Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Upstairs, downstairs, inside, outside, dress-ups and dressing downs, all in a day’s work.
Mozart’s classic comedy has been entertaining crowds for centuries, and between the witty, fast-moving libretto and the melodic, charming writing, it’s not hard to understand why.
Musically, this is the ultimate ensemble opera, with brilliant trios, quartets and even a fantastic sextet. Dramatically, it’s the opera with everything: lovers and liaisons, disguises and tricks, lust and laughter.
The Countess loves the Count, but he’s got designs on his pretty, witty servant Susanna. But it’s Susanna’s wedding day, and Figaro has no plans of giving up his bride. During one crazy day of disguises, duplicity, desire and utter madness, the Count is going to get his comeuppance.
Sir David McVicar’s naturalistic staging opens a “comic cauldron of sex and social politics” (Limelight), where the comedy has a dark, sharp edge.
Jenny Tiramani’s extraordinary 17th-century designs clothe the aristocracy in ravishing silks and the servants in cornflower blue. A historical fashion specialist, Tiramani’s costumes are stunning in detail and authentic in design. David Finn’s radiant lighting streams through vaulted windows to light enormous rooms in sunlight and moonbeams as day turns to night.
Young soprano Stacey Alleaume continues a thrilling rise with her role debut as Susanna. Andrei Bondarenko reprises his commanding performance as Count Almaviva with Russian soprano Ekaterina Sadovnikova as the Countess. Paolo Bordogna returns with his world-class Figaro, and Guillaume Tourniaire is the maestro.
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|Revival Director||Andy Morton|
|Set & Costume Designer||Jenny Tiramani|
|Lighting Designer||David Finn|
|Dr. Bartolo||Richard Anderson|
|Don Basilio||Benjamin Rasheed|
|Don Curzio||Graeme Macfarlane|
|First Bridesmaid||Phoebe-Celeste Humphreys|
|Second Bridesmaid||Anna Whitney|
Running time: approximately 3 hours & 30 minutes, including one interval.
The Count has his eye on Susanna, his valet Figaro's bride-to-be. She might just be a servant, but Susanna’s pretty savvy and determined he won’t have his way — especially on their wedding day!
Figaro is outraged, but he’s got bigger problems: he owes money to a spinster who will only let the debt go if he marries her.
The Countess is sick to death of her husband's wandering eye, and enlists Susanna to help win him back.
They all need the help of Cherubino, the lovesick youth who loves not just the Countess, but anyone who looks his way.
But Susanna is smarter than all of them. After a crazy day of disguise and duplicity, will she get her happily ever after?
Not afraid of spoilers? Read the full synopsis.
With the help of the barber Figaro, Count Almaviva has stolen the ward of Doctor Bartolo, Rosina, and made her his Countess. Figaro has entered the Count’s service as valet and fallen in love with the Countess’s maid Susanna. The opera takes place at the estate of Count Almaviva at Aguasfrescas, near Seville.
A room in the castle
On the morning of their wedding, Susanna finds Figaro installing their bed in a room adjoining the apartments of both the Count and Countess. She alerts him to the danger of this arrangement: the Count, a notorious philanderer, has designs on her and the proximity of the new room will only make things easier for him. The Count’s desire has been further inflamed by his recent renunciation of the ancient droit du seigneur (the feudal right of the master to bed any of his female servants on their wedding night). Figaro determines to outwit the Count.
Marcellina, the Countess' former duenna and another new resident at the castle, has given Figaro a loan of a large amount of money on the condition that he marry her if the debt is not redeemed. She has chosen his wedding day to stake her claim, supported by Doctor Bartolo acting as advocate. He relishes the chance to take revenge on his old enemy Figaro. They run into Susanna who exchanges frosty insults with Marcellina, then leave to plot further.
Cherubino, the Countess' page, arrives in a panic. The Count has caught him with the gardener's daughter, Barbarina (a girl who interests the Count himself), and has dismissed him from his service. Cherubino is distraught at the thought of leaving his mistress, for whom he has conceived an adolescent passion. He runs to hide when the Count himself enters to try to persuade Susanna to agree to an assignation that night in the garden, even offering her money as an incentive. The voice of Basilio, the Count's music master, is heard and the Count also hides. Basilio acts as go-between for the Count in his intended seduction of Susanna and he has come to press his master's suit once again. Suspecting that the handsome boy Cherubino may be the impediment to Susanna’s submission, he stumbles on the actual truth of the page's infatuation with the Countess. This brings a furious Count out of hiding, to Basilio's prurient delight. Determined to be rid of Cherubino, the Count relates the incident with Barbarina and in the process discovers the page's hiding place.
