Widely considered as one of the greatest opere buffe ever written, The Marriage of Figaro is based on a 1784 play by Pierre- Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais that was particularly controversial in its time because of the satire of aristocracy it conveyed. It had even been said to have led to the French Revolution. Lorenzo da Ponte, Mozart’s librettist, removed most of the political content from the play in order to avoid Viennese censors’ wrath – the play by Beaumarchais had been banned a couple of years before the opera’s premiere – and turned it into a romantic yet still very ironic and wittiful tale of love and forgiveness, that became one of Mozart’s most successful works.
The Marriage of Figaro continues the story of Count Amalviva, Figaro, Rosine and Dr Bartholo from The Barber of Seville, which Rossini has later turned into an opera, premiered in 1816. Count Almaviva is now married to Rosine but the marriage is not a happy one and while the Count covets Susanna, the Countess’ maid engaged to Figaro, Rosine is falling for Cherubino. Add to this Dr Bartholo who still seeks revenge on Figaro for stealing Rosine away from him, a few other colourful characters, and an action that takes place over the course of a single day, Figaro’s wedding day, and it becomes easy to understand why The Marriage of Figaro is subtitled « One Crazy Day ».
Fiona Shaw carries on her fruitful collaboration with the ENO by directing brilliantly this new production. She described how fascinated she was by the string of characters drawn by Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte, particularly Susanna and Cherubino, and how this opera makes us feel the very humanity of these different characters. ‘Susanna is the heroine’, she says.‘In fact, in a way, The Marriage of Figaro is a series of characters who all have fragments of human nature. There’s a sorrow in the Countess that doesn’t need to be in Susanna, there’s lust in the Count that doesn’t need to be in Susanna, but she’s often the point of focus for all these feelings.’ About Cherubino: ‘What’s moving is that he does have this huge hormonal lust – and he’s written this beautiful song about it: « Tell me what love is, what can it be ». What Mozart has done is taken human, ordinary, dark, light, strange emotions, infused them with incandescent music and put them back in the mouths of people so we can hear them as very true feelings.’
Conductor and former ENO Music Director Paul Daniel has returned to lead this predominantly British cast, with three rising star singers, Iain Patterson as Figaro, Kate Valentine as the Countess and Roland Wood as the Count. I also particularly enjoyed mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge as Cherubino, and soprano Devon Guthrie who makes her debut as Susanna. To describe the heavenly sensation of hearing the harmony in their combined voices cannot even start to be covered by words, it just has to be enjoyed!
Last Performance of The Marriage of Figaro on Thursday 10th November at 7pm. Booking available on the ENO website