An meine drei Damen und meine drei Knaben
In memory Mike Richter
Mozart by Lange (1789)
Between August 1785 and January 1790, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) composed three operas with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte (1749-1838). Today, over two hundred years later, they are not only essential to the repertoire of the great opera companies of the world, but are the musical archetypes of classical perfection.
Lorenzo Da Ponte
The operas to which I refer are Le nozze di Figaro, K 492, Don Giovanni, K 527 and Così fan tutte, K 588.
Besides their creators, these three operas have much in common: their beauty, they take place in the span of a single day; and for characters, human beings of flesh and blood whose psychology is caught perfectly by Mozart's musical mastery.
They are not only great musical works, but also exhilarating dramas, the product of two individuals with a penchant for the dramatic. After Mozart, only Verdi and possibly Wagner would achieve such mastery in veritable theatrical masterpieces set to music, or veritable musical masterpieces in a theatrical setting, which is after all the very nature of opera.
Of course, the subjects dealt with by these three operas are fundamental to the human condition: love, social relationships and forgiveness. In Le nozze di Figaro, the love of Susanna and Figaro is set against the power and lust of Conte Almaviva. Donna Elvira is the victim of a desperate love for the libertine in Don Giovanni. Così fan tutte is not just the school for those in love; it is the paradigm of love in the eighteenth century. Le nozze di Figaro is an opera about the changing social relationships of the 1780s. Don Giovanni not only deals with the myth of Don Juan, but also with the different ways in which people react to others from different social classes. In Così fan tutte, characters from different social backgrounds are capable of altering the status quo. Le nozze di Figaro ends with a major forgiveness scene. In Don Giovanni, forgiveness is offered, but when rejected, becomes punishment. Così fan tutte also ends with a forgiveness scene, although in this case it is incomplete since those who beg forgiveness could well have granted it themselves.
All three operas were first performed in imperial theatres. Le nozze di Figaro and Così fan tutte in Vienna, and Don Giovanni in Prague. Upon the death of Emperor Joseph II in 1790, Mozart's star dimmed completely among Austrian nobles since his music was of no interest whatsoever to the new Emperor, Leopold II. Mozart's creative drive, however, showed no sign of abating and with an old friend, theatrical impresario and librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder (1751-1812), he began the composition of the work which was to be his swan song, and the first masterpiece of what might be referred to as popular opera, Die Zauberflöte, K 620, first performed in public nine weeks before Mozart's death.
Again, love is the subject of the opera, this time against the backdrop of the revelation of secrets of Freemasonry, to which both Mozart and Schikaneder belonged. It is a mystical opera in which the sublime love of the main characters, Pamina and Tamino, contrasts with the ambition of the Queen of the Night, the simplicity of Papageno and the wisdom of Sarastro and the initiates of the Temple of Wisdom.
Of course, Die Zauberflöte, like the operas written with Da Ponte, is also a vitally important part of the repertoire of the world's major opera companies.
The only purpose of these lines, written by an irresponsible - anyone daring to write about the operas of Mozart is irresponsible - admirer of music, opera and especially of Mozart, is to be of help to other, less irresponsible enthusiasts, in their understanding and enjoyment of these masterpieces of artistic creation.
Le nozze di Figaro – LOVE AND FORGIVENESS
Considered by many to be one of the most nearly perfect operas, Le nozze di Figaro is a work of art that, more than two hundred years after its first performance, is relevant even today.
It is relevant because of its plot in which contrasting forces are placed in juxtaposition: the powerful and the subdued, the intelligent and the influential, the womanizing man - albeit jealous - and the submissive woman - though sometimes coquettish, those who pick up the crumbs at the table of power and those to whom power is indifferent because they have something more important in their lives. It is relevant because of its libretto which, despite not being original, is a magnificent recreation of a masterpiece, but above all else it is relevant because of its music, which is one of the finest achievements of human creation.
Le nozze di Figaro is without doubt the culmination of opera buffa; it is a commedia per musica, whose characters are beings of flesh and blood, and not historical characters nor characters from the commedia dell'arte, nor Olympian gods. They are passionate human beings. I know many Almavivas, counts and countesses, and Figaros and Susannas. Cherubinos and Bartolos abound, as do, unfortunately, the Basilios.
Le nozze di Figaro is also the most classical of Mozart's operas, in the sense that it is a reconciliation of the painful human dualisms of sentiment and reason, individuality and society, nature and culture, freedom and necessity, materialism and spirituality; a classicism which was observed by a handful of artists at the end of the eighteenth century before the industrial and political revolutions
When he composed Le nozze di Figaro, Mozart was better off socially and financially than in most part of his life. He lived in an apartment in Domgasse in Vienna (an inevitable stop on any tour of the city), enjoyed the preference of the aristocracy and fervently desired to triumph again at the Imperial Opera, where in 1782 he had had great success with Die Entführung aus dem Serail, K 384. With Le nozze di Figaro, Mozart would grant the request for an opera buffa made to him at Christmas that year by Count Rosemberg-Orsini, the director of the Imperial Opera.
His creativity reached a spectacular level between August 1785 and April 1986, when, along with Le nozze di Figaro, Mozart composed, among other works, his first Quartet for Piano and Strings, K 478, the Maurerische Trauermusik, K 477, Die Schauspieldirektor, K 486 and his three great Piano Concertos 22, 23, and 24, KK 482, 488 and 491: almost nothing!
The vehicle he chose to give free reign to this incredible creativity was La folle journée ou Le marriage de Figaro by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, the sequel to Le Barbier de Séville ou La précaution inutile, written in 1778 but first put on in Paris in 1784. It was immediately translated, though not performed, all over Europe. A copy of Figaros Hochzeit; oder Der tolle Tag, the title of the work in German, was found among Mozart's personal belongings when he died. In 1782, Giovanni Paisiello had composed a successful opera based on Le Barbier, and in 1816 Rossini also used the Beaumarchais piece as inspiration for his superb Il barbiere di Siviglia.
La folle journée ou Le marriage de Figaro is a brilliant play which nonetheless is very rarely performed these days outside France. Mozart's music achieves what seemed difficult, namely to improve upon many of the original's qualities. The play is still known largely because of Le nozze di Figaro, which is performed several times every season all over the world.
