Everything you wanted to know about Mozart's 'Marriage of Figaro' but were afraid to ask

You're ready for the synopsis of The Marriage of Figaro if you know the meaning of "droit de seigneur."

As Act I opens; Figaro and Susanna, the valet and maid of Count and Countess Almaviva, are to marry that day. Susanna tells Figaro that the Count has been trying to seduce her; going back on his promise not to exercise his right of droit de seigneur, the right of the feudal lord to have first dibs on his servant's bride on their wedding night . Figaro vows to teach the Count a lesson. Dr. Bartolo enters with his former servant, Marcellina, who is determined to collect on an old loan made to Figaro. According to the terms, Figaro must either pay her back or marry her. Marcellina comes face to face with her younger rival Susanna, and leaves in a huff when she is insulted about being so old. Enter the teenage page, Cherubino , who wants Susanna to plead on his behalf with the Countess to get him back in the Count’s good graces — the Count has banished him after finding him with the gardener Antonio’s daughter, Barbarina. When they hear the Count approaching,  Cherubino hides. The Count has come to arrange an amorous meeting with Susanna; and he, too, hides when Don Basilio, the music teacher, arrives. When Basilio gossips with Susanna about Cherubino’s crush on the Countess, the jealous Count leaps from behind the chair. As he tells how he found Cherubino with Barbarina, the Count discovers that Cherubino is present in the room and caught in another compromising situation. Figaro enters and tries to force the Count to marry him to Susanna on the spot. Instead, the Count diverts attention from the request and orders Cherubino to enlist in his personal regiment in the army. ( See You Tube video for Non Piu andrai)

Act II finds the Countess in her room lamenting her husband's unfaithfulness. Susanna sympathizes when Figaro enters and reveals his schemes. He has sent the Count an anonymous note telling him that the Countess is expecting a lover while he is out hunting. Figaro hopes the Count will pay attention to this smoke screen and ignore Marcellina's claim against Figaro. He asks Susanna to arrange a rendezvous with the Count later that evening in the garden. Figaro plots to have Cherubino, dressed as a girl, go to the garden in Susanna’s place. The Count will be caught in the act and forced to change his ways. The Countess and Susanna begin to disguise Cherubino. (See YT videos for Voi che sapete). Susanna leaves for a moment as the Count arrives in a jealous rage, having read the anonymous note. He knocks on the locked bedroom door causing the Countess to hide Cherubino in the closet before she lets in the Count. Susanna returns, unnoticed. The Countess refuses to unlock the closet; so the Count leaves, taking the Countess with him, in search of tools to break the lock. Susanna helps Cherubino escape through the window, and then she hides in the closet, surprising both the Count and Countess when they find her there. Figaro arrives and tries to get everyone to come to the wedding revelries.  When the gardener  Antonio enters and claims someone was seen jumping out of the window, Figaro takes the blame. Marcellina returns with Bartolo and Basilio and demands that her case against Figaro be heard.

In Act III, the Countess revises Figaro’s plan by having Susanna ask the Count to meet her in the garden that evening when  the Countess will go in her place. The Count anxiously agrees to meet Susanna; but he hears her tell Figaro that they have already" won the case," and he is once again filled with suspicion.  Don Curzio, chosen by the Count to hear the case, rules that Figaro must either pay off the debt or marry Marcellina. Figaro claims that, as the son of an aristocrat, he cannot marry without the consent of his parents. Since he was raised as an orphan, he doesn’t expect to be able to find them. Hearing the story that he was taken as a child, Marcellina realizes that she is Figaro’s mother and that his father is Dr. Bartolo. Susanna then comes in with the money the Countess has given her to pay off Figaro’s debt. She is relieved when when she sees Figaro embracing the Marcellina and learns that she is his mother.The Countess remembers her love for the Count when they first met, and declares that she will stop at nothing  to win him back. She dictates a note for Susanna to give to the Count, telling  the location of their supposed rendezvous later that evening in the garden. (See YT video Sull' aria, a version so  poignantly featured in the Shawshank Redemption). During the double wedding (of Figaro to Susanna and Bartolo to Marcellina), Susanna slips this note to the Count. The Count is to return a pin used to seal the note as an acknowledgment that he will meet her. He gives the pin to Barbarina to give to Susanna.

