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Opera Essentials: Le nozze di Figaro

A guide to Mozart's classic comedy.

By Kate Hopkins (Opera and Music Publications Officer)

16 September 2013 at 4.45pm | Comment on this article

The Story Begins…

Figaro is about to marry Susanna, but can he fight off the attempts of his master Count Almaviva to bed her first? And what will the Countess do when she learns of her husband’s plans – or is she embroiled in a liaison of her own?

An Inspired Partnership

Mozart had come to Vienna in 1782 intending to write for Joseph II’s Singspiel theatre. However, Joseph II disbanded this group and set up a new Italian opera company in 1783. Eager to write an opera buffa, Mozart eventually managed to secure the services of Lorenzo da Ponte, official librettist for Joseph II’s opera company. Their first commission, Le nozze di Figaro, had its premiere at the Vienna Court Theatre on 1 May 1786.

A Revolutionary Drama

Da Ponte took the libretto for Le nozze di Figaro from the play La Folle Journée ou Le Mariage de Figaro by the French playwright and diplomat Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. The play was considered scandalous – largely due to Figaro’s Act V monologue in which he rails against the aristocracy – and was banned in Vienna. Da Ponte claimed that it was only due to his powers of persuasion that Joseph II allowed his and Mozart's opera to go ahead.

Outwitting the Master

David McVicar’s elegant production, set in 1830, places Mozart's opera in the context of Revolutionary Europe, when many conflicts between classes were as yet unresolved. His Figaro is a cunning and intelligent man, very determined to outwit his aristocratic master.

Original Ensembles

The intricacy of the musical ensembles in Le nozze di Figaro has been particularly noted; unusually for the time, they carry the drama’s action as much as the recitatives. Particularly complex and fine examples include the end of Act II (a vast ensemble in which more and more characters enter and the drama becomes increasingly complicated) and the Act III sextet, in which Figaro discovers the identity of his parents. The opera also contains many beautiful and characterful arias.

Le nozze di Figaro runs from 16 September 2013 - 15 May 2014. Tickets are still available.

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