As librettist, Mozart chose Lorenzo da Ponte, a Venetian clergyman and poet of Jewish descent who was born Emmanuele Cornigliano. He had already written the libretto of the oratorio Davidde penitente, K 469, in which Mozart used the music from the unfinished Mass in c minor, K 427. In all probability he was also responsible for the libretto of the unfinished opera buffa, Lo sposo deluso, K 430. He further collaborated with Mozart on Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte. Da Ponte, poet to the Imperial Court, was so excited with Le nozze di Figaro that he suspended work on librettos for Vicente Martin y Soler and Vincenzo Righini. He worked closely with Mozart, not only on the libretto, but on overcoming any obstacles and intrigues which got in the way of the production of the opera. In his Memorie, Da Ponte, exaggerating far more than a little bit, states that he himself persuaded the Emperor to allow the performance of the opera in the Imperial Theatre, because the “contentious scenes” of the play had been cut in the opera.
Among the rivals was the Court Composer, Antonio Salieri, of whom Mozart makes mention in several letters that he wrote to his father. Pushkin and Peter Schaffer, in two magnificent plays (the latter taken by Milos Forman into a superb film, and the earlier by Rimsky-Korsakov in an opera) would later popularise and distort the relationship between Salieri and Mozart, depicting the Italian as the direct cause of Mozart's death with no solid evidence on which to base this theory.
Le nozze di Figaro was first played in public on 1 May 1786 in the Hoftheater in Vienna thanks to the support of Josef II, to whom I remain most deeply grateful.
More intrigues of powerful members of the Imperial Opera resulted in Le nozze di Figaro being performed but nine times in its first Viennese season, but Mozart exacted his revenge in Prague where it played to resounding success and inspired Don Giovanni. Today, beggars blessed with sufficient vocal talent sing "Voi che sapete" in Czech on the Karl bridge in an attempt to pry a few pennies from passing pedestrians.
Le nozze di Figaro, although sanctioned by the Emperor, represented a subtle attack on the privileges of the Austrian aristocracy for which Mozart would never be forgiven. The same aristocrats who had elevated him to impressive levels of popularity disdained him and withdrew their support, refusing to attend his concerts or to allow their children to take music lessons with him. Only Josef II and Baron van Swieten, imperial librarian and head of censorship in Maria Theresia's time, continued to support Mozart after Le nozze di Figaro.
Josef II called for a second production in Vienna in July, 1789, which was a resounding success in August and inspired another masterpiece, Così fan tutte. It is ironic that Figaro, a work of pre-Revolutionary ideas, should return to the stage at the same time as the storming of the Bastille, the prelude to the end of the absolute monarchy and the tragic death of Marie Antoinette, the sister of the Austrian Emperor.
Few eighteenth-century operas have reached the public so quickly. In Mozart's lifetime, there were at least six more productions: two in Italy and four in Germany. Figaro was performed for the first time in France and Spain in 1802, and in England in 1812. It was put on in the United States relatively early, in 1824, thanks to Da Ponte who had emigrated to put as much distance as possible between himself and Austria due to his romantic entanglements in the Court.
The libretto of Le nozze di Figaro is written in Italian which was one of the Empire's official languages due to its possessions in Italy (Lombardy, Tuscany and Trieste). Consequently, Italian was fluently spoken by many people in Vienna and Prague, and especially by those who attended the Imperial Theatres. The libretto was immediately translated into German and other European languages.
In the eighteenth-century, opera was a spectacular, lively show, which meant that the musical composition had to tailored to the actual singers who interpreted it.
Figaro, twenty-eight years of age on the day in question in the eighteenth-century, is an intelligent, astute man who gains the trust of Conte Almaviva by helping him win the heart of Rosina, the ward of Doctor Bartolo, as we learned in Le Barbier. He is valet and right-hand man at the castle in Aguasfrescas on the outskirts of Seville where the Conte lives. He is in love with and soon to be married to Susanna
The first Figaro was Francesco Benucci, primo basso buffo of the Imperial Opera. He was 41 years of age and had a voice admired by everyone, including Mozart. At the dress rehearsal his interpretation of the aria "Non più andrai" was so brilliant that it inspired the orchestra to stand up for Mozart against his rivals who did not want the opera to open. Later he would play Leporello in the opening performance of Don Giovanni in Vienna and was the first Guglielmo in Così fan tutte. When the opera opened in Prague, Figaro was played by Felice Ponziani, who took the stage as Leporello in Don Giovanni one year later. His interpretation must have been phenomenal in light of the spectacular success of Le nozze di Figaro in Bohemia.
Susanna, chambermaid and companion to Contessa Almaviva, is an intelligent, beautiful young woman of twenty. She is the object of the Conte's lust, but is in love with Figaro whom she plans to marry. She is Antonio's niece.
Nancy Storace, prima donna of the Imperial Opera, appeared as Susanna at the age of twenty-one. She was English of Italian stock and had a beautiful and very expressive voice. She was a great friend of Mozart, who composed the Scena e Rondò for soprano and orchestra with piano obbligato "Ch'io mi scorde di te?", K 505 for her farewell concert in Vienna in 1787. The prima donna of the Prague Imperial Theatre, Caterina Bondini, was the first Susanna in Bohemia and would be the first Zerlina in Don Giovanni in 1787.
In the second Viennese production, Adriana Gabrielli del Bene, "La Ferrarese", Da Ponte's current mistress, took over from Nancy Storace. In comparison, La Ferrarese was ugly and disagreeable to Mozart, who decided to replace the arias written for Storace. She did, however, have a very broad vocal range, which Mozart took advantage of to compose two new arias: "Un moto di gioia", K 579, which replaced Susanna's first aria, and "Al desio, di chi t'adora", K 577, that replaced the second. La Ferrarese was the first Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte in 1790.
Conte Almaviva, about 25 years of age, is the Gran Corregidor de Andalucia and Grandee of Spain. Disguised under the name of Lindoro in Le Barbier, he had been generous and smitten but has now become a typical authoritarian, womanizing Spanish aristocrat, who upon marrying Rosina and in a flurry of liberalism abolished his noble right to deflower all the young maidens on his estate. Now, on the eve of Susanna's wedding, he seriously considers restoring it. Recently appointed as ambassador to the Court of St. James, he intends to take Figaro with him as corriero and Susanna as consigliera segreta d'ambasciata.
Stefano Mandini, a thirty-six-year-old Italian bass with the tessitura of a baritone who had just joined the Imperial Opera, was first to bring the Conte to life. In Prague, Almaviva was sung by Luigi Bassi, who would later pass into history as the first Don Giovanni.
In the second Viennese production of Le nozze di Figaro in 1789 Mozart reworked the Conte's aria, with exceptional virtuosity, making full use of a high baritone voice, probably for Francesco Albertarelli, who had interpreted the first Viennese Don Giovanni.
