Special Sub-Topic: Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro"
|Although Mozart's opera is based on the sequel to Beaumarchais' "Le Barbiere du Seville", it would be nearly thirty years before "Barbiere" itself would be made into an opera.|
f. It would indeed be some thirty years before Rossini's classic "Barbiere di Siviglia" would be composed, but Giovanni Paisiello's "Barbiere" was already an established favorite by the time Mozart's opera was written. Mozart, in fact, was especially anxious that his setting of "Le Mariage" should be a worthy sequel to Paisiello's opera; he little guessed that it would eventually be eclipsed in popularity thirty years later.
|How long a time period does the action of the opera take place in?|
One day. Beaumarchais' play was subtitled "La Folle Journee" ("The Revels of a Day"). The opera takes place in the same period of time; it is morning when the opera begins and around midnight when it ends.
|Beaumarchais' play was highly controversial at the time it premiered, since it attacked the prevailing class structure and questioned the privileges enjoyed by the nobility. To receive permission from the Emperor to make it into an opera, many of the more controversial passages were deleted. One of these was from a lengthy diatrabe by Figaro in Act V, bitterly attacking everything from the aristocracy to women. Which of Figaro's arias is based on a part of this speech, devoid, of course, of any political references? |
Aprite un po quegli' occhi. Figaro, believing that he is about to be cuckolded by Susanna on the night of his wedding, (with the Count, no less) launches into a bitter diatrabe attacking the arrogant presumption of entitlement by the aristocracy; while he is at it, he lashes out against women as well, labeling them as mistresses of deceit incapable of love or pity. This last part of the speech was agreeable to Emperor Joseph, being in accord with his own mysogonistic views; he was also amused by Mozart's wicked use of the horns at the end of the aria ("i corni", as they are called in Italian, which also refers to the "horns" worn by cuckolded men). The joke, of course, was on both him and Figaro; Susanna does not, in fact, intend to betray Figaro with the Count.
|What are Figaro and Susanna doing as the opera begins?|
Figaro is measuring for a bed; Susanna tries on a hat she has made.. Figaro is measuring the space where the bed will be. Susanna enters, goes to the mirror and tries on the hat she has made for the wedding. As with many about-to-be-married couples, Susanna is concerned with the wedding itself and what she will wear, Figaro is preoccupied with what will happen later.
|Susanna informs Figaro that the Count has gone back on his word and has no intention of abolishing the tradition of "droit du Seigneur"; he has, in fact, been making advances to her. In his aria "Se voul ballare", what imagery does Figaro use to describe how he will deal with Almaviva?|
He will teach him (Almaviva) to dance to his accompaniment.. The "droit du Seigneur" was the notorious practice whereby the master of the house was entitled to take the place of a manservant on his wedding night. Almaviva had promised Figaro that he would abolish this practice; however Figaro learns from Susanna that the Count has made advances to her. She points out that the Count has given them the room closest to his own to have more ready access to Susanna. Furious, Figaro resolves that, if his master wishes to dance, it is he, Figaro, who will play the tune and call the steps.
|Susanna is accosted by Marcellina, who wants to marry Figaro herself and is venomously jealous of Susanna. They trade insults in the duet "Via resti servita". What does Susanna repeatedly refer to that infuriates Marcellina?|
Her age. Marcellina refers sarcastically to Susanna as "the new bride" ("La sposa novella"- the implication being that Susanna is less than virginal) and "the Count's favorite" ("Il Conte la bella"). Susanna, in turn, refers to Marcellina as "the maid of honor" ("La dama d'onore", again, the word "onore" is used facetiously) and "the beloved of all Spain" ("Di Spagna d'amore"). The gloves then come off entirely and they trade open insults, of which Susanna's jibing reference to "L'eta" ("Your age") particularly infuriates Marcellina, who is old enough to be Figaro's mother (in fact, as we shall see later, she actually is Figaro's mother).
