Mozart – Overture to Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro)

by Max Derrickson

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
(Born in Salzburg in 1756; died in Vienna in 1791)

No composer (not even Bach or Beethoven) has contributed so many works of genius, in so many genres of music, as Mozart has: sacred, chamber, concerti, orchestral and opera.  His output is not only extraordinary in its sheer amount and consistently high quality, but also his uncanny ability to assimilate the styles of his time and add his own innovations to them.  It sounds cliché to say that Mozart approached something of a superhuman quality, but studying his music (or simply just listening to his best-loved works) always provides this same awed assessment.  No genre stands out quite as much as Mozart’s operas, however, in style assimilation, masterwork and innovation.

Opera in the Vienna of the early 1700’s was a curiously Italian affair.  Opera had essentially “grown up” in Italy and for about a century or so the Italians set the standards, so it wasn’t too surprising that Vienna courts would be filled with Italians.  But the popular style by the middle of the 18th Century was Italian Opera buffa – those light-hearted and frivolous dramatic works  [. . .]

All of this, and no less so Mozart’s musical genius, created an opus of operas that are nearly all considered masterpieces, and since their premieres two centuries ago have never been dropped from the repertoire of staged operas the world over.  Mozart brought a rather stodgy genre that he inherited from the Italians into a modern day kind of storytelling, with characters that were more real and current, and music that matched the complicated psychological underpinnings of his characters.  All that, sung to some of the greatest tunes we know.


Overture to Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro)

This was the first of three operas created through Mozart’s collaboration with the librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, a collaboration that shines as one of the great felicitous moments in Western music.  From that partnership, Le nozze di Figaro (1786), Don Giovanni (1787) and Così fan tutte (1790) were born, all among the greatest operas, just as his last three Symphonies, No’s 39, 40 and 41 that Mozart wrote in 1788, are seen as being at the pinnacle of their Classical genre.  Indeed, many regard Le nozze as the greatest Opera buffa ever written.

The libretto by da Ponte was based on a play by the French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais (1732-1799), as a sequel to Beaumarchais’ own The Barber of Seville, which would become famous later as an opera by Rossini.  It cleverly cast aspersions on societal ills in a witty and fast-paced setting, by rather pointedly drawing attention to the age old and basically criminal tradition of “the feudal right”:  [. . .]

In the prequel, Barber of Seville, Figaro is the town barber and general “go-to” man, who paves the way for the character Rosina and Count Almavira to marry.  In Le nozze di Figaro, Rosina is now the married Countess and Figaro is the Count’s servant.  Figaro and the Countess’s maid, Susanna, are now engaged to be married.  But full scale shenanigans [. . .]

The Overture is a self-contained work – meaning [. . .]  The winds and strings open with a frenetic, but quiet, whirling motive that sets the tone for the opera to come – fast paced and filled with intrigue [. . .]