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You're invited to a wedding!

The Count is chasing Susanna, the Countess is dealing with a teenage admirer, and Figaro is trying to wriggle out of marrying his own mother. Welcome to the craziest wedding ever!

Who's coming?

‘I think Mozart's operas The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni are the two most perfect ever written,’ said Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States whose legal opinions inspired the comic opera Scalia/Ginsburg. ‘The music is magical.’ Pressed for an answer, she admitted that her absolute favourite is The Marriage of Figaro.

The jurist is in good company. The first of Mozart’s three collaborations with the librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, The Marriage of Figaro is one of the best-loved operas of all time. 232 years after its premiere at Vienna's Burgtheater, it remains highly popular, with Operabase calculating it to be the 10th most performed opera in the world in the 2018-19 season.

The Marriage of Figaro from the Royal Opera House, the Royal College of Music, Dutch National Opera, Garsington Opera and Teatro Regio Torino

What’s all the fuss about?

OperaVision has unashamedly jumped on the orchestrawagon. Since launching in October 2017, we have hosted full performances of The Marriage of Figaro from the Royal Opera House, the Royal College of Music, Dutch National Opera and Garsington Opera, as well as extended highlights from a production by Teatro Regio Torino.

Sir Thomas Allen is a baritone who has performed in all the great opera houses of the world. Occasionally, he also dabbles in directing. As one of their alumni, the Royal College of Music in London invited him to work with their young singers and create a new production of Mozart’s rip-roaring comedy. ‘It’s the most brilliant drama,’ he says emphatically. And thanks to Pierre Beaumarchais’s original provocative play, Da Ponte’s poetic adaptation and Mozart’s unrivalled clarity of composition, it’s impossible to disagree.

So it won't be dull?

Full of twists and turns, Mozart’s great comic opera is a tale of intrigue and misunderstanding as Susanna tries to avoid the Count’s lustful advances, the Countess tries to deal with Cherubino’s raging teenage hormones, and Figaro tries to wriggle out of a contract to marry a woman who turns out to be his long-lost mother, until after four mad, exhilarating acts, the tangled web becomes unstuck and all, finally, is forgiven.

The Marriage of Figaro is packed with farcical moments when the game seems to be up. One of the most memorable comes in Act II, when the Count hears a noise coming from his wife’s dressing room. To allay his suspicion that it's Cherubino hiding in there, the Countess tells her husband that it’s only Susanna trying on her wedding dress. At that moment, Susanna enters the bedroom unobserved, quickly realizes what's going on, and hides behind a settee.

Mark Douet | Royal Opera House

'Susanna, or via, sortite'

With Simon Keenlyside as the Count, Julia Kleiter as the Countess and Joélle Harvey as Susanna.
Conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner and directed by David McVicar.

What about the music?

The situation soon gets even more out of hand. Furious at his wife’s refusal to open the dressing room door, the Count drags her out in search of an axe to break it down. Susanna lets Cherubino out and instructs him to jump to safety from the balcony window, then locks herself into the dressing room in his place. The Count returns, and the Countess is forced to admit that it is Cherubino that he has been hiding. But to the astonishment of both husband and wife, it is in fact Susanna who emerges.

For Sir John Eliot Gardiner, who conducted the performance that was streamed on OperaVision live from the Royal Opera House, this scene demonstrates Mozart’s skill in perfectly matching the music to each character. ‘You’ve got the count being a bit of a bully and a thug, and the Countess pleading with him,’ he explains. Then Susanna has to explain what she was doing hiding in the dressing room all that time. ‘It’s just so beautifully innocent, but it’s not really, because she’s worldly wise, like so many of Mozart’s characters.’

Can it get any better?

The conductor's claim that The Marriage of Figaro is ‘such a sane piece’ is challenged by what comes next. One of the most remarkable moments in all opera, the finale to Act II was used by Mozart’s character in Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus to wow Emperor Joseph II into allowing his work to be staged. ‘The husband's equally screaming valet comes in,’ the 30-year-old composer explains with unbridled enthusiasm. ‘Trio turns into quartet. Then a stupid old gardener – quartet becomes quintet, and so on. On and on, sextet, septet, octet! How long do you think I can sustain that?’ Mozart's answer is twenty minutes, three times longer than the Emperor had guessed.

In the scene in question, Susanna and the Countess seem to have convinced the Count that Figaro was the author of an anonymous letter falsely implying that the Countess has a lover. But just as Figaro and Susanna try to sneak out, Marcellina, Bartolo and Basilio burst into the room. They have a lawsuit demanding that Figaro honour his agreement to marry Marcellina since he cannot repay the debt he owes her. With this latest development, the Count triumphantly calls off Figaro and Susanna’s wedding until he has fully investigated the matter.

Royal College of Music

'Voi signor, che giusto siete'

With Adam Maxey as Figaro, Julieth Lozano as Susanna, Harry Thatcher as the Count, Josephine Goddard as the Countess, Katy Thomson as Marcellina, Timothy Edlin as Bartolo and Joel Williams as Basilio.
Conducted by Michael Rosewell and directed by Sir Thomas Allen.

Is it possible to see more?

‘Sire, only opera can do this,’ Mozart tells the Emperor in Amadeus. ‘In a play, if more than one person speaks at the same time, it's just noise. No one can understand a word. But with music, with music you can have twenty individuals all talking at once, and it's not noise – it's a perfect harmony. Isn't that marvellous?'

OperaVision will be streaming a new production of The Marriage of Figaro live from one of our European partner opera companies in spring 2020. Subscribe to our newsletter so as not to miss it nor any of our other upcoming full performances. In the meantime, browse our full library to find more interviews and extracts, including plenty of music by the magical, marvellous Mozart!