“The Marriage of Figaro”
It has been over 200 years after the death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, although his music still attracts attention. Opera buffa The Marriage of Figaro celebrates life, love, and beauty with sublime music. Lorenzo da Ponte managed to write a libretto based on Pierre Beaumarchais’ 1778 play with revolutionary undercurrents, fully rounded characters, dramatic scenes, and verse that shows the singers’ voices in all their beauty. For the first time, all components of the score became an implement of the drama. Everything that happened on the stage was supported by the orchestra, emotional and expressive spheres were also expressed in music. Mozart’s opera involves the audience and captures attention, its melodies remain in mind. Such success was achieved by his skillfully and excellently composed music.
Mozart and da Ponte were interested in human drama and shenanigans of Figaro’s wedding day. In collaboration, they created an emancipated atmosphere that allows the performers to become animated characters, with real emotional turmoil. The main heroes of the opera were Figaro (Giorgio Surian, bass-baritone), Susanna (Patrizia Ciofi, soprano), the Count (Lucio Gallo, bass-baritone), the Countess (Eteri Gvazava, soprano), and Cherubino (Marina Comparto, mezzo-soprano). Other performers of the comic opera were the pompous doctor and practicing lawyer Bartolo (Eduardo Chama, bass-baritone) and his housekeeper Marcellina (Giovanna Donadini, soprano). The supporting roles were the music master Basilio (Sergio Bertocchi, tenor), the gardener Antonio (Gialuca Ricci, tenor), his daughter Barbarina (Eleonora Contucci, soprano), the judge Don Curzio (Carlo Bosi, tenor). The crowd scene took part in choir arias of the opera. All the performers brilliantly managed to embody their characters on the stage; furthermore, everyone’s acting was highly professional and harmonious.
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The Marriage of Figaro casts servants in central roles; this reflects one of the main Enlightenment philosophies (Kamien 153). The opera highlights rank and privilege limitations, however, shows that common sense can prevail over power, wealth, and insolence. Early in the first act, Figaro sings the aria Se vuol ballare: the musicians, rather than playing on string instruments with bows, only pluck the strings; this imitates the sound of Figaro’s imaginary guitar. Besides, he sings to the rhythm of a minuet, which was one of the aristocrats’ favorite dances. By this, Mozart made a social statement indicating that a servant learned the dance of high class and intended to be in charge of the following events.
Mozart had adapted musical language of the classical style to convey drama. In his opera, many score sections musically reflect sonata’s form. The movements through a sequence of keys accelerate and resolve musical tension; this provides a musical reflection of the drama. Da Ponte’s libretto carries forward and supports the action in a dramatic way. The audience can observe it in the ending parts of all four acts. When the drama starts to escalate, the recitative disappears, and the composer applies increasingly sophisticated writing, solo and choir singing in various combinations. The fusion of increasing complexity and a gradual resolution was the main feature of Mozart’s style.
During the classical period a new kind of the orchestra evolved, which consisted of a standard group of four sections: strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion (Kamien 158). The instrumentations of The Marriage of Figaro include woodwinds: two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons; brass: two horns, two trumpets; percussions: timpani; strings: violins, violas, cellos, basses; and, additionally, keyboards: piano. This opera was among the first where instead of the fortepiano a harpsichord was used. The conductor Zubin Mehta and all members of the orchestra performed in a highly professional manner.
One of the favorite selections of the opera is the overture. To grab audience’s attention from the start, The Marriage of Figaro begins unexpectedly with pulsating pianissimo tremor that rapidly accelerates into a comic fanfare. Moreover, Mozart wrote the opening with an unbalanced seven-measure phrase instead of traditional eight-measure. The theme of the overture never repeats but sets the feverish atmosphere for the crazy day. The composer masterly uses the synthesis of whispering sounds and unbalanced phrasing to provide a hint on the fact that the opera will turn the expected story upside down as the plot focuses on the servants’, not the aristocrats’ lives.
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For women in The Marriage of Figaro Mozart reserved his most moving and affecting music. One of the favorite moments is the Countess’s appearance at the very beginning of Act 2; it is the first time the audience gets to meet her. Her aria Porgi amor is tragic, poised, and simultaneously refined. All of Susanna’s arias have the same qualities, particularly her Deh vieni in Act 4. Both performers manage to accomplish their acting and singing brilliantly.
The recitatives in The Marriage of Figaro are often accompanied only by a string instrument and a simple melody. This peculiarity slows down the rhythm of the particular scenes and makes them less animated. Because of this I liked the following selections the least. For instance, in Act 1, the dynamic and humorous scene between Susanna, Cherubino, the Count, and Basilio is considerably slower because of the simple melody. Another example is Susana’s Deh vieni, with conventionally accompanied recitative. This method was used to attract attention to the plot, and to say that something important is happening. Likewise, the recitative makes the words sound more clearly and dramatically. For a modern audience, a simple accompaniment may seem insufficient although it is hard to mark it as a drawback.
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The Marriage of Figaro features a comic plot of Shakespearean complexity. The whole story lasts over the course of a single day with the climax during the wedding ceremony. It takes place in the town not far from Seville, Spain. However, before Figaro and his beloved Susanna marry, many of their rivals pursue to prevent or at least delay the wedding. During the final moments of Act 4, the spectators observe Count’s heartrending prayer for the Countess’s forgiveness and acquiescence.