Contessa Almaviva, Rosina, is nineteen and has been married to the Conte for three years. He has been unfaithful on numerous occasions and pays little attention to her, although he is constantly concerned that any infidelity on her part may stain his honor. In Le nozze di Figaro, Rosina is a dignified, beautiful, but sad woman who nonetheless sometimes reverts to coquetry and fun, and remains a master of domestic intrigue.
The first Contessa, soprano Luisa Laschi, was twenty at the opera's première. She was very beautiful as testified to by the fact that the noble right to take the young woman's virginity - yes, the same right abolished by Almaviva was in force in the Vienna of 1786 - in the absence of Josef II, to whom the right belonged but who was absent because of the war against the Ottoman Empire, was hotly disputed and ultimately won by no other than Count Rosemberg-Orsini. Luisa Laschi, now Luisa Mombelli, was also to become the first Zerlina in Vienna.
In the second Viennese production, the Contessa was Catarina Cavalieri, the first Konstanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail and the first Mme Silberklang in Die Schaupieldirektor, K 486. She was Salieri's mistress and a close friend of Mozart. It is possible that for this production, Mozart composed a variation of the Contessa's second aria which demanded more coloratura of the soprano. Cavalieri also played Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni in Vienna.
Cherubino - dear Cherubino! - the Conte's adolescent, fourteen-year-old page, is in love with all the women in the world. Likened to an adolescent Don Giovanni by Kierkegaard, he gives Almaviva a headache throughout the entire opera, falling from balconies and hiding in all sorts of places, but he does sing an aria and an arietta which once heard can never be forgotten. Beaumarchais wanted this part to be played by a young woman and Mozart wrote it for a donna and not an uomo castrato, another of Mozart's contributions which was used by Richard Strauss in Der Rosenkavalier when he chose a mezzo-soprano for Ottavian, a similar role to that of Cherubino. Verdi would also choose a light soprano for Oscar in Un ballo in maschera, although this character's psychology is very different from that of Cherubino and Ottavian.
The first singer to give Cherubino voice, Dorotea Sardi-Bussani, at twenty-four on the opening night was the oldest of the three women principals. She was the wife of Franceso Bussani who sang the parts of Bartolo and Antonio. Four years later, Dorotea would be Despina in the première of Così fan tutte.
Bartolo, a physician and Rosina's former tutor, still upset with Figaro over the Lindoro episode in Le Barbier (he harbors no ill feelings for Lindoro, who took Rosina away from him, since he is after all the Conte). The role is ideal for a great basso buffo. Bartolo was interpreted on the opera's opening night by Francesco Bussani, the administrator of the Italian Imperial Opera Company, who was forty-three years old at the time. Despite being one of Mozart's main rivals who tried to block his premières, Bussani would later specialize in Mozart's work, playing the Commendatore and Masetto in Don Giovanni and Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte at their first performances in Vienna. Bussani was also the first to play the part of Antonio, a castle gardener and good drinking man, Susanna's uncle and Barbarina's father.
Another singer who played dual roles was the Irish tenor, Michael Kelly, who was twenty-four on the day of the première. He was a close friend of Mozart and his Reminiscences are crucial to a clear understanding of what went on around this opera. His parts were Don Curzio, a lawyer, and Don Basilio, Rosina and Susanna's music teacher, who is one of the most scheming, scrounging, rascally characters in living memory.
Marcellina, a lady at the castle and former servant of Bartolo, is about fifty years old. At first, she takes the part of the Conte, but later she changes allegiance to side with Susanna and Figaro. In the première Marcellina was interpreted by Maria Soleri di Vesian, the wife of Stefano Mandini.
Barbarina, Antonio's daughter, Franchette in Le marriage de Figaro, is the only woman in the castle in love with Cherubino. She is twelve or thirteen years old, and was interpreted by Nannette Gottlieb who in fact was twelve at the time. Five years later, Nannette would interpret Pamina for the first time in Die Zauberflöte.
Mozart used what in his time was the standard orchestra: pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets, timpani and strings; in recitatives he used pianoforte or cembalo and cello. The instrumentation varies in the numbers. Only in the overture and in the finale of acts II, III and IV does he use the whole orchestra. The melody is generally carried by the violins, flutes, oboes and clarinets while the accompaniment is left to the bassoons, horns and low strings, although these groups of instruments, especially the horns, are used on occasion to accentuate certain ideas or moods of the characters.
The Sinfonia, presto in D major, is for the full orchestra. It was written on April 29, two days before the première. It is a work of art in itself, short in length but magnificent in its construction and orchestration. It is written in the form of an undeveloped sonata, and without stating a single theme from the opera, describes concisely its spirit and atmosphere. In the autographed score, there are 64 bars of an unfinished slow section, andante con moto in D minor, scored out by Mozart himself.
D major is the main key of the whole opera; both the beginning and the end are in this key. Mozart used D major for works of great musical brilliance such as Piano Concerto Coronation 26, K 537, and the Symphonies Haffner and Prague, KK 385 and 504.
The first act opens one day in the morning in 1770 in a semi-furnished room in the castle of Aguasfrescas on the outskirts of Seville. The room is between the master's and the mistress's bedrooms.
Figaro, measuring the room, attempts to accommodate a double bed while Susanna tries on a hat for the wedding ceremony in a Duettino, allegro in a plebeian G major with flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns and strings, No.1 "Cinque...dieci" (Five...ten...). Both express their happiness at their coming wedding, but Susanna, in recitativo secco, tells Figaro that she does not like the bedroom.
Another Duettino continues, with the same instruments but now in B flat major. Figaro ponders the advantages of a bedroom so close to those of the masters of the house; Susanna says that precisely what bothers her is the fact that the Conte would be very close to her, No.2 "Se acaso madama" (If madam calls you). Susanna, again in recitativo secco, says that the dowry the Conte has promised her has a cost; half an hour every time, Basilio constantly tells her. Of course, the Conte wants to reinstate the feudal right he so recently abolished.
Figaro is left alone, furious and jealous, and in a Cavatina in F major with oboes, bassoons, horns and strings which starts off allegretto, builds up to presto, and then returns to allegretto, states that as always - such self-confidence! - the Conte will march to his beat, +
No.3 "Se vuol ballare, signor contino" (If you want to dance, my dear little count). He exits.
No.3 "Se vuol ballare, signor contino" (If you want to dance, my dear little count). He exits.
Mozart uses F major in his operas whenever a plebeian challenges or defies a noble, as in the previous Cavatina. In 1793, Beethoven composed Variations for Piano and violin on "Se vuol ballare", WoO 40.