Susanna angrily denies what seems to be a highly compromising situation and Cherubino is spared the Count’s blows only by the arrival of Figaro with the entire household in tow. A little scene celebrating the Count’s repudiation of the hated droit du seigneur is staged and Figaro tries to force his hand with a symbolic crowning of Susanna in her bridal veil. The Count manages to prevaricate and dismisses the staff.
A clumsy attempt at blackmail by Cherubino, trying to save his skin, is easily rebuffed by the Count, who grants him the dubious reward of an officer's commission in his regiment with immediate effect; Cherubino must leave at once. Figaro, a new scheme forming in his mind, quietly asks him not to leave just yet…
The Countess' apartment
The Countess reflects sadly on her marriage. Susanna has told her of the Count’s plans. Figaro has plans of his own: hoping to expose the Count's jealousy and humiliate him, he has sent a note via Basilio to the Count warning him of an assignation that night between the Countess and an imaginary lover. The Countess is appalled and Susanna rightly points out that this will only aggravate the Count into throwing his weight behind Marcellina's case at the next Sessions. Figaro comes up with a new plan: to entice the Count to a meeting with Susanna but to send a disguised Cherubino in her place, compromising the Count's honour but not the women’s. This scheme wins the Countess’s support and Figaro sends Cherubino to them to try out a disguise.
Believing the Count to be safely out hunting for the day, the Countess indulges her flirtatious affection for Cherubino, even allowing Susanna to leave them alone together in her bedroom. They are surprised by the Count's sudden arrival at the door and the Countess hides Cherubino in her dressing room. The Count has received Figaro’s incriminating letter from Basilio and his suspicions are further aroused by noises from within the locked dressing room. The Countess protests that it is only Susanna inside. A furious row ensues, overheard by Susanna, who has crept back by the servant door. It ends in the Count dragging his wife out in search of an axe to break into the dressing room; but first he takes the precaution of securing all the other doors to the apartment. Susanna lets Cherubino out and he jumps to safety from the balcony window. Susanna locks herself into the dressing room in his place.
The Count and Countess return and she is forced to admit that it is Cherubino inside. Convinced of his wife's guilt the Count is astonished to see Susanna innocently emerge from the room. The Countess quickly turns his confusion to her advantage but the arrival of Figaro soon upsets matters when the Count begins to quiz him about the provenance of Basilio's letter. Things become worse when the gardener Antonio bursts in, furious at the damage done to his garden by the man jumping from the Countess’s window. Figaro claims that it was he and not, as Antonio insists, Cherubino who jumped: after all, the page has supposedly already joined his regiment in Seville. Figaro even manages ingeniously to explain how Cherubino's commission came to be lying under the balcony. But even he is nonplussed by the arrival of Marcellina, supported by Bartolo and Basilio demanding Figaro's immediate trial for non-payment of his debt. The Count is overjoyed.
A hall in the castle
The Count turns recent events over in his mind.
Susanna and the Countess have made a new plan between them to try to swing the Count in favour of Figaro and against Marcellina. Susanna appears to agree to his request for a rendezvous in the garden. In fact, it will be a disguised Countess who will keep the assignation and shame her wayward husband. Completely fooled, a delighted Count chides Susanna for playing with his affections. But as she slips away, she bumps into Figaro and their whispered conversation is overheard by the Count. His suspicion is rekindled and he resolves to do all he can to prevent Figaro's wedding.
Barbarina smuggles Cherubino into her father's house to disguise him as a peasant girl. The page is terrified of discovery by the Count.
The Countess remembers the happier days of her marriage and determines to win back her husband's love.
To the Count's great satisfaction, the Magistrate Don Curzio has found in Marcellina's favour. A stunned Figaro protests that, as a foundling, he has no parents to give their consent to a match with Marcellina. As he pieces together the story of his childhood the astounding truth is revealed: Marcellina and Bartolo were once lovers and Figaro is their illegitimate child. Susanna comes running in with money she has borrowed from the Countess to pay off Marcellina and needs some persuasion to accept this astonishing turn of events. The Count and Curzio leave defeated and the reunited family plan a double wedding.
Antonio is on Cherubino's trail and assures the Count that the page has not yet left for Seville.
The Countess dictates a letter to Susanna confirming her meeting that evening with the Count and seals it with a pin to be returned by way of reply. Barbarina and some women from the estate come to present the Countess with flowers and the disguised Cherubino is discovered in their midst by Antonio and the Count, forcing the Countess to admit that, after all, the page had been in her room earlier that day. But Barbarina pleads on Cherubino's behalf, disclosing intimate details highly embarrassing to the Count, and wins him a reprieve.
