The Marriage of Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro) synopsis
Music by Wolfgand Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte
First performed: 1786
Three years ago, Figaro helped Count Almaviva to marry Rosina, the ward of Dr Bartolo, who had hoped to marry her himself. Figaro is now the Count’s valet, and today intends to marry the Countess’s maid, Susanna; but Figaro is bound by contract to marry Marcellina, Rosina’s governess and formerly Dr Bartolo’s housekeeper, unless he repays the money which he owes her. The Count has promised Susanna a dowry, but Marcellina has summoned Bartolo to support her. The action takes place during the course of a single day.
Susanna explains that the Count is offering the dowry as a means of making her yield to his advances. In order to divert his master’s energies, Figaro decides to send him an anonymous letter informing him that the Countess has an assignation in the grounds this evening. The Count is annoyed with Cherubino for turning up with the girls he himself is chasing – yesterday Barbarina, the gardener’s daughter, today Susanna. To get rid of the youth, the Count gives him a commission in his regiment, and orders him to leave immediately. Figaro, however, ensures that Cherubino does not leave the estate.
Alone, the Countess mourns the fading of her husband’s love. She is horrified to discover that Figaro has sent the anonymous letter. Figaro argues that the Count will continue to support Marcellina’s case until he is sure that he will get his way with Susanna. He then proposes that they lure him to an assignation with Susanna, whose role will be taken by Cherubino in disguise. When the Count is caught in the trap, he will be in no position to oppose anything they want. The Countess agrees to participate.
As soon as he receives the anonymous letter, the Count confronts his wife, interrupting her just as she is getting Cherubino ready for the evening’s assignation. Cherubino escapes through a window and the Countess is able to make her husband apologize for his apparently groundless accusations. Figaro, not realizing that she has told her husband about the letter, arouses the Count’s suspicions by denying all knowledge of it and even claiming to have jumped out of the window himself. By the time Marcellina and Bartolo arrive to enforce her contractual rights, it is apparent that Figaro’s marriage prospects remain bleak.
The Countess has conceived a variation on Figaro’s scheme to arrange an assignation for the Count with Susanna: she and Susanna will dress up as each other, and she (rather than Cherubino) will be disguised as her maid. The Count falls for Susanna’s tempting invitation and promises to pay the dowry. Yet as she leaves him, he overhears her telling Figaro that they are certain of the Count’s support, and suspects that she is deceiving him. Out of revenge, the Count decides the contract in Marcellina’s favour, but her marriage claim collapses with the revelation that Figaro is in fact her son, born illegitimately from her union with Bartolo, and taken from her when he was a baby. Susanna realized that the Count might not hand over the dowry until after Marcellina won her case, and therefore has persuaded the Countess to give her the sum as a wedding present. Susanna returns to find Figaro and Marcellina in a close embrace, but her confusion is soon resolved. The Count has no option but to bless the weddings both of Bartolo and Marcellina, and of Figaro and Susanna. However, he is pleasantly surprised during the ceremony to receive a letter from Susanna herself confirming their assignation.
Like his master, Figaro has no notion of the Countess’s intrigue. When he discovers from Barbarina that Susanna has arranged to meet the Count, Figaro leaps to the conclusion that his wife is unfaithful. Susanna has been warned of Figaro’s suspicions by Marcellina, and takes the opportunity to teach her new husband a lesson by teasing him with a song in anticipation of her supposed rendezvous.
The Countess enters, disguised as Susanna. She deceives all the men: Cherubino unexpectedly arrives on the scene and the Count discovers him about to kiss her, then Figaro intervenes when the Count begins to seduce her. The couple separate, and Figaro encounters a woman he supposes to be the Countess but soon realizes is Susanna. Susanna is outraged that he is apparently making love to the Countess, but their misunderstandings are unravelled and Figaro learns why she and the Countess are disguised as each other. Figaro and Susanna play out a fake love scene to deceive their master; incensed by what he thinks he sees, the Count calls everyone to witness Figaro’s scandalous behaviour. Only when the Countess herself drops her disguise does he realize the truth and begs her forgiveness.
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