Bartolo and Marcellina, with a contract in her hand, take the stage. Figaro owes her a debt and she plans to collect it by marrying him. Bartolo sees a golden opportunity to get even with Figaro by making him marry his former servant. He expresses his feelings in one of the best arias ever written for basso buffo, No.4 "La vendetta, oh, la vendetta" (Revenge, oh, revenge). This Aria, allegro in D major, the same key as the overture, is accompanied by the whole orchestra except for the clarinets.
Upon her exit, Marcellina runs into her rival, Susanna, and there begins a lovely duel of sarcasm from which Susanna emerges the victor using age as her best argument in the Duettino, allegro in A major with flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns and strings, No.5 "Via, resti servita madama brillante!" (Pass, distinguished lady). Susanna is left alone.
Enter Cherubino who tells Susanna that the Conte has thrown him out of the castle because he found him in Barbarina's bedroom. Cherubino takes one of the Contessa's ribbons from Susanna and in return he gives her a song he has written, which he wants the mistress, Susanna herself, Barbarina and Marcellina - all the women at the palace - to read. Cherubino expresses his exacerbated feelings of love in an Aria in E flat major accompanied by clarinets, silent since the overture, bassoons, horns and strings. This aria should be sung allegro vivace and not allegro as so many singers do, No.6 "Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio" (I know not who I am, nor what I do). In the field of human expression seldom has any medium been used to such beautiful effect to give substance to a character as this aria.
E flat appears for the first time in the opera. This key, one of the most personal to Mozart, is used normally in opera buffa in solemn situations, but Mozart uses it in his opere buffe to express emotional contrasts, internal conflicts as it were. Incredible as it may seem, given the beauty and importance of this piece, it is probable that this aria was not performed the day of the première, although it is in the libretto sold on 3 May 1786.
Cherubino tries to leave, but sees the Conte approaching and, terrified, hides behind a chair. The Conte enters and starts a new offensive against the virtue of Susanna who is more worried about the page's presence. Almaviva's tricks are interrupted by Basilio's voice. The Conte also hides behind the chair when Cherubino slides onto it as Susanna covers him with a robe. Basilio mentions Cherubino whom he has seen in the vicinity and whom he has seen staring tenderly at the Contessa.
Instantly, the Conte changes his seduction mood into jealousy and emerges from his hiding place demanding an explanation and launching into a Terzetto in an aristocratic B flat major, allegro assai with oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and strings, No.7 "Cosa sento, tosto andate" (What do I hear, on your way quickly!), in which, as is the case with all ensembles, Mozart reveals his mastery at describing not only individual traits, but dramatic situations. Naturally, Basilio denies all of his insinuations, and of course, Susanna “faints” to distract the Conte's attention and to avoid his discovering the page. Susanna “recovers” and the Conte says that what Cherubino is up to be nothing new since just the other day he found him hiding under Barbarina's table - what could the Conte have been doing in the daughter of the gardener's bedroom? As he speaks, he lifts the robe exposing the page, which creates a somewhat compromising situation for Susanna and recharges Basilio's batteries. Basilio had not fainted, but he had even become polite to Susanna. Basilio ends the terzetto by intoning prophetically "Così fan tutte le belle" (That's what all the beautiful women do).
The Conte, in recitativo secco, threatens to tell Figaro if he cannot get what he wanted by fair means, let him see what the fiancé's anger might achieve, to which Susanna replies that she does not care because she is innocent. At this moment Figaro enters with all of the servants of the palace, who express their thanks for the abolition of the feudal right in a Coro in G major, allegro with flutes, bassoons, horns and strings, No.8 "Giovani liete" (Happy youths). The Conte reaffirms his decision to abolish the feudal right, but what Figaro wants is to be married so the Conte promises to hold the ceremony, although he asks for a little time to organize everything as well as possible - and to buy him enough time to pursue his conquest.
The servants retire singing the same chorus. Figaro notices that Cherubino is sad because of his banishment so, with the help of Susanna, he pleads with the Conte to let him stay at least for one day: the wedding day. The Conte, faced with the possibility of Cherubino repeating what he heard just a few moments before, weakens but orders him to report as an officer to his regiment.
Figaro also asks to speak to Cherubino before he leaves and bids him farewell by describing his future in the army as far less enjoyable and more difficult than in the castle in the opera's most famous Aria, allegro vivace in C major with full orchestra - without clarinets - finishing the first act with a military-style march, No.9 "Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso" (No longer will you go, lovesick butterfly).
Mozart reveals his complete mastery of C major that, as with the opera's main key of D major, is of great brilliance. The first arrangement for wind instruments of this aria, would be made by Mozart for the second act of Don Giovanni. He also used the musical theme in the Contredanse K 609 No.1.
Act II takes place at noon in the Contessa's bedroom, which has three doors and one window and which becomes a semi-private space where the intrigue flourishes.
The Contessa enters alone and expresses her feelings of melancholy in a beautiful Cavatina in E flat major, again representing emotional conflict, larghetto with clarinets, bassoons, horns and strings, No.10 "Porgi amor" (Cupid concedes). If, having heard this cavatina, we do not understand the Contessa's sadness, either we were really not paying attention or we are deaf.
Susanna comes into the Contessa's bedroom. The Contessa asks her to tell of the Conte's attempts to seduce her to which Susanna responds that he pays no such attentions to plebeians and that he simply wants to make a business transaction. Figaro enters and claims that it is natural and possible that the Conte should want to seduce Susanna. He tells the Contessa that he has sent the Conte a note with Basilio telling him of her date with a lover in the garden that evening to arouse his jealousy. He also tells Susanna to arrange to meet the Conte in the garden that evening where Cherubino, still in the castle, will take her place dressed as a woman. The Conte, caught in the act by his wife, will be taught a sharp lesson and will thus be obliged to hold the wedding.
Figaro exits and sends in Cherubino to be dressed as a woman. Susanna asks Cherubino to sing the song he had given her, which he does, interpreting one of the opera's most beautiful melodies, an Arietta in B flat major, andante, also unmarked in the score, with one flute, an oboe, a clarinet, a bassoon, horns and strings, in which he describes what love is for him, No.11 "Voi, che sapete" (What do you know).
In his Memorie, da Ponte says that the lyric of this arietta, different from that sung by Cherubino in the Beaumarchais play, was adapted from a poem by Dante and in my opinion, he has achieved immensely beautiful poetry which, when combined with Mozart's music, becomes a spellbinding musical piece.
