and the Countess’ shock. The Count finds Cherubino’s army commission just as Figaro enters.

When the Count questions him about Cherubino’s orders, Figaro tells him they were improperly certified and that Cherubino had given them to him to take care of. Just then, Antonio the gardener enters to complain that someone jumped out of the Countess’ window, right into his flowers. To add to the chaos, Bartolo and Marcellina enter to petition the Count to force Figaro to marry Marcellina.

ACT III

We open with the Count trying to make heads or tails of the day’s events. Susanna enters and agrees to have a rendezvous in the garden with him that evening – after her wedding. She and the Countess have agreed to play one more, (hopefully final) trick on the Count to bring him to his senses.

They write a letter, inviting the Count into the garden. Meanwhile, Bartolo and Marcellina have seemingly trapped Figaro, but in a delightful turn of events, it is revealed that Marcellina is Figaro’s mother and Dr. Bartolo his father. The marriage of Susanna and Figaro takes place at last. The letter inviting the Count to meet Susanna in the garden has been delivered – the trap is set.

ACT IV

That evening in the garden, Susanna and the Countess exchange hooded robes to fool the Count. The comic genius of Mozart ensues as the Count attempts to woo “Susanna,” who is actually his wife in disguise. Figaro, who knows nothing of the ladies’ plans, overhears the Count making advances to a woman he believes to be Susanna. But when Susanna (dressed as the Countess!) approaches him, he recognizes her immediately, but plays along to make the Count jealous. When the Count overhears Figaro’s advances to the supposed Countess he flies into a rage; he has fallen into the ladies’ trap. The Countess reveals her true identity, and the Count realizes he has been a fool. In one of the most moving moments in all of opera, the Count begs his wife to forgive him. The sparkling finale of The Marriage of Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro) tells us that all will be well – at least for the moment.

POPera Facts

You’ve heard the music – even if you don’t realize it.

  • Who knew that the first few notes from the Figaro overture could unlock the doors to a room full of chocolate?! Well, in 1971, it did just that for Willy Wonka and his visitors in the film, Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory. And sorry, Mrs. Teevee, but Rachmaninoff was definitely not the composer of this piece.
  • In one of The Shawshank Redemption’s most powerful scenes, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) plays Canzonetta sull’aria from The Marriage of Figaro to entice other prisoners to dream of freedom.

From the first minute of the famous overture, we guarantee you’ll be saying, “I’ve heard this before.” The Marriage of Figaro overture has been used to sell hundreds of products on television and radio ads.

Meet the Composer

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

(1756-1791)

Born in Salzburg, Austria in 1756, Mozart was a child prodigy. Already competent on keyboard and violin at age 5, he performed before European royalty.

Wolfgang’s father, Leopold, was a successful composer, violinist and assistant concertmaster at the Salzburg court. He taught his son and daughter music and insisted on perfection. His children met his expectations. Young Wolfgang composed his first piece of music at age 5 and excelled on harpsichord and the violin. He would soon go on to play the piano, organ and viola.

At 17, he became a musician at the Salzburg court, but grew restless and traveled in search of a better position. While visiting Vienna in 1781, he was dismissed from his Salzburg position. He chose to stay in the capital, where he achieved fame but little financial security. For a time, he lived with friends at the home of Fridolin Weber. He married Constanze Weber in 1782. They had six children, though only two survived infancy.

Mozart became enthralled with the work of Bach and Handel and this, in turn, resulted in several compositions in the Baroque style. With substantial income from concerts and publishing, he and Constanze lived lavishly.

From 1782 to 1785, Mozart performed in large rooms in apartment buildings and ballrooms of expensive restaurants. During this time, he also began to keep a

catalog of his own music, perhaps indicating an awareness of the legacy he would leave.

By the mid-1780s, the Mozarts’ extravagant lifestyle had led to crushing debt. He figured the best way to a more stable income would be through court appointment. However, the court’s musical preference leaned toward Italian composers such as Antonio Salieri.

Mozart’s relationship with Salieri is the stuff of legend. Decades after Mozart’s death, rumors spread that Salieri had poisoned him. This rumor was made famous in Peter Shaffer’s play, Amadeus, and in the 1984 film of the same name by director Milos Forman. There is little actual evidence that their rivalry led to murder.

Toward the end of 1785, Mozart and the librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte collaborated on The Marriage of Figaro. It received a successful premier in Vienna in 1786.

The next year, Emperor Joseph II appointed Mozart as his chamber composer, an honor and an incentive to keep the composer in Vienna. It was a part-time appointment with modest pay, but it was easy work.

The period of 1788-1789 was a…

Production

Garnett Bruce

DIRECTOR

Robert Moody

CONDUCTOR

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