Le nozze di Figaro ossia la folle giornata (Trans: The Marriage [lit. Wedding] of Figaro or the Crazy Day), K. 492, is an opera buffa (comic opera) composed in 1786 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, based on a stage comedy by Pierre Beaumarchais, Le mariage de Figaro (1784). Although the play by Beaumarchais was at first banned in Vienna due to the mockery of the upper class, the opera became one of Mozart's most successful works. It is now commonly regarded as a cornerstone of the standard operatic repertoire, as Opera America claims it to be the sixth most performed opera in North America. The overture is especially famous and is often played as a concert piece.
The opera was the first of several celebrated collaborations between Mozart and da Ponte; they went on to create Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte. It was Mozart who brought a copy of Beaumarchais's play to da Ponte, who turned it into a libretto in 6 weeks, translating the story into Italian poetry and removing all political references. Contrary to the popular myth, the libretto was approved by the Emperor, Joseph II, before any music was written by Mozart. Figaro premiered at the Burgtheater, Vienna, on May 1, 1786 to enormous popularity, though it was only let a run of 9 performances. The Emperor is known to have made a law regarding the number of encores that could be sung at performances of Figaro, for the audience was demanding so many that the already lengthy 4 hour opera was commonly running nearly twice as long thanks to the number of song repetitions. In 1789 a revival showing was performed, and Mozart and Da Ponte made several minor changes to the music to better suit the new singer in the role of Susanna.
The overture to the Marriage of Figaro does not use any of the music from the opera itself, in keeping with the adult Mozart's practices. However, a phrase from the opera, with the words "Cosi fan tutte le belle", was later reused in the overture to Cosi Fan Tutte. The music of Figaro's Act One finale aria, Non piú andrai, is used as the regimental slow march of the Coldstream Guards of the British Army. Mozart "recycled" the music of the Agnus Dei of his "Krönungsmesse" KV317(Coronation Mass), for the Countess' Dove sono, in C major instead of the original F major). The same motif was used in his early bassoon concerto. The opera is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, two Timpani drums, two sections of violins, violas, cellos, and basses.
Mozart's Italian Opera buffas are known for their muddled character drama, as opposed to the simple tragic love triangles of Belcanto and later operas. Due to its large cast of principals this is especially true of the Marriage of Figaro.
The Marriage of Figaro is a sequel to The Barber of Seville, and recounts a single "crazy" day in the palace of the Count Almaviva. Rosina is now the Countess; her husband, the Count is seeking the favors of Susanna who is to be wed to her love, Figaro, the Count's valet. When the Count detects the interest of the young page, Cherubino, in the Countess, he tries to get rid of Cherubino by giving him an officer's commission in his own regiment. Figaro, Susanna, and the Countess conspire to embarrass the count and expose his infidelity. Meanwhile Figaro is caught up in a dispute with Bartolo and Marcellina, which ends when he is revealed to be their son. At night, all find themselves on the palace grounds, where a comic series of mistaken identity results in the Count's humiliation and then forgiveness by the Countess.
Figaro is happily measuring the space where the bridal bed will fit. Susanna is trying on her wedding bonnet in front of the mirror. In the present day, a more traditional French floral wreath or a modern veil are often substituted. (Duet: Cinque, dieci, venti, trenta — "Five, ten, twenty, thirty.") Figaro is quite pleased with their new room, but Susanna is less so. She is bothered by its proximity to the Count's chambers: it seems he has been making advances toward her and plans on exercising his "droit du seigneur" the purported feudal right of a lord to bed a servant girl on her wedding night, before her husband can sleep with her. (The Count abolished the right when he married Rosina and now desires to resurrect it.) Figaro is livid and plans revenge on the Count (aria: Se vuol ballare, signor contino — "If you want to dance, sir count").
Figaro departs, and Dr. Bartolo arrives with Marcellina, his old housekeeper. Bartolo has been hired as counsel for Marcellina: Figaro had promised to marry her in exchange for the cancellation of a debt, and she intends to make him keep his promise. Bartolo, still irked at Figaro for having facilitated the union of the Count and Rosina (in The Barber of Seville), promises to help Marcellina (aria: La vendetta — "Vengeance").
Bartolo departs, Susanna returns, and Marcellina and Susanna share an exchange of polite insults (duet: Via, resti servita, madama brillante — "After you, madame"). The older woman departs. Cherubino then arrives and, after describing his love for women, particularly the Countess (aria: Non so piú cosa son — "I don't know anymore what I am"), asks Susanna's aid with the Count. It seems the Count is unhappy with Cherubino's amorous ways, having discovered Cherubino with the gardener's daughter, Barbarina, and plans to punish him. Cherubino wants Susanna to ask the Countess to intercede on his behalf. When the Count appears, Cherubino hides behind a chair, not wanting to be seen alone with Susanna. The Count uses the opportunity of finding Susanna by herself to personally step up his demands for favours from Susanna, including offering Susanna financial inducements to sell herself to him. Then Basilio, the slimy music teacher, arrives. The Count, also not wanting to be caught alone with Susanna, hides behind the chair. Cherubino leaves that hiding place just in time and jumps onto the chair, and Susanna covers him with a dress. So now the Count is behind the chair, and Cherubino is on the chair covered by a dress.