During the preparations for dressing Cherubino as a woman - a case for psychoanalysis enthusiasts; a male adolescent personified by a woman who has to look like a man disguised as a woman - he shows the Contessa the order for him to join the regiment, but she notices that the official seal is missing. Susanna dresses Cherubino as a woman, all the while telling him how handsome he is and that, of course, all women find him attractive. Here she sings her first Aria, allegretto in G major with flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns and strings, typically buffa, the kind of music assigned to women of Susanna's social class, the soubrettes, No.12 "Venite inginocchiatevi" (Come and kneel down).
G major is the key Mozart uses when characters of low social standing express themselves in happy situations like the opera's first duet and the choruses of the first and third acts.
Having dressed the page, Susanna exits throughout the bedroom door while Cherubino and the Contessa flirt with the ribbon which Cherubino took from Susanna in the first act - the old Rosina can still come to the surface. They are interrupted by the Conte who pounds on the door, furious at having read Figaro's note and at finding the door suspiciously locked - no-one was permitted to lock a door to a Grandee of Spain. When the Conte enters, Cherubino hides in a large closet - the page is a true master in the art of hiding - and the Contessa tells the Count that she was with Susanna who has gone back to her bedroom. Cherubino drops something over in the closet making noises which further arouses the Conte's suspicions. The Contessa tells him that it was Susanna to which the Conte retorts that she had told him that Susanna was in her room.
In the face of the Contessa's contradictory answers, the Conte orders the chambermaid to come out, and another wonderful, dramatic Terzetto begins, allegro spiritoso in C major with oboes, bassoons, horns and strings, No.13 "Susanna, or via sortite" (Susanna, come out now!). The Contessa, exuding feminine embarrassment, says that Susanna cannot come out because she is trying on her wedding dress whereupon the Conte orders her to speak, but the Contessa countermands him with an impressively dignified musical phrase "Nemmen, nemmen, nemmeno, io, v'ordino" (Not unless I order you to do so). Faced with the Contessa's refusal to open the door, the Conte announces that he, not the servants, will break open the door himself so as to avoid any scandal. They exit and lock the door. The tessitura of Susanna is higher than that of la Contessa but the latter sings top C twice in this terzetto. This has been the root of miscasting both characters on many occasions.
At this moment Susanna comes out of her bedroom and opens the closet. Cherubino, terrified at the prospect of facing the Conte and since the door is locked, opts for flight through the balcony window. He drops into the garden and Susanna enters the closet. During this scene they interpret a short and very original Duettino allegro assai in G major accompanied by strings alone, No.14 "Aprite, presto aprite" (Open, quickly, open). The performance of this short duet caused a lot of problems at rehearsal for which reason Mozart also composed an alternative recitativo secco, but the duettino was mostly probably sung on the opening night.
The masters return and in the face of impending catastrophe the Contessa confesses the truth about Cherubino. Here begins the Finale No.15 of which Mozart and Da Ponte were so proud, and rightly so. The first part is a duet, "Esci ormi, garzon malnato" (Come out right now, wretched boy), allegro in E flat major to the accompaniment of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and strings, in which the Conte expresses his rage and accuses the Contessa of infidelity. He demands the key to the closet and, despite her protests of innocence - hers and the page's- he draws his sword to kill the page. A terzetto molto andante follows, not andante con moto as interpreted by some conductors, in B flat major, "Susanna!", during which the closet door is opened and much to the surprise of the Conte, and even more of the Contessa, Susanna comes out. She tells the Conte to go and look for the page and tells the Contessa that Cherubino has gone and not to worry, allegro, with the addition of flutes but without a key change, "Susanna son morta" (Susanna, I am dead!). The Conte realizes that Cherubino is not there and - for the first time in the opera - begs forgiveness, albeit half- heartedly for he then asks for an explanation of Figaro's note, which according to the women is simply a prank and revenge on the Conte for his high jinks. The Contessa grants forgiveness after being persuaded by her husband and the chambermaid.
Enter Figaro singing "Signori, di fuori son già i suonatori" (Ladies and gentlemen, the musicians are already outside), allegro in G major, without clarinets, and announcing that everything is ready for the wedding and converting the terzetto into a quartetto, but the Conte is still intrigued by the note of which Figaro disclaims all knowledge much to the anger of the Contessa and Susanna, "Conoscete, signor Figaro" (Have you seen this, Figaro?), andante in C major. The women and Figaro ask the Conte to go ahead with the wedding.
As the music picks up speed to allegro molto in F major, the quintetto begins with the entrance of Antonio carrying a pot of broken carnations and saying angrily that a man fell from the Contessa's balcony into the flowers, "Ah signor! Ah, signor!". The Conte demands an explanation in spite of the protests from his wife, Figaro and Susanna, who accuse Antonio of being drunk, "Ma signore, se in lui parla il vino" (But sir, it is the wine talking through him). Faced with all sorts of Cherubinesque complications, Figaro says that it was he who jumped from the balcony and in so doing hurt his ankle; Antonio, however, says that to him it looked like Cherubino. Figaro says that Cherubino is on his way to Seville on horseback; Antonio says that it wasn't a horse he saw jump. The Conte, fed up by this time, asks Figaro why he dropped from the balcony to which Figaro replies that he was with Susanna but upon hearing the Conte so angry, chose to jump.
Antonio then presents some papers which must belong to Figaro since he dropped them where he fell, "Vostre dunque saran queste carte che perdeste" (These must be the papers you lost), andante in B flat major, with the return of the clarinets. The Conte snatches the papers which turn out to be Cherubino's orders to join the regiment, and he asks Antonio to leave. The Contessa sees the orders and tells Figaro through Susanna that the seal is missing. Figaro makes fun of the Conte for having omitted the seal, which takes the wind out of the Conte's sails.
At this point Marcellina enters accompanied by Bartolo, a doctor turned lawyer, and Basilio, her witness, to claim the payment of her debt from Figaro, "Voi Signor, che giusto siete" (You sir, who are so just). The Conte, despite protests from Figaro, Susanna and the Contessa, announces that he will see justice done and he feels himself coming back to life. This septetto, allegro assai-più allegro-prestissimo with the full orchestra, is a work of art in itself. Two rival groups form without any of the singers losing their individual quality: the Conte, Marcellina, Bartolo and Basilio on one side and the Contessa, Susanna and Figaro on the other. Susanna's melody in the prestissimo passage is quite outstanding. The septetto is in E flat major, the key used by Mozart in moments of emotional contrast and this septetto certainly has those: Almaviva's gaiety, Marcellina and Bartolo's satisfaction, the Contessa's sadness, and Susanna and Figaro's despair. The Finale of act II started and ended in E flat, forming a perfect fifths circle.
