The Marriage of Figaro

Mozart’s chaotic whirlwind of mistaken identities, twists and turns, is a comedy that takes place on a single crazy day – the wedding day of Figaro and Susanna.

From the first notes of the famous overture through to the Count’s lesson in marital fidelity, Mozart’s musical invention conveys a story in which the women are portrayed as wiser, shrewder and more civilised than the men.


Three years ago, Figaro helped Count Almaviva to marry Rosina, whom he stole from Dr Bartolo.

Act I

It is Susanna and Figaro’s wedding day. Susanna tells Figaro that the Count is propositioning her. Figaro is appalled that his master would dare seduce her and that he might reinstate the old tradition of droit de seigneur. Dr Bartolo and his old housemaid Marcellina arrive looking for the Count; they want to stop the wedding. Marcellina has a contract which states that Figaro must repay money that he owes her or marry her himself.

Cherubino, the page boy, has been dismissed for being caught alone with Barbarina, the gardener’s daughter. Susanna tries to hide him but is interrupted first by her music teacher Don Basilio, and then the Count who, in his fury, sends Cherubino off to join the army. Figaro, however, ensures that Cherubino remains close by. He has a plan.


Act II

The Countess is devastated that her husband is chasing other women, including her servant Susanna.

Figaro has a plan to save the day. He has sent the Count an anonymous letter to say that the Countess will be meeting a lover this evening. He asks Susanna to lure the Count into the garden after the wedding. Figaro will make Cherubino take Susanna’s place, dressed as a girl, so that the Count will be humiliated. The Countess agrees to the plan.

After receiving the anonymous letter, the Count returns to confront his wife, interrupting her just as she is dressing Cherubino as a girl for the evening’s assignation. Cherubino hides and then escapes by jumping out of the window. The Countess relents and explains the plan to her husband, saying that Figaro wrote the letter. Figaro denies everything.

Just at that moment, Antonio the gardener arrives, complaining that someone jumped from the window and squashed his precious hydrangeas. Figaro, thinking on his feet, immediately claims it was he who jumped out of the window. Marcellina, Bartolo and Don Basilio burst in brandishing Marcellina’s contract. It looks like the wedding of Figaro and Susanna is off, and the wedding of Figaro and Marcellina is on!


Interval of 20 minutes



The Countess has a new plan: she and Susanna will dress up as each other, meaning the Countess – rather than Cherubino – will be meeting the Count in disguise. They will write him a cryptic love letter, sealed with a pin and inscribed ‘return seal to sender’. Susanna must now proposition the Count, which she duly does.

The Count and Don Curzio, a lawyer, have decided that Marcellina’s contract should stop the wedding. Through his protestations, Figaro discovers that he is actually Bartolo and Marcellina’s long-lost son. Restored to his parents, Figaro can finally get married to Susanna. It will be a double wedding with Bartolo and Marcellina.

Then Antonio finds Cherubino, who has been hiding (dressed as a girl) at his house. Barbarina asks the Count for permission to her marry Cherubino. He is forced to agree to this.

All three weddings can finally take place. During the ceremony, Susanna passes the Count a love letter with her pin attached to it. The letter gives the details of where they are to meet later that evening.


Act IV The Garden

The wedding night. The scene is set for the Countess’s new plan, and Figaro and the Count are none the wiser.

Figaro and Marcellina find Barbarina in the garden. Figaro learns the Count has instructed Barbarina to fetch Susanna, whom the Count believes wrote him the love letter. Not knowing that this is all part of the Countess’s master plan, Figaro leaps to the conclusion that Susanna is unfaithful.

Susanna and the Countess swap clothes, making sure that Figaro overhears Susanna preparing to meet the Count (‘her lover’) in the garden.

The Countess (disguised as Susanna) enters the garden for her meeting with the Count, who, after rescuing her from Cherubino’s advances, is thrilled to see her. Figaro watches all this and seethes.

Susanna (dressed as the Countess) arrives. Halfway through telling her that her husband and his wife are together, Figaro realises that he’s actually talking to Susanna. He pretends to seduce ‘the Countess’. Susanna hits him. Figaro eventually tells her he had seen through the disguise, and when the Count comes back in, they play out a fake love scene to enrage their master. The Count calls everybody to witness his wife’s scandalous behaviour. It is not until the real Countess reveals herself that the Count realises what has happened and begs his wife’s forgiveness.

Read the introductory guide to The Marriage of Figaro