When Basilio starts to gossip about Cherubino's obvious attraction to the Countess, the Count leaps from his hiding place in anger. The Count lifts the dress from the chair to illustrate how he found Cherubino under a table in Barberina's room — and again finds Cherubino! Cherubino is only saved from punishment by the entrance of the peasants — the entrance of the peasants being an early attempt by Figaro to commit the Count to a formal gesture symbolising the promise of Susanna's entering into the marriage unsullied. The Count evades Figaro's plan by postponing the gesture. Cherubino is compelled to depart to the army in Seville, and Figaro gives him advice about his new, female-less life (aria: Non piú andrai — "No more gallavanting").
In the Countess's bedroom, the Countess laments her husband's infidelity. (aria: Porgi, amor, qualche ristoro — "Grant, love, some comfort"). Susanna comes into the room to prepare the Countess for the day. Susanna has evidently updated the Countess on the latest with regard to the Count's overtures to her, since she answers the Countess's question about the update with the response that the Countess is now fully informed, but adding that the Count is not trying to seduce her (he wouldn't lower himself to seduce such as her — he intended it to be a cash transaction). Figaro then arrives and hatches a plan to trick the Count: Susanna will give him a note indicating she wants to meet him that night in the garden; Cherubino will be waiting there, dressed as a woman; and the Countess will arrive and catch him red-handed. Furthermore, Figaro has already sent a letter to the Count (via Basilio) that indicates the Countess has a rendezvous that evening of her own.
Susanna lets Cherubino into the room and locks the door, because the Countess is worried about the jealous Count's reaction if he found Cherubino in the room. Susanna urges him to sing the song he wrote in honor of the Countess (aria: Voi, che sapete che cosa é amor — "You ladies who know what love is, see if I have it in my heart"). After the song, they proceed to attire him in women's clothes (aria of Susanna: Venite inginocchiatevi — "Come, kneel down before me"). During this time, the Countess sees Cherubino's commission, and notes that the Count was obviously in such a hurry that he forgot to seal it with his signet ring (which was necessary to make it an official document). Susanna returns to her room for some clothing in which to dress Cherubino. While the Countess and Cherubino are waiting for Susanna's return, they suddenly hear the Count arriving, so Cherubino flees into the next room— a closet. The Count demands entrance into the room, and, when Cherubino is hidden, the Countess unlocks the door. When the Count enters, angry at the information in the note that he has received, he hears noise from said room and tries to open it. It is locked. The Countess pretends it is only Susanna, trying on a wedding dress. During this time, Susanna re-enters the Countess's bedroom with the clothing, unobserved by either the Count and Countess, and conceals herself after she realises what is wrong (Susanna knows that to reveal herself to the Count will only result in the worst possible consequences to the Countess). The Count, furious and suspicious, leaves with the Countess to find a way to get the door open. He locks all the bedroom doors as he leaves, so that the intruder cannot escape. Susanna emerges from her hiding place, and frees Cherubino, who jumps down from the window. Susanna then takes his place in the closet. (duet: Aprite, presto, aprite — "Open the door, quickly!").
The Count and Countess return. The Countess finally admits it is Cherubino hidden in the closet, but when the closet is opened, they both find to their astonishment only Susanna. The Countess claims that she told the Count that Cherubino was in the closet to test the Count. Shamed by his jealousy, the Count begs for forgiveness. When the Count presses about the letter accusing the Countess of infidelity, Susanna and the Countess reveal that the letter was written by Figaro, and then delivered through Basilio. Figaro then arrives and tries to commence the wedding festivities. The Count stops him and asks who wrote the anonymous note given to him by Basilio. Figaro manages to evade the question, only to have Antonio, the gardener, arrive, complaining about a man jumping out of the window into Antonio's plants. Antonio is also carrying a letter which, he says, has been dropped by a man who escaped through the window. Figaro claims it was he who jumped out the window; the document, however, is Cherubino's appointment to the military. Figaro gets out of this scrape by saying Cherubino gave it to him because it still needed the Count's seal (the Countess and Susanna having been able to pass the information on to Figaro in secret). Marcellina, Bartolo and Basilio now appear, and the former brings her charge against Figaro. The Count secretly rejoices at their arrival. The wedding is postponed in order that the Count may investigate.
At the wedding hall, the Count mulls over the situation, confused by the preceding occurrences. At the urging of the Countess, Susanna enters and agrees to meet him later that night (duet: Crudel, perché finora — "Cruel girl, why until now") — it is the intention of the Countess to meet the Count in Susanna's place, disguised as Susanna. As Susanna departs, she is overheard saying to Figaro that he has already won the case. The Count, overhearing this, realizes he is being tricked (aria: Hai giá vinta la causa — "You've already won the case?"). He is determined to make Figaro pay by forcing him to marry Marcellina.