Figaro arrives, impatient to get the celebrations under way. A final furious attempt by the Count to delay the wedding fails and the ceremony begins. During its course, Susanna slips the letter to the Count who pricks his finger on the pin that seals it, watched all the while by an amused Figaro who remains completely unaware of her involvement. A jubilant Count, reassured once more of Susanna’s intentions, commands that the wedding be celebrated in high style.
The castle gardens
The Count has given Barbarina the pin to return to Susanna, and she has carelessly lost it in the garden. Figaro and Marcellina come across her searching for it and she blurts out the whole story. Astounded, Figaro vows to be revenged on his faithless wife. Marcellina is sure of Susanna’s innocence and runs off to warn her.
Barbarina has made a date to meet Cherubino but hides in fright when a wild-eyed Figaro rushes by. He has summoned Bartolo, Basilio and others to witness Susanna’s infidelity and hides them around the garden. Basilio pours scorn on Figaro’s belligerence. In his experience the Counts of the world always win.
An anguished Figaro hides as the figures of Susanna and the Countess are seen approaching. The Countess pretends to return to the castle, leaving Susanna behind. Apparently awaiting her noble lover, she sings a tender love song.
Cherubino stumbles drunkenly through the garden in search of Barbarina, but it is the Countess, now disguised as Susanna, whom he finds. His flirtatious advances are disturbed by the Count, who chases him away then sets out to woo Susanna in earnest, all the while watched by an increasingly jealous Figaro. The Countess obtains a ring from the Count, proof of his infidelity, then invents an excuse to slip away. The Count is unwilling to let her go, but Figaro’s voice surprises them and she vanishes into the trees, the Count in pursuit.
Alone, Figaro gives vent to his despair. The disguised Susanna appears but her impersonation of the Countess fails to fool Figaro who joyfully sees through the whole deception in a flash. He plays a little game of his own and the lovers are at last reconciled. The sound of the Count’s voice prompts them to stage a scene for his benefit. A disbelieving Count thinks he is witnessing the seduction of his wife by Figaro and screams for help.
The others rush forward and the Count denounces the Countess's faithlessness, but at that moment the Countess herself appears and asks his forgiveness on behalf of the conspirators. A shamed and humbled Count is forced to beg his wife for her own forgiveness. Wiser than he and certain of her love for him, she agrees.
Mozart and Da Ponte beat the censors
The Beaumarchais play Le mariage de Figaro is a denunciation of aristocratic privilege. As Martha C Nussbaum says in her book Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice, Beaumarchais “dramatises the opposition between an ancien régime, based on hierarchy and subordination personified by the Count, and a new democratic politics, based on equality and liberty (personified by Figaro).” This was the primary reason that the play was still banned at the time of the opera’s first performances.
Mozart and Da Ponte thwarted the censors, allowing the opera to be performed, by omitting Figaro’s incendiary Act V political speech in the play, part of which is printed below, thus depoliticising the opera and turning the tension between the Count and Figaro into a domestic conflict over a woman. Audiences at the time were aware of this famous speech, so, in Act IV sc. viii of the opera, the composer and librettist cleverly has Figaro sing repeatedly, ‘Il resto nol dico, Già ognuno lo sa.’ [The rest I need not say, for everyone knows it already.] The speech may be expunged from the opera but it is being constantly referenced.
Oh Woman, Woman, Woman! Inconstant, weak, deceitful Woman! — But each Animal is obliged to follow the instinct of its Nature; and it is thine to betray! — What, after swearing this very Morning to remain for ever Faithful; and on the identical Day! The bridal Day! I even saw her laugh with Delight, while he read her Billet! — They think themselves secure, but perhaps they yet may be deceived.” — No, my very worthy Lord and Master, you have not got her yet — What! Because you are a great Man, you fancy yourself a great Genius. — “Which way? — How came you to be the rich and mighty Count Almaviva? Why truly, you gave yourself the Trouble to be born! While the obscurity in which I have been cast demanded more Abilities to gain a mere Subsistence than are requisite to govern Empires. And what, most noble Count, are your Claims to Distinction, to pompous Titles, and immense Wealth, of which you are so proud, and which, by Accident, you possess? For which of your Virtues? Your Wisdom? Your Generosity? Your Justice? — The Wisdom you have acquired consists in vile Arts, to gratify vile Passions; your Generosity is lavished on your hireling Instruments, but whose Necessities make them far less Contemptible than yourself; and your Justice is the inveterate Persecution of those who have the Will and the Wit to resist your Depredations.” But this has ever been the Practice of the little Great; those they cannot degrade, they endeavour to crush.
Act V, Le mariage de Figaro, 1778
Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais