Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, after the comedy by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais
It is the wedding day of Figaro, Count Almaviva´s faithful servant. He is to marry the mischievous Susanna, personal maid to the Countess.
There is no doubt that the wedding will not pass without incident, because the Count is involved! Even the matter of his wedding gift to the young couple is not without its complications: they have been promised a room linking his apartments with those of the Countess. So convenient – if either of them is needed, they can be on the spot in a moment. Figaro is pleased, but Susanna… Susanna has her suspicions. After all, if the room is so convenient, it means the Count can get to her: Almaviva, she says, wishes to make use of the right to "the first night", the famous "droit de Seigneur" by which landlords may enjoy all the brides on their estates on their wedding night – before the husband may do so.
Figaro cannot believe his ears. After he married the beautiful Rosina, the Count promised to renounce this ancient right. But Figaro is not about to let himself be taken for a ride. He´s a good servant, but he is not prepared to stand by and be ridden over roughshod.
The marriage is opposed by the ageing duenna Marcellina and her former admirer, Doctor Bartolo. Bartolo can never forget how the cunning Barber of Seville–as Figaro was known at that time–made a fool of him when bringing together Almaviva and Rosina. Now the vengeful old man wishes to get his own back. Marcellina, meanwhile, lent Figaro money in return for a written promise to marry her if he did not repay it. Bartolo hopes to do his worst against the hated Figaro by forcing him to marry Marcellina, even though the duenna still has the power to arouse feelings in him.
Susanna, meanwhile, listens as the young page Cherubino tells of his love for the Countess. But not for her alone. The youth is in love with all the women in the castle and keeps finding himself in all sorts of unfortunate situations. Just recently, the Count found him alone with Barbarina, the young the niece of the gardener Antonio, and gave orders that the boy be expelled from the castle. Only the intervention of the Countess can soothe Almaviva´s anger and Cherubino asks Susanna to put in a good word for him with her mistress. But the Count himself appears at this moment. Hearing his approach, Cherubino hides in fright and thus involuntarily becomes a witness as Almaviva begs of Susanna a meeting. But his Grace too is forced to follow the page´s example, for in comes the music master, don Basilio, and the Count has no desire to be caught alone with Susanna. He too hides. Don Basilio relates the story of Cherubino´s love for the Countess and, beside himself; the Count leaps form his hiding place. His anger grows when he sees Cherubino.
Things are not going well for the page, but Susanna comes to his aid. Hinting that Cherubino has witnessed the Count´s outpourings. The girl manages to calm her master´s anger. Almaviva´s embarrassment increases when he is forced to listen to the assembled peasants who have come to thank their Lord for renouncing his "droit de Seigneur". It is Figaro who has brought them to the castle in an effort to push forward his wedding to Susanna. Almaviva is forced to agree to the wedding and agrees to be a guest at the celebrations. Taking advantage of the Count´s confusion, Cherubino manages to gain his pardon, but only on condition that he join the army immediately. Figaro sets out before the pampered page all the "horrors" of military service.
The Countess´s Room
Susanna, the Countess and Figaro have decided to teach the Count a lesson. Susanna is to promise him a rendezvous but Cherubino will appear in her place, wearing her dress. Cherubino has the dress on when Almaviva is heard and the page is forced to hide in the neighboring room. But the Count notices that the door of the room is locked. He demands that the Countess give him the key, and when she refuses to give it to him, he goes off to get tools to break the door down, insisting that the Countess accompany him. Susanna immediately takes Cherubino´s place in the room, the page jumping from the window. The Count returns triumphant – now he can prove that his wife has been unfaithful. The door is broken open and Susanna emerges from the room. Covered in shame. Almaviva is forced to beg his wife´s pardon. But then the gardener Antonio unexpectedly appears with a broken flowerpot – someone just jumped from the window, he says, and damaged his flowers. Figaro comes to the rescue of the Countess and Susanna, declaring that it was he, again forcing the Count to apologize. Enter Bartolo, Don Basilio and Marcellina, come to lodge the old duenna´s claim for breach of promise. Figaro has no money to pay his debt – and he is to answer before a court.
A room in the castle
The court (in the person of Count) has made its decision in favor of Marcellina. Figaro is saved, however, when it becomes clear that he is in fact the son of Marcellina and Bartolo, who was stolen as a baby. The joyful parents decide to celebrate their wedding along with that of their newly found son.