In the  opera's final Act IV, we find Barbarina looking both for Cherubino and for the pin the Count gave her. She tells Figaro what has happened, and he believes that Susanna plans to forsake him. Devastated , he hides in the garden and plans his revenge. Susanna and the Countess arrive and switch cloaks to disguise themselves as each other. Their plan  to fool the Count is disrupted by the  arrival of Cherubino. Figaro realizes what is going on and gets even with Susanna by pursuing her while she is  dressed as the Countess.  Thinking Susanna is his  wife, the Count attempts to make her clever deception known when the real Countess appears, the Count is the one who must ask for forgiveness. (YT video Contessa perdona)

Susanna , the longest role of any opera written, will be portrayed by Ronda L. Paoletti (soprano). She was recently a featured soprano soloist with the First Coast Opera in St. Augustine, Florida, in their November concert entitled “Grandi  Voci: Voices of Love,” where she sang scenes and arias from “Lucia di Lammermoor”, “Don Pasquale”, and “The Marriage of Figaro.” She has performed with FCO in their performance of “Voices of Love – Encore,” with the Delray Beach, Florida Chorale and Orchestra and sang the soprano solos in Orff’s Carmina Burana at the Clay Center of the Performing Arts in Charleston, WV.  Ronda sang the Mozart Exultate, jubilate…Alleluja in Daejon, South Korea, in April 2010.  She is a past district winner (Orlando, FL) of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and national finalist in the Singer of the Year Competition, where she received the Harvey Ringel Award.  She was also a district winner (Florida) of the McAllister Awards and first runner up in the Bel Canto Voice Competition.  As a soprano soloist, Ronda has appeared with First Coast Opera, the West Virginia Symphony/Opera, the Columbia Lyric Opera, Pensacola opera, Treasure Coast Opera, The University of North Texas Opera Theater, the Bay View Summer Music Festival, Broward Community College and Orchestra, the Plantation United Methodist Church Concert Series and the East Texas Chamber Ensemble.  She was a guest artist at the University of Miami Opera Gala and at the Arts and Culture Center in Miami, FL.  Ms. Paoletti teaches at the Valwood School, a private school in Valdosta, Georgia, and maintains a private voice studio. Ronda feels that her most important credentials are as wife to fellow singer Karl and mother to twelve-year-old Nicholas and eightyear-old Sophia.

The role of Figaro is double cast and will be sung by Stephen McCool and Ivan Segovia.

Baritone Stephen McCool makes his PSO debut with this production.  Praised for his rich voice and dynamic acting, Stephen has performed numerous operatic roles, including Barone Douphol (La Traviata), Le Dancaire (Carmen), The Marquis de la Force (Dialogues of the Carmelites), and Maximilian (Candide).  A member of the Atlanta Opera chorus, he recently appeared in Peter Ash’s The Golden Ticket and Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor.  His acting skills were recently displayed in his professional theater debut as the young opera singer in The Last Romance by Joe Dipietro at Stage Door Players in Dunwoody, GA. When not on stage, Stephen works as a staff singer at Decatur Presbyterian Church and teaches voice and piano lessons for Metro Music Makers in Roswell, GA.  On a personal note, he’d like to dedicate this performance to bass Jason Hardy and Dr. Eric Nelson for their guidance and friendship.

Venezuelan-American baritone Iván Segovia has called Atlanta his home since 1987. A graduate of Clayton State University, Iván studied voice with Dr. Maya Hoover, was very active in the theatre program and performed numerous roles with the CSU Opera Theatre, including the role of Figaro in “Le Nozze di Figaro,” the Sorceress in “Dido & Aeneas,” and Henrik in Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music.”  A seasoned performer, Iván has also been a member of the Atlanta Opera Chorus since 2006, performing regularly in their mainstage productions, and has been a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta family since 2007, where he is blessed to be a regular soloist and member of the choir, and was most recently seen as the baritone soloist in the Saint-Saens Christmas Oratorio and Balthazar in "Amahl & The Night Visitors."

As you can see from the synopsis above, Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" is structured like a typical theatrical production of the eighteenth century that emphasized class relationships where in many cases the characters in servitude were shown to be more clever than their masters. Another literary device often prevalent was that many of the  characters switched identities and were embroiled in  lots of romantic intrigue which further complicated the plot. Mix this with Mozart's distinctive music and the fine cast Peach State has assembled, and you have a winner. Make sure you go to PeachState's website (http://www.peachstateopera.org) and reserve your tickets for one of the productions.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Wayne on Sutton August 17, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Live streaming video of "Figaro" today, Friday, at 1 pm Eastern, from Glyndebourne here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2012/aug/17/live-opera-from-glyndebourne


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