The 939 bars of the Finale of act II are a marvelous, masterful composition and a demonstration of Mozart's musical and dramatic genius in which, with a good libretto, he exploits his art composing ensemble pieces at the same time as managing to cover the spectrum from dramatic situations in the opening duet to frankly comical situations in the quintetto. One way of fully enjoying the prestissimo finale is by attempting to isolate Susanna's melodic line and to contrast it with the Contessa's. The duetto - terzetto - quartetto - quintetto - quartetto - septetto sequence is of unique richness and beauty. Such a long piece was completely unheard of in eighteenth century opera, which means that Mozart may be considered not only to be the composer who brought perfection to the music of his time, but also the one who laid the foundations for the evolution of the opera form when he composed such an extended piece without using recitativo secco. Susanna's melodic line in both the finale and the previous terzetto is higher than the Contessa's. However, certain conductors invert these melodic lines, which is incorrect. The registers of Storace and Laschi's voices, deduced from the operas they sang, suggest that Mozart assigned them their parts according to their vocal characteristics. It amuses me that these conductors should want to correct Mozart's vision based on two top C’s of the terzetto No.13.
Act III takes place in the afternoon in the main hall of the castle where the Conte, writing at a table, meditates on the events of midday, including the supposed attempt on his honour and the fastidiousness of the Contessa when he dared to doubt her.
In one corner of the hall, the Contessa asks Susanna to make an appointment with the Conte in the garden, which she means to keep in place of her chambermaid - Rosina has not forgotten her talent for intrigue. Susanna, on the pretext of looking for a jar of salts for her mistress, draws close to the Conte who makes fun of her saying that Figaro is definitely going to marry Marcellina, to which Susanna replies that she will pay Marcellina with her dowry as promised to her by the Conte. The master says that he offered no such dowry, to which Susanna replies that she has no doubt that he knows to which dowry she is referring. The Conte starts a Duettino, andante initially in A minor - a minor tonic for the first time in the opera - and changing after only 29 bars to A major, the key with erotic connotations for Mozart, with flutes, bassoons, horns and strings, in which he expresses his happiness at the imminent conquest. Susanna replies with a series of lapsus linguae - almost Freudian according to some. Naturally, the Conte accepts the date, No.16 "Crudel! perchè finora farmi languir così?" (Cruel! Why did you have me languish like this for so long?)
Susanna exits on Figaro's entrance and she tells him that everything is going to turn out fine. The Conte overhears her remarks and doubt creeps in, not only as regards the previous conversation but also his power. Nonetheless, he begins to think again as a Grandee of Spain and tells himself that he will never allow a servant to be happy by obtaining the object of his desire. He does so in a magnificent Recitativo accompagnato e Aria, which is in fact the Conte's only solo number in the opera, No.17 "Ha gìa vinto la causa... Vedrò mentr'io sospiro felice un servio mio?" (You have won the trial...Will I see one of my servants happy so long as I draw breath?). The aria is Allegro maestoso - allegro assai in D major, the main key of the work, with full orchestra except the clarinets which are too sweet for Almaviva's personality.
Marcellina, Bartolo and the lawyer, Don Curzio, join the Conte in celebrating Figaro's sentence to pay up or marry Marcellina as passed by the Gran Corregidor of Andalucía in the trial which took place off stage but which takes up most of the third act of the five-act Beaumarchais play. Figaro, troubled by this turn of events, protests that he cannot be married without his parents' permission. He claims that his parents were nobles from whom he was stolen and to prove it he mentions a disguising mark on his arm. Upon hearing this, Marcellina asks him if the mark is in the shape of a spatula. When this turns out to be the case, she tells Figaro that she is his mother and Bartolo his father. This is the last straw for the unfortunate Conte.
They sing a very comical, sweet Sestetto, andante in F major with flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns and strings in which some celebrate - Marcellina and Bartolo change sides - and others mourn; during the sestetto Susanna enters - singing dissonantly in C major - with enough money, a wedding present from the Contessa, to free Figaro from his obligations. She is naturally upset at seeing him embrace Marcellina and she slaps him - for the first time in several hours - but is comforted by her future mother-in-law, who gives her the good news, No.18 "Riconosci in questo amplesso" (Recognise in this embrace). This sestetto was Mozart's favorite piece and, according to Michael Kelly, had it sung to him in his room as he lay dying. Marcellina and Bartolo, who turn out to be truly "noble", decide to get married immediately, and Figaro and Susanna celebrate not only the end to the threat but also their new wealth: the Contessa's dowry, Marcellina's I.O.U. and Bartolo's dowry, which is given then and there. So far, all the dowries have been given with the exception of the one that was “promised" by the Conte.
They all exit as Barbarina and Cherubino walk past. Barbarina tells him that he is going to dress as a woman and that he will be "the most beautiful in the castle". In Mozart's own copy of the score there appears a reference to an aria for Churubino which he never composed. It was probably replaced by the aria in act I, "Non so più cosa son".
The Contessa, alone on stage, wonders what came of the talk between Susanna and the Conte and about lost love, her husband's infidelity and the chances of winning him back in a Recitativo accompagnato e Aria which could well make a soprano's reputation, No.19 "E Susanna non vien!..Dove sono i bei momenti?" (And Susanna does not return...Where are the beautiful moments?). The aria, with oboes, bassoons, horns and strings begins andante and when she sings "Ah! se almen la mia constanza" (Oh! if at least my constancy), it accelerates to allegro. The key is a very bright C major and the aria is of singular beauty.
Since the mid nineteen sixties the last three scenes changed position; first Barbarina and Cherubino's dialogue, then the Contessa's aria and finally the sestetto. This followed a suggestion of R.B. Moberly and C. Raeburn who argued that the original order was due to the fact that Bussani played both Bartolo and Antonio and needed time to change costume. Alan Tyson, in his detailed study of the original manuscripts, fails to confirm this theory. In modern performances, outside Great Britain and USA, the sequence has reverted to Mozart’s original. Tonal coherence is important!
Antonio enters with the Conte and tells him that Cherubino is still in the castle and that he is being dressed as a woman. As evidence of this he shows the Conte Cherubino's hat. Both exit.
Susanna and the Contessa take the stage. The Contessa asks Susanna about her interview with the Conte. To bolster the Conte's enthusiasm, she dictates a note to him setting the place of the rendezvous among the pine trees in the garden and seals it with a pin. The Duettino they sing, No.20 "Canzonetta sull‘aria" (Song on the air), allegretto in B flat major accompanied by a single oboe, a bassoon and strings, has been one of the public's favourites since the opening night when it was repeated three times in the first two performances. From the third performance, Joseph II prohibited encores of ensembles since it was a long opera. Michael Kelly tells how the singers spoke to the emperor arguing that the encores were very flattering to them. So many encores emphasize the fact that Le nozze di Figaro enjoyed great success right from its première, although Mozart's rivals ensured that the opera was withdrawn after just nine performances.