During the wedding celebrations Figaro notices that the Count is reading a note. In it Susanna has appointed a meeting with the Count. She has agreed to change dresses with the Countess, and so the woman who will meet the Count in his garden that night will in fact be his wife. The note is sealed with a pin. If the Count agrees to be in the appointed place at the appointed time, he must return the pin to Susanna. Figaro, unaware of his wife´s plot, becomes suspicious and decides to follow the Count´s movements.
The garden of Almaviva´s castle
In the moonlight, Barbarina is looking for a pin she has lost in the grass. In answer to Figaro´s question as to what she is doing, she answers that the Count has ordered her to deliver the pin to Susanna. Taken aback at his bride´s lack of faith, Figaro decides to lie in wait for the Count and Susanna. Susanna appears in the Countess´s dress – which leads to a multitude of misunderstandings. But all comes right in the end. The Count begs his wife´s forgiveness and the Countess grants it.
A day of commotion and confusion draws to a close in merry celebrations.
Any preparations prior to a wedding can be both pleasant and worrying, especially if they concern the soon-to be marital bed of the newlyweds. But what if a married master has his eye on the bride-to-be who is a maidservant and an ageing woman creditor sets her cap at the groom? It would appear that the god Eros has decided to mix up each of these couples at the castle of Count Almaviva, and his arrows of passion are easily able to overcome all differences as to age and social position. It is easy to become confused at the chaos of the various declarations of love that ensue; the clouds above the protagonists at times become more dense, at others they are magically dispelled, although universal harmony in the opera Le nozze di Figaro is only truly established in the finale. And it is not so much that each gets what he or she “deserves” in terms of status: a maid for a manservant, a count for a countess, a teenage girl for an adolescent boy the same age and a father for the single mother of a child. The most important thing in Mozart’s opera is the triumph of love, the victory of love as a clear, lofty and dependable condition of the soul over inconstant corporeal attractions. In accordance with the laws of classical theatre, all events occur within exactly one day: the day, truly mad in terms of its comedy and the absurdity of the situations, passes into a delightful evening, when all the knots of this complex web of intrigue are finally untangled. The next morning promises to be totally different – kindly, clear and pure, although the question “for how long?” remains open-ended.
The embarrassing, ridiculous, tricky and simply curious situations in which the characters find themselves – initially with Beaumarchais and subsequently with Lorenzo Da Ponte and Mozart – have afforded the production team a plethora of possibilities to express their own wit. Yuri Alexandrov’s production is filled with directing innovations and details (it is worth taking theatre binoculars!), thanks to which on-stage there reigns an improvisational feel of commedia dell'arte. In the set designs and costumes (created by Vyacheslav Okunev) there is an abundance of frills, flounces and drapery so appropriate for all kinds of crafty games. They are frothy, like champagne, which at the end of Act II flows across the stage in the direct sense of the word. In line with the wishes of the production team, this Nozze di Figaro sees the return of the librettist’s veiled social and political subtext of the scandalous French comedy written ten years before the storming of the Bastille. “Ghosts of the revolution” at times literally hack at the luxurious interiors of the Count’s castle, at others they peer through the windows, observing the suspiciously awkward dance of the loyal “peasant women” who are hoisting aloft garlands of flowers as if they were army duffle bags.
At the historic Mariinsky Theatre, Le nozze di Figaro is performed in Italian. In the revised supertitles in Russian, audiences will not read the familiar words “A playful, curly-haired boy in love”, though the new translation of the libretto will allow them to approach the original more closely, discover the myriad nuances and justly appraise the liveliness, sensuality and comet-like crispness that run through it. Khristina Batyushina
World premiere: 1 May 1786, Burgtheater, Vienna
Premiere at the Bolshoi (Kamenny) Theatre: 13 January 1851, Imperial Italian Opera Company
Premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre: 25 September 1901 (performed in Russian, translated by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky)
Premiere of this production: 23 October 1998
Running time 3 hours 20 minutes
The performance has one interval
The highlighting of performances by age represents recommendations.
This highlighting is being used in accordance with Federal Law N436-FZ dated 29 December 2010 (edition dated 1 May 2019) "On the protection of children from information that may be harmful to their health"