Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed The Marriage of Figaro
, an opera buffa, or comic opera, in four acts in 1786. The opera’s libretto, composed in Italian, was written by Lorenzo Da Ponte. The opera, based on a 1784 play by Pierre Beaumarchais, debuted in Vienna on May 1, 1786. The story tells how the servants Figaro and Susanna are able to wed despite the efforts of their employer, Count Almaviva, to seduce Susanna.
In Act 1, Figaro and Susanna are preparing for their wedding. Figaro, enraged when he learns that the count has made overtures towards Susanna, becomes determined to get the best of him. Figaro leaves. The unscrupulous Dr. Bartolo arrives with Marcelina, his housekeeper. Marcelina wants to marry Figaro, who once promised to marry her. Bartolo is acting as her legal counsel to enforce the promise of matrimony Figaro made to Marcelina. Bartolo leaves. Marcelina gets into a verbal altercation with Susanna when the two bump into each other. Cherubino, the page, arrives and tells Susanna that he is in love with all women. He removes himself when the count arrives. The count is upset because he saw Cherubino being flirtatious with Barbarina, the daughter of the gardener. The count continues his pursuit of Susanna, but hides when Basilio, the music master arrives. Basilio tells Susanna that Cherubino is interested in the countess, and the count enters the scene. He becomes even more agitated when he sees that the page is in the room. Figaro, meanwhile, returns with a collection of peasants in tow who praise the count because he rejected the right of a nobleman to take the place of a servant on his wedding night. The count sends Cherubino to Seville to join his regiment with Figaro to cheer him up.
Act 2 finds the countess downtrodden because her husband no longer loves her. Figaro and Susanna prompt her to set a trap for her husband. She agrees to send Cherubino disguised as Susanna on a rendezvous with the count. The young page Cherubino sings a song that he wrote in the countess’ honor, and then Susanna dresses him in girls’ clothing. While Susanna goes to find a ribbon, the count arrives to find the door locked. Cherubino locks himself in the closet. The count, along with the countess, goes to find tools with which to break through the door. While this is happening, Susanna returns unnoticed. She sees what is transpiring and helps Cherubino take leave through the window and then takes his place in the closet. The count and countess do not know what to make of it when they return to find Susanna in the closet. Next, Antonio, the gardener enters and announces that someone ruined his flowers by jumping from the window. Figaro arrives and announces that everything is in place for the wedding. He claims that it was he who jumped out of the window. Bartolo, Marcellina, and Basilio then enter with an order for Figaro to appear in court. An overjoyed count announces that the wedding will be postponed.As the third act opens, Susanna is tempting the count with the promise of a rendezvous, but he is skeptical when he hears her plotting with Figaro, and he plans revenge. The countess is thinking about the happiness she felt in the past. Marcellina prevails with her case, but when she notices a birthmark on the arm of Figaro, she realizes that he is her long-lost son by Bartolo. Overjoyed, she and Bartolo decide to marry. Susanna and the countess move forward with their plot against the count and write a letter to him setting up a rendezvous with Susanna in the garden that night. Susanna secretly gives the letter to the count during her and Figaro’s wedding ceremony.
The final act of The Marriage of Figaro
opens in the garden where Barbarina tells Figaro and Marcellina that Susanna and the count are planning to meet. Figaro, thinking that Susanna is being unfaithful to him, feels ire toward all women. He leaves just before the arrival of Susanna and the countess. When Susanna is by herself, she sings a love song. A sequestered Figaro thinks she is addressing this to the count. Meanwhile, Susanna is able to hide herself in time to see Cherubino proclaim his love for the countess as the count chases him away so that he can be alone with Susanna. Figaro figures out what is going on and, in fun, makes advances toward Susanna while she is disguised as the countess. The count returns to the scene and finds Figaro with—he thinks—his wife, the countess. The count calls everyone to the spot and is ready to show his wrath. The actual countess reveals her true identity and when the truth is known to him, the count begs her forgiveness. The couples are reunited and the day of madness concludes.