When the note has been written, all of the women of the castle enter, Cherubino among them, bearing flowers which they offer to the Contessa in a beautiful, though short Coro in G major, grazioso with a single flute, oboes, one bassoon, horns and strings, No.21 "Ricevete, o padroncina" (Accept these, oh dear mistress). The Conte and Antonio enter and find Cherubino. Before they can throw him out again, Barbarina - obviously a child of the eighteenth century - reminds the Conte that he had offered her anything in return for her compliance and that she wants to marry Cherubino. The Conte, thus exposed in front of a very upset Contessa, gives in.
Figaro enters and, taking advantage of the Conte's speechlessness, calls for the wedding ceremonies to begin; Figaro's marriage to Susanna, and Marcellina's to Bartolo to be carried out and officiated by the master and lady of the castle: a march in C major with full orchestra, Finale No.22 "Ecco la marccia. Andiamo!" (Here is the march. Let us go!). During the ceremony two girls from the village sing a short duet, without clarinets which will not reappear until act IV, in which they praise the Conte for abolishing his feudal right and make reference to the magnitude of the affront caused by such a "right", "A un dritto cedendo, che oltraggia, che offende" (Renouncing such an insulting, such an offensive right). The dancing starts, a very Spanish fandango in A minor borrowed from Gluck's ballet Don Juan, and Susanna slips the Conte the note which the Contessa had dictated to her. He becomes excited upon reading it, but pricks himself with the pin which fastened it. He throws the pin away. Figaro notices that the Conte has received a note and mentions it to his new wife. The act closes with the chorus repeating the lines sung by the two girls.
The fourth act takes place in the castle garden by the light of the moon. There is a thicket of pine trees center stage flanked by two pavilions.
A troubled Barbarina enters, sent by the Conte to search for the pin he had thrown away in the previous scene. She expresses her state of mind in a Cavatina in F minor, andante accompanied only by strings, No.23, whose melody echoes the main theme of the second movement of piano concerto No.18 K.456, No.17 "L'ho perduta, me meschina!" (I have lost it. Poor me!). On very few occasions in the whole opera does Mozart choose a minor key as tonic, which not only reflects the bright mood of the opera, but indeed the whole of his production, since throughout his works he used minor keys very rarely, relatively speaking. These keys generally held dark or melancholic connotations for Mozart, as is the case with this cavatina.
Figaro and Marcellina enter and ask Barbarina why she is so sad. She tells them of the Conte's errand, but also that she has to deliver the pin to Susanna for it is the "seal of the pine tree note." When Barbarina exits, an irate and jealous Figaro complains to his mother about women in general and Susanna in particular. Marcellina tries to soothe him but Figaro exits furiously.
Marcellina is left alone and she sings an Aria in G major, tempo di menuetto accompanied only by strings in which she refers to the battle of the sexes in humans as being crueler than in any other species of the animal kingdom, No.24 "Il capro e la capretta" (The billy goat and the little she-goat). Beautiful though this aria is, it is usually omitted in modern performances.
Marcellina exits and Barbarina returns with some fruit which the Conte has instructed her to put in the pavilion on the left. When she hears someone approaching, she flees in terror and hides in the pavilion. Figaro enters with Bartolo and Basilio whom he has summoned to witness the betrayal of Susanna and the Conte.
Figaro exits and Bartolo and Basilio are left alone. The music teacher explains his philosophy of self-interested submission to those in power in an andante Aria in B flat to the accompaniment of a single flute, clarinets, bassoons, horns and strings, No.25 "In quegli anni, in cui val poco" (In those years, in which nothing is worthwhile). This aria, like the previous one, is also usually omitted for the same reasons. The length of the aria and its high quality have always been a mystery considering that Basilio is a supporting character. I attribute it to the fact that the first Basilio, Michael Kelly, was a great friend of Mozart and a good singer. Because there was no important part for a tenor in the opera, the composer gave this song to his friend, who was one of the important factors in overcoming Mozart's rivals who opposed the opera.
Bartolo and Basilio exit and Figaro returns still hurting over what he believes is shortly to take place. He assails the audience with invectives against the women and warnings to the men in a Recitativo accompagnato e Aria, No.26 "Tutto è disposto...Aprite un po'quegli occhi" (Everything is ready...Open your eyes just a little), considered by the experts as what separates the good Figaros from the not so good, despite the great popularity of "Non più andrai". In this aria, moderato in E flat major - yet again emotional contrast - Mozart uses clarinets with harmonic bassoons and horns, and strings, which was not normal when the part was that of a plebeian. Mozart ennobled common men. Similarly, he makes masterly use of the horns when infidelity is mentioned, only equaled, perhaps even surpassed, by Verdi in Falstaff. This aria also merited several encores during the first Viennese season.
Figaro conceals himself in the thicket when Marcellina enters with the Contessa and Susanna who are dressed in each other’s clothes. Marcellina tells them that Figaro is insanely jealous and she heads for Barbarina's pavilion. The Contessa departs and Susanna declares her love for Figaro in a Recitativo accompagnato e Aria, andante in F major accompanied by a single flute, an oboe, a bassoon and strings for the plebeian Susanna who does not merit sweet clarinets, No.27 "Giuse alfin il momento...Deh vieni non tardar" (The moment has finally arrived...Come, do not tarry). This aria is of unequalled quality and could have been a joke played on Storace, who was thus forced to declare her love to Mozart.
Before proceeding any further, I would like to point out how the fourth act begins with five pieces for soloists, something which occasionally happens in Mozart-Da Ponte operas; operas in which ensembles are the backbone. However, the five numbers are wonderful, especially the last two, and at no moment does the dramatic tension ease, nor does the musical quality fade.
Having finished her aria, Susanna hides among the trees and Cherubino enters singing "La-la-la" and starts the opera's Finale No.28, andante in D major with oboes, bassoons, horns! and strings. He mistakes the Contessa for Susanna and does not miss the chance of flirting with her, "Pian pianin, le andrò più presso" (Slowly, slowly, I'll come closer). The Contessa is trying to make the page go away when the Conte, entering all fired up for his appointment, and Figaro, still hidden, see that the page is there and draw closer. In the darkness the Conte strikes Figaro and Cherubino escapes into Barbarina and Marcellina's pavilion. The Conte flirts with 'Susanna' - the Contessa - "Partito è alfin l'audace" (At last the brave one has gone), poco più di moto adding the flutes until a furious, philosophical, mythological Figaro, able to contain himself no longer, appears invoking the names of Mars, Venus and Vulcan, "Tutto è tranquilo e placido" (Everything is quiet and peaceful), larghetto in E flat major accompanied by clarinets but without oboes, which after 12 bars accelerates to allegro di molto as the Conte withdraws into the thicket and 'Susanna' goes into the pavilion on the right. During this part of the finale, Susanna, Figaro and the Conte sing a trio in which each comment on the proceedings and their resulting moods.
