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The Marriage of Figaro

by Mozart

[This synopsis, like my others, is very, very brief. The reason is that I find the normal programme note much too long, and needlessly detailed and complicated. What I want is more of an overview. If I’ve read an overview – a sort of synopsis of a synopsis – I find that, particularly with the help of surtitles, there is then absolutely no need for a blow-by-blow description of the plot.]

The Marriage of Figaro has a highly convoluted plot, with endless misunderstandings, mistaken identities and general mayhem, all taking place in one day (the subtitle was La Folle Giornata).

The main characters are these: the Count and Countess Almaviva; the Count’s valet Figaro and the Countess’s maid Susanna, who are to be married on that very day; Dr Bartolo, a lawyer, and his housekeeper Marcellina, each of whom is bearing a grievance against Figaro; and Cherubino, a young amorous page who fancies most of the female characters, certainly including the Countess, and whose antics cause a lot of the confusion.

The main strands to the plot are these, the detail being much too complicated to summarise. The Count is regretting that he abolished the droit du seigneur and is keen to exercise just that droit by having his way with Susanna before her wedding. The Countess, in despair at the Count’s philandering, and Susanna, keen to find ways of resisting the Count’s advances, conspire to expose the Count in his wicked ways. Dr Bartolo is enraged at Figaro for having helped the Count marry the Countess, who he himself had wanted to marry. Marcellina is also enraged at Figaro who had allegedly agreed to marry her. Bartolo and Marcellina jointly plot to revenge themselves by forcing Figaro to honour his agreement. Cherubino wants to get Susanna to get the Countess to intercede on his behalf with the Count, who is angry with him for making advances to the gardener’s daughter. The Count orders Cherubino to join the army.

These conflicts all get resolved eventually, after much confusion and hilarity – including confusion caused by Figaro delivering an anonymous letter to the Count, through Basilio, the ghastly music teacher, suggesting that the Countess has her boyfriends.

The Bartolo/Marcellina situation is resolved when it emerges in the nick of time that Figaro is Marcellina’s long-lost son (and Bartolo his father). Bartolo then agrees to marry Marcellina, at the same time as Figaro marries Susanna.

The plan to entrap the Count continues after the joint wedding. The Countess has dictated a love-letter for Susanna to give to the Count, suggesting an assignation that night. Susanne delivers the letter at the time of the wedding. It all results in confusion piled on confusion, partly because Figaro himself doesn’t know about the plot and thinks that his new wife is betraying him. Also (of course) the Countess goes along to the place of the assignation disguised as Susanna and (of course) Susanna goes along disguised as the Countess. And all this happens in the dark – or semi-dark. However, when all is revealed and the Count is duly humiliated, he pleads for forgiveness and everyone is deliriously happy . . .

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