|Susanna next encounters Cherubino, who is infatuated with Countess Almaviva. What belonging of hers does he steal from Susanna?|
A ribbon. Upon hearing that the ribbon Susanna is carrying belongs to the Countess, the love-sick Cherubino snatches it from Susanna's hands and, with boyish ardor, tells her that she will have to kill him to get it back.
|Cherubino hides under a dress on a chair from the Count and Don Basilio, but is discovered when the Count, displaying how he had discovered Cherubino earlier with Barbarina, lifts the dress from the chair. This delights the malicious Don Basilio, who utters a famous quote which would appear in a later Mozart opera; Which one?|
Cosi Fan Tutte. Basilio delightedly snickers "Cosi fan tutte le belle" ("They are all alike, the fair sex), which not only presages a quote from the similarly misogynistic Don Alfonso in "Cosi", but the opera's title as well.
|Figaro enters with a group of servants he has assembled to give thanks to the Count in song for having promised to abolish the "droit du Seigneur". He hopes to shame the Count by doing this and, to drive his point farther home, asks the Count to do what symbolic act?|
Place the white wedding veil (symbolizing virginity) on Susanna's head.. This symbolic act would acknowledge that the Count has respected Susanna's honor (and will always do so). The Count demurs, saying that he will do it later at the wedding itself which pleases the other servants (who don't know of the Count's hypocrisy) but annoys Figaro and Susanna.
|Learning that Cherubino will be leaving to join the Count's regiment, Figaro sings his famous aria "Non piu andrai". This aria makes an appearance in another Mozart opera; which one?|
Don Giovanni. In this extremely popular aria, Figaro tries to the cheer the crestfallen Cherubino by describing the glories of a soldier's life. In the final scene of "Don Giovanni", the orchestra hired for Giovanni's Lucullan feast, to which he had jokingly invited the statue of the Commendatore, plays three popular arias of the day by other composers- one from "I Litiganti", one from "La Cosa Rara", and, lastly, Mozart's "Non Piu Andrai". Leporello remarks with pleasure upon the first two, but says of the last "Questo qui lo conosce, purtroppo" ("This one I know only too well!")
|In both of her arias, "Porgi amor" in Act II and "Dove sono" in Act III, what does the wronged Countess Almaviva express a melancholy longing for?|
Her husband, as he was when they first fell in love.. The Countess is angered by her husband's actions, but her principal emotion throughout much of the opera and, particularly in her two arias, is a melancholy longing for the man her husband was, or who she thought he was. In "Porgi amor", she goes so far as to ask for death if she cannot have her "treasured one" back. In "Dove sono", she dreams of her past happiness and hopes against hope that her own constancy will work a change in her husband's ungrateful heart.
|Cherubino enters and sings for the Countess the aria "Voi che sapete", one of the best-known of Mozart's arias. He had earlier told Susanna about this song; whom did he say wrote it?|
He wrote it himself. Cherubino tells Susanna in Act I (before singing "Non so piu") that he has written a love song and asks her to give a copy to every woman in the palace since it is, in effect, dedicated to them all. When the Countess, however, asks him who the author of the song is, he can only blush, as Susanna teasingly observes. (You all know, no doubt, who Salieri was. Padre Martini was one of Mozart's teachers; he did, in fact, write a very well known song about the pains of love entitled "Plasir D'Amour".)
|What is being done during Susanna's aria "Venite, inginocchiatevi"?|
Cherubino is being dressed as a young woman and trained to act like one.. The original plan is for Susanna to agree to meet the Count in the garden; in her place, however, will be Cherubino dressed as a woman. The Count will thus be caught "in flagrante" and can be made to do their will. During this aria, Susanna dresses Cherubino in women's clothing and exclaims delightedly on the convincing effect he makes.
|How does Cherubino escape from the Countess' room before the Count returns?|
He jumps from the window into the garden.. Cherubino, who was quickly hidden in the closet when the Count unexpectedly knocked at his wife's door, had knocked something over, attracting the Count's suspicion. The Countess insisted that it was Susanna. The Count went to fetch a crowbar to pry the door open, followed by the Countess. In their absence, Susanna, who had entered unseen earier and heard the argument between the Almavivas, lets Cherubino out of the closet so that he can leave the room. To their horror, they find that the door is locked from the outside. With nowhere to hide, knowing that the Count may kill him if he is discovered, Cherubino ignores Susanna's pleas and jumps from the window into the flowerbed. Susanna hesitantly looks out of the window and sees, to her amusement, that Cherubino has run away unharmed.
