State Opera South Australia’s upcoming production of The Marriage of Figaro has it all – love romance, scandal and deception. Before you take your seat at the wedding of the year, here is everything you need to know.
About the opera
The Marriage of Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro) is an opera buffa (Italian comic opera) in four acts and is one of the top 10 most performed operas in the world. Also known as The day of madness (La folle journée), The Marriage of Figaro takes place on the wedding day of Figaro and Susanna. Yet it has undertones of rebellion and speaks of social themes and injustices as much today as it did over 200 years ago.
Figaro and Susanna are preparing for their wedding day, but Figaro is furious when he learns the Count, his boss, has tried to seduce his bride. Figaro must also deal with the scheming Dr Bartolo, Marcellina and lawyer Curzio who are blackmailing him to marry Marcellina unless his pays off his loan to her.
Cherubino is in love with every woman around but especially the Countess, who mourns for the loss of love in her life. Figaro and Susanna help her set a trap for her cheating husband who is assisted by Basilio, his press advisor, and the drunken gardener Antonio. A cacophony of disguises and mistaken identities ensues creating chaos and confusion!
The playwright, the composer and the librettist
Pierre Augustin de Beaumarchais wrote The Figaro Trilogy comprising of The Barber of Seville (1775), The Marriage of Figaro (1778), and The Guilty Mother (1791). Synonymous with themes of class inequality and social rebellion, it drew on the political power and social imbalance rife at the time. Its message was a foreshadowing of what was to come: the French Revolution.
Recognising dissent and disrespect towards the nobility, Louis XV banned its performance and many other cities followed suit, including Vienna where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was based at the court of Emperor Joseph II.
In order to obtain permission from the emperor to use such a controversial subject for a new opera, Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, stripped the play of its most provocative messaging.
In 1786, with their plans approved, Mozart set to work and completed the music in just six weeks. Da Ponte struggled to keep up with him. It premiered at the Burgtheater in Vienna on 1 May 1786.
Mozart’s opera features one glorious piece of music after another. The overture is undoubtedly one of the most instantly recognisable pieces of classical music there is, and you will also recognise Figaro’s aria ‘Non piu andrai’, Cherubino’s ‘Voi che sapete’ and the beautiful ‘Letter duet’ sung by the Countess and Susanna. The music is frequently used throughout popular culture and can be heard in commercials, movies and TV shows such as The King’s Speech, The Shawshank Redemption, Mad Men and the BBC’s adaptation of Pride & Prejudice.
What are the themes?
The Marriage of Figaro looks at many themes including love and infidelity, class and authority, and gender and equality. Even though it was written over 200 years ago, these themes are still relevant and can be found permeating throughout today’s culture, society and current affairs.
State Opera’s production sees these themes catapulted into modern day, placing them in the context of today’s political environment. Expect politicians, aides, interns and yuppies to grace the stage!
The key players
Figaro clever, daring and enterprising the Count’s employee whose bride is being chased by his boss and finds himself the subject of a bribe.
Susanna rarely offstage, she is the clever and resourceful employee who uses her charm and wit to steer everyone back on the right path.
Count Almaviva the man in power who is bored with married life, arrogant and entitled he uses his authority to get his own way.
Countess faithful and forgiving yet despondent over her husband’s infidelity, she considers her employees as friends and equals.
Cherubino (a trouser role – a woman playing a male part) young, impressionable and reckless, he passionately falls for the Countess and shamelessly flirts with other women.