Upon the furious reappearance of Figaro, the 'Contessa' - Susanna copying her mistress's voice - tries to make him go away, but Figaro recognizes her and decides to play a joke on her by flirting with the Contessa. Susanna slaps him - for the second time - but Figaro tells her that he knew who she was and that he loves her, "Pace, pace, mio dolce tesoro!" (Peace, peace my dear treasure), the oboes join in, and the tempo and key change to andante and a beautiful B flat major. They hear the Conte looking for Susanna and decide to ridicule him. When he enters, Figaro kneels before the 'Contessa' and asks her to console his heart. As the tempo picks up again to allegro assai in G major, the clarinets fall silent, the Conte takes it as an insult to his honor - the nerve of the man! - and being unarmed cries for help - what a coward! - just as the 'Contessa' goes into the pavilion on the left. Basilio, Bartolo, Curzio and Antonio enter in response to the Conte's cries and cannot believe their eyes: the Contessa and Figaro caught in the act by the Conte!
In turn the Conte makes Cherubino, Barbarina, Marcellina and finally the 'Contessa' come out of the pavilion on the left, to everyone's growing astonishment as they appear in turn. They all humbly beg forgiveness of the irate Conte who grants no such thing. Finally, 'Susanna' - the Contessa - comes out of the other pavilion and offers to obtain forgiveness for the "adulterers". Amid wholesale surprise, the Conte recognizes defeat and humbly asks for forgiveness for the second time, which the Contessa grants graciously singing a very sweet melody, "Più docil io sono" (I am more forgiving). This is the famous scene, highly controversial at the time of the première for its social connotations, in which a noble, the Gran Corregidor of Andalucia, kneels before a woman dressed as a villager. There were, and still are, some productions in which the Contessa changes into one of her own, more splendid dresses expressely to avoid such a scene.
The work ends with a finale tutti in D major full of gaiety and hope, "Ah, tutti contenti saremo così" (Oh, we will all be happy like this), the full orchestra keeping the allegro assai going. Stendhal said of the pardon scene that it was "the most beautiful church music you could wish to hear".
Whenever I listen to a recording of Le nozze di Figaro, or better still, attend a performance, I am grateful to Mozart for his genius, to Da Ponte for his superb collaboration, to Joseph II for having promoted this wonder of human creation, to the singers, the conductor and the orchestra who performed it and in general to everyone because of the mood this opera leaves me in.
I also believe the opera's real heroine to be Susanna, without taking anything away from Figaro. She achieves her goal of marrying Figaro, receives money in unexpected dowries, takes a little revenge on the Conte and it is she who really sets things in motion. As if this were not enough, she also sings two stupendous arias and is the only character involved in all of the ensembles; she has two duets with Figaro and duets with Marcellina, Cherubino, the Conte, and the Contessa, terzets with the Conte and Basilio, and with the Conte and the Contessa, the sestetto and three finales. She practically appears in the whole work from beginning to end. Of all of Mozart's heroines she is the most intelligent and undoubtedly the most admirable. The role of Susanna requires great concentration on the part of the singer; of all the characters played by Elisabeth Schumann, Susanna was the only one which demanded detailed study before every performance.
There are those who study this opera as a rococo masterpiece. If by rococo we understand that style of artistic expression which makes excessive use of ornament, more often than required, then I am in complete disagreement. I would, however, agree if rococo is taken to mean magnificent artistic expression, full of gaiety and immensely ornamented.
I firmly believe that this opera is one of the peaks of Viennese classicism as represented by Mozart and Haydn, and later by Beethoven and Schubert. In the eighteen eighties and until well into the twentieth century Vienna was the center of the musical world. Joseph II had created the finest operatic company in the world as testified to by those who said that the third soprano could have been the prima donna in any company in Italy. Without a company of such caliber, Mozart would have found it difficult to create a musical work so demanding on the singers.
I am totally convinced that this opera's marvelous ensembles and immortal arias provide music which, far from growing stale with the passing of time, we admire and enjoy more and more with every listening. In Mozart we discover a musical genius who composed complex music which seems simple, but this seeming simplicity is not bereft of pitfalls for singers. The music must be sung exactly as written, for the slightest deviation from the score would detract from the performance. Of Mozart's music in general, the pianist Rubinstein used to say that it was for children, but only a master could interpret it. Frederica von Stade confessed that, despite having sung Cherubino for twenty years, she still had to practice her part often for fear of making mistakes due to its apparent simplicity, but extreme difficulty.
The music of Le nozze di Figaro in particular, and of Mozart in general, has no ulterior aesthetic purpose, by which I mean that the composer is not trying to send a philosophical message to guide us towards a specific esthetic code. His music is a pure element which pursues no higher ideal than that of lending as perfect an expression as possible to his characters' psychological traits. It is music; it is neither religion nor a conceptualization of the universe. The use of keys, which some critics have attributed to specific circumstances, was always formal on the part of Mozart, since he was always guided by the overall tonal context, although he did make use of his preferred keys if possible.
He achieves wonderful descriptions of characters and situations. From the arias we are able to construct perfect psychological portraits of a great number of the characters who appear in the work, and how beautifully Mozart teaches us the art of the portrait. In the ensembles we are made perfectly aware of the plot's dramatic development and the changing moods of each of the characters.
Le nozze di Figaro has been subjected to several attempted alterations, the earliest by Mozart himself for the 1789 production. Mahler, at the beginning of the twentieth century, composed a third act, to precede Mozart's, in which, in a recitativo secco, Figaro's trial is held. Normally, Marcelina and Basilio's arias are omitted. Recently, John Eliot Gardiner inverted the order of Figaro and Susanna's arias in the fourth act. Numerous attempts to improve it. What an impossible task: to improve Le Nozze di Figaro!
It is without consequence that Le nozze di Figaro for some may not be the most beautiful opera in existence, nor the most popular, not the most profound, nor the most demanding on the singers, the conductor, the producer or the musicians, nor truly perfect. It is simply Le nozze di Figaro.
© Luis Gutierrez Ruvalcaba