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Theatre / The Marriage of Figaro

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Or Le nozze di Figaro, in the original Italian.

A comic, Sitcom-like play by Pierre Beaumarchais, adapted to opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The story is about the attempts of Figaro (Count Almaviva's manservant and formerly The Barber of Seville) and Susanna (the Countess's maid) to get married. It being a Romantic Comedy, there are many obstacles:

  • Count Almaviva wants to seduce Susanna, much to the dismay of his wife, Countess Rosina. To achieve this, he is threatening to reinstate the feudal "Droit du Seigneur" custom, which gives the local lord first dibs with a woman on her wedding night. Rosina and Susanna, who are close friends, conspire to expose his lechery.
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  • Figaro is in debt to a middle-aged woman named Marcellina; she's trying to force him to marry her in lieu of payment. She has the aid of her former employer Dr. Bartolo, who had been competing for Rosina's hand himself back in the day (and got her dowry as a consolation prize), and is also helped by the gossip-mongering music teacher Don Basilio.
  • Cherubino, a teenaged page boy (always played by a girl), is also trying to get his hands on Susanna, on his godmother the Countess, on the gardener's daughter Barbarina, and basically on any other female within a 500-yard radius. Ah, young hormones. Suzanna and Rosina try to weaponize him by... dressing him up as a girl. This is mostly Played for Laughs, but the Count is dangerously territorial, so it can go Mood Whiplash at times.

Of course, since this is comic opera, everything works out in the end. (And yes, it's still hilarious today, if it's played right.)

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The opera is based on a play by Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais, a sequel to his The Barber of Seville, which tells how Figaro entered the Count's employ after helping overcome the difficulties surrounding the Count's own attempt to Marry for Love. The Barber of Seville was also adapted into opera several times, most notably 30 years after The Marriage of Figaro, by a different composer (Rossini) and a different lyricist. Essentially it is a Continuation Fic in the other chronological direction. As mentioned on the Barber page, there is a third play in the series, but nobody cares about it anymore.

Figaro was unusual for being essentially a Lower-Deck Episode: the Official Couple aren't nobility or anywhere near the top of the power structure. Of course, this makes up for the fact that Figaro wasn't the star of Barber, even though it's named after him.

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This opera provides examples of:

  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Cherubino tell us that "If nobody's listening, I speak of love with myself".
  • Attractive Bent-Gender: Cherubino to Susanna and the Countess, just for starters, and with a side of Recursive Cross Dressing (and by extension, implicit Les Yay).
  • Anything That Moves: Cherubino, being in the midst of puberty, by his own admission falls in love with any woman who happens to be nearby.
    "Every woman changes my temperature, every woman makes my heart beat faster."
  • Armor-Piercing Slap: Susanna. Figaro doesn't regret asking her for her hand, though.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Played straight with the Count (though he's more of a Jerkass / Jerk with a Heart of Gold than outright evil), but averted with the Countess. This was a rather daring plot point for its day, as not only is the Count clearly in the wrong, he's outwitted and shamed by his servants and publicly asks forgiveness. Pretty edgy stuff for a comedy in the days before The French Revolution.
  • Batman Gambit: The entire plot. In fact, it's arguably a Batman Gambit Pileup.
  • Bed Trick: The Countess goes to an assignation with the Count in Susanna's clothing. It doesn't play out, though—Susanna is also wearing the Countess's clothing. The Count, not recognizing his wife, starts romancing her. Figaro, seeing only the clothes, gets mad.
  • Beta Couple: The Count and his Countess.
    • Gamma Couple: Marcellina and Dr. Bartolo
      • Delta Couple: Cherubino and Barbarina
  • Butt-Monkey: The Count... except he deserves it.
  • The Casanova: What the Count aspires to be. Susanna begs to differ.
  • Captain Obvious: When Curzio finds out Figaro's parentage, at the would-be wedding to Marcellina, he observes, "He's his father? She's his mother? The wedding cannot continue!"
  • Closet Shuffle: The infamously flirtatious servant Cherubino comes to visit Susanna to tell her all about his troubles after hitting on the count's wife. Then the count comes, and since she doesn't want to be caught alone with Cherubino, she hides him under her bed. The count is there to tell her about all the troubles he's having with Cherubino hitting on his wife (and he's there to hit on Susanna, too), and he's in the middle of this when the music teacher, Basilio, decides to come visit her to tell her all about the local news (also mainly Cherubino's exploits)- and Susanna doesn't want to get caught alone with the count, either, so she hides him as well. Of course, by the end of the song, all are discovered.
    • And later, when Cherubino goes to visit the Countess, the Count comes knocking then, too, and the Countess hides him in her closet, and tells the Count it's Susanna, her maid. The Count doesn't believe her, and they argue over it until he's about to tear down the door... and then the closet opens and out walks Susanna - she and Cherubino switched, and Cherubino left through the window. Then the gardener comes to complain about window jumpers...
  • Crosscast Role: Cherubino is played by a mezzo-soprano.
  • Distinguishing Mark: Figaro has a birthmark in the shape of a spatula.
  • Double Entendre: The Love Letter Lunacy written to fake-seduce the Count reads as follows: "A gentle breeze will sigh this evening under the pine in the thicket... He'll understand the rest." This gets a whole duet ("Che soave zeffiretto"). Yes, Mozart seriously got away with that in a Classical opera.
  • Droit du Seigneur: Count Almaviva, who wants to seduce Susanna, threatens to reinstate this feudal custom. Problem is, he's the one who got rid of it in the first place on his estate, which all his people think is very noble of him.
  • Ensemble Cast: Despite Figaro getting the title role, there are no less than eleven named characters, all of whom have important dramatic parts. This makes it a popular choice to produce at music conservatories, as multiple singers get a chance to shine.
  • Easily Forgiven: At the end, the Countess forgives her husband for trying to blackmail a young woman into having an affair with him.
    • With the exception of Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute, nearly all of Mozart's Operas end with the antagonist being unconditionally forgiven of any wrong-doing (though they usually never succeed in their attempts to do wrong, anyway).
  • Exact Words: Figaro, teasing an unamused Susanna, says "Give me your hand." So she slaps him. He kind of had it coming at that point.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Almaviva was passionately in love with Rosina in The Barber of Seville; in Marriage of Figaro he's the villain. No explanation is given for his new Jerkass persona.
  • Farce: This is one of the funniest comic operas, easily capable of getting huge laughs from modern audiences. The Love Dodecahedron barely scratches the surface of all the hijinks going on.
  • Forgiveness: The Count asks his wife's forgiveness in the touching aria "Contessa, perdono!"
  • Genius Ditz: Barabarina is either this or Obfuscating Stupidity.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: the libretto is a concentrate of innuendos. One for all: the aria "Che soave zeffiretto" talks about a "boschetto". That is literally "grove", but maybe "bush" would do more justice to the double entendre...
  • Guile Hero: Figaro. Susanna. Even the Countess and Barbarina get a bit.
  • Humiliation Conga: The Count, in the end, is outwitted by his servants and exposed for philandering. Humiliated, he publicly asks his wife for forgiveness.
  • Hypocrite: The Count is very jealous when he suspects the Countess of being unfaithful to him, despite him actively trying to cheat on her. This comes back to bite him in the Humiliation Conga.
  • Idiot Ball: There's at least one onstage at any given time.
  • The Ingenue: Subverted with Barbarina's apparently artless blackmailing of the Count.
  • "I Want" Song: Both of Cherubino's arias are this, of the most inclusive kind. The Count gets an angry version when he works out he's been fooled, Rosina gets a mournful one, and Susanna gets one where she pretends not to know Figaro's listening in.
  • Jerkass: The Count is being unfaithful to his wife, trying to manipulate his manservant's fiancée into bed, and going after teenaged Barbarina on the other side. His comeuppance is richly deserved.
  • Keet: Cherubino. Let's see: Small, cute, colorful, hyperactive, loud, and "often subject to a crossdressing escapade"?