Figaro's trial follows, and the judgement is that Figaro must marry Marcellina. Figaro appeals to the Count, but the Count supports the judgement. When Figaro declares himself of noble birth, and that he was stolen from his parents when he was a baby, the subsequent discussion reveals that Figaro is the long-lost illegitimate son of Bartolo and Marcellina. A touching scene of reconciliation occurs. Because a mother cannot marry her son, Figaro is let off the hook. During the celebrations, Susanna enters with a payment to release Figaro from his debt to Marcellina. Seeing Figaro and Marcellina in celebration, Susanna mistakenly believes that Figaro is happily reconciled to marriage with Marcellina. With some difficulty, Susanna is convinced of the truth of the situation, and joins the celebration. Bartolo, overcome with emotion, agrees to marry Marcellina that evening in a double wedding (sextet: Riconosci in questo amplesso una madre — "Recognize a mother in this hug").
All leave, and the next scene sees the Countess, alone, pondering what happened to her happiness (aria: Dove sono i bei momenti — "Where are they, the beautiful moments"). Susanna enters and updates her regarding the plan to trap the Count. The Countess dictates a love letter for Susanna to give to the Count, which suggests that he meet her that night, "under the pines." The Count is instructed to return the pin which fastens the letter. (duet: Che soave zeffiretto — "What a gentle breeze").
A chorus of young peasants, among them Cherubino disguised as a girl, arrives to serenade the Countess. The Count arrives with Antonio, and, discovering the page, is enraged. His anger is quickly diffused by Barbarina (a peasant girl, Antonio's daughter), who reminds him of a promise he made to her: "Barbarina, if you will love me, I will give you anything you want." What she wants, it seems, is Cherubino's hand in marriage. Thoroughly embarrassed, The Count allows Cherubino to stay. The act closes with the double wedding, during the course of which Susanna delivers her letter to the Count. Figaro sees the note with the pin in it, assumes it is from another of the Count's trysts, and laughs to himself. As the curtain drops, the two newlywed couples rejoice.
Following the directions in the letter, the Count has sent the pin back to Susanna, giving it to Barbarina. Unfortunately, Barbarina has lost it (aria: L'ho perduta, me meschina — "I lost it, poor me"). Figaro and Marcellina see Barbarina and Figaro asks her what she is doing. When he hears the pin is Susanna's, he is overcome with jealousy, especially as he recognises the pin as being the one that fastened the letter which the Count received. Thinking that Susanna is meeting the Count behind his back, Figaro complains to his mother, and swears to be avenged on the Count and Susanna. Marcellina urges caution, but Figaro will not listen. Figaro rushes off, and Marcellina resolves to inform Susanna of Figaro's intentions.
Actuated by jealousy, Figaro tells Bartolo and Basilio to come to his aid when he gives the signal. After commenting on the situation, they depart, and, left alone, Figaro muses on the inconstancy of women (aria: Aprite un po quegli occhi — "Open your eyes"). Susanna and the Countess arrive, dressed in each other's clothes. Marcellina is with them, having informed Susanna of Figaro's suspicions and plans. After they discuss the plan, Marcellina and the Countess leave, and Susanna deliberately sings a love song to her beloved within Figaro's hearing (aria: Deh, vieni, non tardar — "Oh come, don't delay"). Figaro is hiding behind a bush and, thinking the song is for the Count, becomes increasingly jealous (which was Susanna's intention).
The Countess arrives in Susanna's dress. Unfortunately Cherubino has also arrived, and, thinking the Countess to be Susanna, tries to kiss the supposed Susanna, but is prevented by the interference of the Count. The Count is pursuing the supposed Susanna (really the Countess), who eludes him; they both run off when they detect Figaro nearby. Then the real Susanna arrives in the Countess' clothes. Figaro starts to tell her of the Count's intentions, but suddenly recognizes his bride. He plays along with the joke by paying deference to her as the Countess; Susanna, not knowing that Figaro knows it is she, becomes jealous: she thinks Figaro is making a pass at the Countess and promptly rewards him with slaps. Figaro finally lets on that he recognized Susanna's voice, and they make peace.
When the Count appears, Figaro, playacting, declares his love for the supposed Countess and sinks on his knees at her feet. The enraged Count calls for his people and for arms: his servant is seducing his wife. Bartolo, Basilio and Antonio arrive with torches, as the Count drags out, one by one, Cherubino, Barbarina, Marcellina and the "Countess" from behind the pavilion. During the Count's tirade, as he refuses to forgive Figaro and the supposed Countess, the real Countess shows up and reveals her true identity; the Count realizes he has been trapped (the supposed Susanna he was trying to seduce was actually his wife), and he simply kneels and asks for forgiveness (Contessa, perdono — "Countess, forgive me"). The Countess, more kind than he (Piú dolcile io sono — "I am more kind"), forgives her husband and all are contented. They celebrate as the curtain falls.