The Context

The original libretto (text) of the opera was written by Lorenzo da Ponte , based on a play by Pierre-Augustin Caron de BeaumarchaisThe Marriage of Figaro (Le mariage de Figaro) is the second in the Figaro trilogy of plays by Beaumarchais, the others being The Barber of Seville and La mère coupable.

Written in 1778, just years before the French Revolution, the play reflected the growing dissatisfaction with the ruling class and was considered scandalous at the time due to its depiction of an incompetent and hedonistic nobleman being outwitted by his servant.

Public performances of the play were prevented by King Louis XVI and the French censors, so by the time it was finally staged in 1784 it had acquired huge notoriety. The unprecedented success of the play was seen as a rebuff to the king and the comments of the revolutionary generation only added to the myth of the play’s incendiary qualities.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte toned down the political passages of the play, creating a light comic opera about love and forgiveness. Nevertheless, for 18th century audiences, seeing a modern play turned into an opera would have been radical.

The location of the action in a chateau near Seville was only the thinnest of disguises for contemporary France. Such a setting, if not unusual in a comedy was virtually unprecedented in opera, where the long standing convention was to place the action in remote and exotic settings. Placing the action in the immediate world of its audience was a provocation and was intended to shock.

The opera was first performed in Vienna in 1786. Mozart was a prolific writer and talented musician who wrote his earliest compositions at the age of 5
At his death at the early age of 35, Mozart had written over 600 works, including the operas Don Giovanni (1787), Cosi fan tutte (1789) and The Magic Flute (1791)
The Marriage of Figaro is at once the funniest and most poignant of musical comedies. Mozart uses music to take possession of the dramatic situations. His music charts each character’s changing emotions and response to the action around them. The music is alive with this sense of discovery. Mozart revels in his mastery of the comic style, opening his overture with a seven bar phrase , rather than the conventional four or eight barsIn his scenes, seemingly commonplace musical figures take on ever-changing colours and moods in response to the text.