Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (born Salzburg, 27 January 1756; died Vienna, 5 December 1791)
Lorenzo da Ponte.
Play La folle journée (1784) by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (French 1732-99).
First performance: Vienna (Burgtheater), 1 May 1786.
First UK performance: London (Pantheon), 2 May 1812.
First performance in Scotland: To be identified
Scottish Opera première: Perth (Theatre), 9 April 1968.
Beaumarchais only uses The Marriage of Figaro as an alternative title to The Mad Day, the second of three plays involving the Almaviva household, of which the ever-popular Barber of Seville is the first. It was a controversial subject given its depiction of the Count as boorish and not very bright, while his wife and servants are shown to outwit him. The women are generally more intelligent than the men.
Count Almaviva (baritone)
Figaro, his valet (bass-baritone)
Countess Almaviva (soprano)
Susanna, her maid (soprano)
Cherubino, the Count’s page (mezzo-soprano)
Doctor Bartolo, formerly the Countess’s guardian (bass)
Marcellina, his housekeeper (mezzo-soprano)
Don Basilio, a music teacher (tenor)
Antonio, a gardener (baritone)
Don Curzio, a lawyer (tenor)
Barbarina, Antonio’s daughter (soprano)
Two bridesmaids (sopranos)
The setting is the Almaviva palace near Seville in the 1780s. The opera opens on the day when Figaro and Susanna are to marry. They are uneasy to find that their room is very close to the Count’s, since he is a notorious philanderer. Additional complications arise from two other subplots. Firstly, the adolescent pageboy Cherubino has developed a crush on the Countess. Secondly, Marcellina, having loaned Figaro money which has not been repaid, claims that he is to marry her instead.
The intricacy with which Beaumarchais works out the farcical plot, the cleverness with which da Ponte adapts it for operatic requirements, and the brilliance with which Mozart paces the entire composition, as the various confusions are sorted out, make it one of the very greatest works in the repertoire.
TELARC (3 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1994
Conductor: Charles Mackerras.
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Carol Vaness (Countess), Nuccia Focile (Susanna), Alastair Miles (Figaro).
Alessandro Corbelli (Count), Suzanne Mentzer (Cherubino), Alfonso Antoniozzi (Bartolo).
This wonderful performance was made in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall in the days leading up to a concert performance at the 1994 Edinburgh Festival. Charles Mackerras revolutionised performance practice in this opera when he conducted a new production for Sadler’s Wells in 1965, introducing vocal decorations and other adjustments which can now be seen as the early stages in the authenticity movement. Forty years and dozens of performances later, his reading is still delightful. Apart from the wonderful cast listed, the smaller roles include Suzanne Murphy as Marcellina and Ryland Davies doubling as Basilio and Curzio (a practice rarely followed now, but which goes back to the creator of the parts, the Irish tenor Michael Kelly).
DECCA (3 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1981
Conductor: Georg Solti. London Philharmonic Orchestra Kiri Te Kanawa (Countess), Lucia Popp (Susanna), Samuel Ramey (Figaro), Thomas Allen (Count), Frederica von Stade (Cherubino), Kurt Moll (Bartolo).
It is difficult to imagine a better cast for Figaro being assembled at this or any other time. Even the smaller roles boast stars of the calibre of Robert Tear, Jane Berbie, and Yvonne Kenny – even Philip Langridge in the tiny role of Don Curzio. Solti’s conducting of Mozart was sometimes thought too rushed compared with earlier classic accounts by Gui or Erich Kleiber, but we are now accustomed to the fleet-footed authentic stylists, so this approach now seems more natural. In any event, it is hard to resist performers like Kiri Te Kanawa and Thomas Allen as the Almavivas and Lucia Popp and Samuel Ramey as the servants.
EMI (2CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1976
Conductor: Daniel Barenboim. English Chamber Orchestra Heather Harper (Countess), Judith Blegen (Susanna), Geraint Evans (Figaro). Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Count), Teresa Berganza (Cherubino), William McCue (Bartolo).
Geraint Evans’s Edinburgh Festival production was seen by some at the time as a gathering of old chums guiding young Barenboim into the strange ways of conducting opera – so they clearly got something right. Not all the elements gel, but Berganza’s Cherubino is astonishingly youthful, twenty years into her career. Fischer-Dieskau only sang staged opera in Scotland in this one production. Blegen is a good Susanna, (though not as wonderful as Cotrubas had been the year before). The small roles, led by McCue’s Bartolo, feature several under-recorded artists who were regulars with Scottish Opera – John Robertson (Curzio), Malcolm Donnelly (Antonio), Elizabeth Ritchie and Patricia O’Neill (Bridesmaids), and it is good to be reminded of them all.
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