|The Count eventually forces the door of his wife's wardrobe open with a crowbar. To the utter astonishment of both he and his wife, Susanna emerges. Later, however, Antonio the gardener (Susanna's uncle) complains that a man jumped, or fell, from the window into the garden. Figaro says that it was him, but Antonio insists that the man was smaller and shows the Count the enlistment papers that fell from the boy's pocket. It seems that the Count is about to arrive at the truth until Figaro offers an explanation as to why he was carrying the papers.|
He was bringing them to the Count to receive his seal of approval.. The Countess had noted earlier that the papers were drawn up in such haste that they had forgotten to affix the Count's seal of approval. As the trap seems to inexorably draw around Figaro, he remembers, with Susanna and the Countess' prompting, the neglected seal. Foiled yet again, the frustrated Count tears up the papers in disgust.
|Antonio suffers from an "affliction" which renders his testimony less than reliable. What is it?|
He drinks. Antonio is actually quite drunk in this scene, although it is early in the day. Figaro makes reference to this fact to cast further doubt upon his story.
|Just when everything seems resolved, Marcellina enters accompanied by Bartolo and Basilio. She announces that, according to as agreement he signed, Figaro must marry her and the marriage to Susanna cannot, therefore, take place. Why had Figaro promised to marry Marcellina?|
She had loaned him money; he agreed to marry her if he could not repay her. Figaro is in default of a loan from Marcellina; he must either pay her back or honor his promise (made, no doubt, in jest) to marry her. Figaro and Susanna are furious at this turn of events; the Count is ecstatic, along with Marcellina, Bartolo (who still begrudges Figaro the part he played in Rosina's elopement), and Basilio.
|In his great aria "Vedro mentr'io sospiro", the Count resolves that he will decide in favor of Marcellina and prevent Figaro and Susanna's marriage. What motive does he offer for his actions?|
All of these. (To have Susanna for himself., To get revenge upon Figaro and teach him his place., Because he is a nobleman and, as such, is entitled to get what he wants). Susanna goes to Almaviva and offers to rendevous with him that evening (she does this to persuade him to pay off the debt Figaro owes Marcellina; the Countess has offered to exchange clothing with her and take her place).The Count is delighted until he overhears Susanna, as she is leaving, tell Figaro that she has "won his case" ("Hai gia vinta la causa"). Furious that Susanna has agreed to an assignation with him only for Figaro's sake, he launches into this aria, a remarkable and unsettling bit of self-revelation. Should he, the Count, stand by while a mere servant of his enjoys some happiness that he himself is denied? Figaro, he fumes, was not destined by birth to cause himself, a nobleman, the torment of unfulfilled desire and, perhaps, even to laugh at his unhappiness. He resolves to have his revenge. In its way, this aria is as profound an indictment of the arrogance of the nobility as Figaro's speech was in the original play.
|Things are going badly for Figaro in the suit with Marcellina until she and Bartolo realize that Figaro is actually their long-lost son. What was this child's (Figaro's) original name?|
Raffaelo. Figaro announces that he is a gentleman and cannot marry without the consent of his noble parents. The Count sneeringly asks who and where they are. Figaro then relates that he was stolen at birth and mentions a particular birth mark- a spatula stamped on his right arm. Hearing this, Marcellina and Bartolo realize that he is their long-lost son "Raffaelo", who had been stolen from them years earlier. There then begins the ensemble "Riconosci in questo amplesso" in which she and Bartolo acknowledge that they are his parents.
