The Marriage of Figaro is a rare case of the movie being better than the book. Or, in this case, the opera being better than the book. Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, The Marriage of Figaro is a sequel to The Barber of Seville. Both The Barber of Seville and Figaro were written by French dramatist Pierre Beaumarchais. When The Marriage of Figaro premiered in Vienna in 1786 there was concern that the amorous comedy would provoke a scandal given its less-than-flattering portrayal of nobility. However, the premiere went off nonetheless and The Marriage of Figaro has gone down in history as one of the most famous operas of all time, and a classic of Mozart’s oeuvre.
By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at its five most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on The Marriage of Figaro.
The young nobleman Count Almaviva, the hero of The Barber of Seville, plays the role of villain in Figaro. Despite being married to Rosina, Count Almaviva has lecherous designs on Susanna, the betrothed of his friend Figaro. Almaviva intends to exercise his privilege as a nobleman, known as the droit de seigneur, in order to bed Susana on the night of her wedding.
Cherubino is an unlikely ally of Susana. He is Count Almaviva’s page and he flirts with any woman—ranging from the gardener’s daughter Barbarina to the Countess—landing him in hot water. Almaviva punishes him by sending him to the military. Figaro pokes fun at Cherubino leaving his cushy palace life for a spartan military one in the aria Non più andrai. Later in the opera Cherubino is forced to jump from a window, damaging Almaviva’s plants.
Susanna is at the center of the opera’s intrigues. In the end, however, she conspires with The Countess to catch Almaviva in his own fidelities. Susanna even plays a prank on the quick-witted Figaro, singing the aria Giunse Al Fin Il Momento, an aria seemingly calling Count Almaviva to her.
The Countess’ marriage to Almaviva almost didn’t happen. Her former guardian, Bartolo, is still bitter about losing her to Almaviva, and he expresses the bitterness in his aria La Vendetta. In The Marriage of Figaro, however, this miraculous marriage is on the rocks. The Countess’ first aria, Porgi, amor, qualche ristoro laments how the Count has lost interest in her. By the opera’s end, however, the couple are reunited in love.
The opera begins with Figaro measuring dimensions for his wedding bed, but the wedding runs into many obstacles. In addition to Almaviva’s machinations, Figaro must contend with Bartolo who tries to marry Figaro against his will to Marcellina. Fortunately for Figaro, however, Marcellina turns out to be his mother. Figaro’s main antagonist is the count, and in the memorable aria Se vuol ballare he states his intention to thwart Almaviva’s plans. By the opera’s end he finally manages to marry Susanna and all is well.
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
The Aria Database is a useful tool for any budding opera enthusiast.
Although it may seem downright conservative to us today, The Marriage of Figaro was quite radical for its time.
Operatic overtures were still a relatively new thing when The Marriage of Figaro premiered. Listen to Mozart’s overture here and learn a little more about it.
You may not recognize the name Non più andrai when you see it written out, but the melody will be instantly familiar:
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