  • Kid-anova: Cherubino. This, in addition to territoriality, is probably why the Count, no slouch in The Casanova department himself, is jealous of him.
  • Lovable Sex Maniac: Cherubino is the Keet variety.
  • Love at First Sight: Cherubino, with every female he sees. Every. His biggest (and longest-lasting) crush is on the Countess, but he considers her "too high above him" to do more than gaze at her longingly during dinners. First Girl Wins in more ways than one — he marries Barbarina (the first girl he mentions), who he was caught with in her room, but in the third play, he has a child with the Countess (his first crush), who gave in at some point. Since he went off to get himself killed in a war after she told him that they can never be together again, one can safely assume that he didn't handle being a rejected Ladykiller in Love too well...
  • Love Dodecahedron: Right. Here we go. Figaro and Susanna are happy together and about to be married. The Count and the Countess are already married, but aren't happy. The Countess still loves the Count, but he'd rather be off reinstating the droit de seigneur with Susanna (and it's implied he's taken full advantage of this same right in the past with other women). Marcellina has a weird crush on Figaro up until she learns he's her son, and she used to have a thing going on with Bartolo, which is then reignited when they find out they still have a child. Cherubino is a heterosexual male in the middle of puberty and so by definition wants to sleep with every female he sees, but especially Susanna, Barbarina and the Countess. Barbarina reciprocates, and the Countess reciprocates in the sequel. Bartolo still doesn't seem to have quite got over his crush on the Countess from the first play. Oh, and Barbarina also seems to have once had a thing going on with the Count, but now she only loves him "like a kitten", as opposed to her more erotic love for Cherubino. And... the Count seems to have rediscovered his feelings for his wife by the end. Got all that?
  • Love Letter Lunacy: As a part of their Batman Gambit to stop the Count's marriage veto, Countess Rosina and Susanna decide to write a fake love letter from the latter to him. Then, the Countess would show up in Susanna's clothes.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: The Marcellina subplot is resolved when she learns that she's Figaro's mother, courtesy of aforementioned spatula. (His father is Dr. Bartolo.)
  • Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: The septet at the end of act II, where everyone reacts to the news that Figaro is going to have to marry Marcellina.
  • Meido: Susanna.
  • Not What It Looks Like: After Marcellina discovers that she's Figaro's mother, they embrace and are reconciled. Susanna walks in while this is happening and is... upset.
    • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: this gets set straight within the next 30 measures.
    • Also Cherubino being in the Countess's cupboard, and several times in the last act due to people being dressed as each other.
  • Rated M for Manly: "Non piu andrai" is about Cherubino leaving behind The Dandy lifestyle for the army, where badass mustaches, glory, nice hats and explosions are the norm.
  • Recursive Crossdressing: Cherubino, a male role being played by a woman, ends up disguised as a girl at one point. This leads to the wonderful moment of a female actor, in-character as a male, trying to walk like a woman and instead striding about manfully. In a dress. While Rosina instructs "him" in how to impersonate a female.
  • Relative Error: Susanna is upset to see Figaro embracing Marcellina, who has been trying to marry him for the first few acts. A bit unusually for such a farce, this is resolved in just a few minutes: Figaro is quick to explain it's Not What It Looks Like; they're celebrating that they've just found out Marcellina is Figaro's mother.
  • Servile Snarker: Susanna in particular, but Figaro counts as well.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Rosina has gone a long way since The Barber of Seville. She's gentler and more mellow, but it's mostly because of being afraid of her husband's violent jealousy. Her younger naive but crafty self is there and sometimes pops up, specially in the Love Letter Lunacy subplot.
  • Sleeping with the Boss: What the Count hopes Susanna will do.
  • Spoof Aesop: Don Basilio's cut song "Lies Threats Rumors and Death can all be avoided if you wear an ass's skin"
  • That Reminds Me of a Song: Cherubino supposedly wrote "Voi Che Sapete" as a love song for, well, whichever woman he's in love with at the moment. He's eventually persuaded to sing it to the Countess and Susanna.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Count Almaviva compared to The Barber of Seville. In that play/opera, he asks Figaro's help to (successfully) romance Rosina. Fast forward to Figaro, and he's trying to steal his right hand man's fiancee. Dude, really?
  • Unexplained Recovery: In-story: Figaro pretends to have sprained his ankle from jumping out the window (when in fact it was Cherubino who had jumped). Later that day, he begins to dance. When the Count comments on his ankle, Figaro simply says "It got better!"
  • The Uriah Gambit: When Cherubino discovers Count Almaviva's intentions with Susanna, the Count "promotes" him to military service before Cherubino has the chance to blackmail him.
  • Villain Song: The Count's Vedro mentr'io sospiro counts, as do the songs sung by Bartolo and Marcellina in Act I.
  • "The Villain Sucks" Song:
    • Se vuol ballare, Signor Contino. Susanna's part of the preceding duet (Se in casa Madama) is also a version of this, spelling things out for Figaro with a few well-directed sneers at "il caro Contino".
    • The Countess's Dove Sono, or "Doesn't it just suck how my husband doesn't love me any more?"
  • Volleying Insults: Susanna and Marcellina's duet Via, resti servita is initially a stealth version of this, getting less stealthy by the strofe as Susanna gets more cutting and Marcellina loses her cool.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: As part of the Bed Trick, Susanna and the Countess switch clothes to trick the Count.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: The plan to fool the Count keeps changing as new stuff happens.

Alternative Title(s): Le Nozze Di Figaro

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