|In the beautiful "Letter Duet" ("Canzonetta 'Sul' Aria'"), the Countess dictates a letter supposedly from Susanna to the Count asking him to meet her for a rendezvous in a secret location (The Countess, however, will take Susanna's place, wearing her clothing). Where, according to the letter, will this assignation take place?|
In the pine grove.. The letter states simply "How gentle the breeze that will whisper tonight beneath the pine trees in the grove" ("Sull' aria, che soave zefiretto questa sera spirera sotto i pini del boschetto"). The meaning of this the Count will easily understand. The letter is sealed with a pin which the Count is to return as a sign that he will meet Susanna.
|Act IV begins with Barbarina's exquisite arietta "L'ho perduta!" ("I have lost it!"). What has she lost?|
A pin. The pin was stuck in the letter which Susanna slipped to the Count during the wedding dance; the Count, as per the instruction, had given it to Barbarina to give to Susanna. In this exquisite and rather poignant little aria, Barbarina laments that she has lost the pin. Figaro and Marcellina come upon her and she pours out her misery to them, causing Figaro to believe the worst, despite Marcellina's words of caution.
|Marcellina sings an aria (usually omitted) in which she compares men and women to these animals.|
Goats and lambs. Upset because Figaro unfairly assumes that Susanna is being false to him, Marcellina, in her aria "Il capro e la capretta", muses that male and female goats and sheep get along well together; in fact in all of the animal kingdom, only females of the human species have to put up with so much pain from their men. This aria is usually omitted, as it holds up the action and is also quite difficult to sing.
|Don Basilio's aria "In quegli anni" (almost invariably omitted), he describes how he escaped almost certain death at the hands of a wild beast. How did he keep the beast at bay?|
He wore an evil-smelling asses skin, which repelled it.. In this aria, Basilio tells a story (probably no more than allegorical) about how Dame Common Sense (Donna Flemma) took him to a cabin and presented him with an ass's skin. Somewhat puzzled, he donned the garment and was shortly afterward approached by a fearsome wild beast. All seemed lost until the beast, repelled by the rancid odor of the ass's skin, turned tails and ran. Thus, Basilio declares, he learned that it pays to play the ass (and also, it would seem, the power of being a positive stinker). It has been observed that, with Marcellina's and Basilio's arias and Figaro's allusion to men wearing "the horns", we are awash in bestial imagery until Susanna sings the sublime "Deh vieni, non tardar". Speaking of which...
|In her great aria "Deh vieni, non tardar", what does Susanna promise to do for her beloved?|
Crown him with roses.. Susanna, who knows that Figaro is eavesdropping, sings this beautiful aria (known in Europe as the "Rose" aria) in part as a love song to him and in part to punish him for his suspicious nature. It ends with the words "Vieni, ti vo la fronte incoronar di rose" ("Come, I want to crown your brow with roses").
|What principal, which is memorably embodied in the denouement of this opera (the ensemble beginning "Contessa, perdono"), can be found to some degree in all of Mozart's principal operas- "Cosi Fan Tutte", "Die Zauberflote", "Don Giovanni", "La Clemenza di Tito", and "Idomeneo"?|
Forgiveness. While all of these themes (and others) play a part in Mozart's operas, the principal of forgiveness is always present even when, as in "Don Giovanni", it is rejected. In "Idomeneo", Ilia learns to forgive her captor and to regard him as a father. Idamante also forgives his father before offering his life in obedience to Idomeneo's terrible vow to Neptune. In "Cosi", the men must forgive their lovers' inability to live up to their unrealistic expectations of constancy; likewise, the women must forgive the men's rather sordid wager against their virtue. Forgiveness is also a major theme (though not the only one) of "Die Zauberflote" and "La Clemenza di Tito". Characters who refuse to forgive (such as Elettra in "Idomeneo" or the Queen of the Night in "Die Zauberflote") or who refuse forgiveness (as Don Giovanni refuses the forgiveness offered by the wronged Elvira) come to grief in the end. Most memorable, however, is the finale of "Figaro", in which the Countess' forgiveness of her undeserving husband becomes a metaphor for the universal need everyone has, at some time or another, to be pardoned and to begin again.
Did you find these entries particularly interesting, or do you have comments / corrections to make? Let the author know!
Send the author a thank you or
Submit a correction