The opera takes place in a manor house near Seville. Within this one house are numerous plots, much intrigue, and complicated relationships among the characters.


The delightful and bubbling overture is written in more or less in sonata form. Although the themes here are not repeated elsewhere in the opera, they are consistent with the music that follows.

Act I: The Room Assigned to Figaro and Susanna

Figaro is busy measuring the size of the room given to him and Susanna, his bride-to-be. Both are servants to the Count and Countess Almaviva, and they are preparing for their wedding. They sing an opening duet "Cinque, dieci". Although Figaro remarks that the room's location will make it easy for him to wait on his master, the more astute Susanna knows better. The proximity of the room to the Count's chambers will facilitate the Count's efforts to seduce her. In fact, he has already tried, exercising his right as the lord of the manor. This droit de Seigneur gave the master the right to deflower the brides of his feudal dependents. Figaro and Susanna sing a duet in which Susanna mocks the high and low bells of the Count and Countess ("Se a casa madama"). Figaro vows to seek revenge, singing: "Se vuol ballare, signor contino" ("If you wish to dance, my little Count"). Dr. Bartolo, still harboring a grudge against Figaro for outwitting him in Barber of Seville, appears with his former housekeeper, the aging Marcellina, who has her eyes on Figaro. Claiming that Figaro owes her money, she insists that he either repay or marry her. Susanna and Marcellina, rivals for Figaro's hand in marriage, exchange biting insults.

When Susanna returns to her room, the adolescent boy Cherubino enters in a rush. He confides in Susanna, confessing his love for all the women in the house, particularly the Countess. He describes his feeling in the endearing aria "Non so piu cosa son" ("I know not what I am doing"). The Count appears again, attempting to seduce Susanna. Cherubino quickly hides behind a large armchair. Basilio, the busy body music teacher, approaches, and the Count hides behind the same chair while Cherubino quickly sneaks around to the front to avoid discovery. Susanna covers him with a dress. Basilio tells Susanna that everyone knows about Cherubino's crush on the Countess. Overhearing the conversation, the Count can't restrain himself. Furious at what he has overheard, the Count steps forward in anger. In an ascending line that conveys his emotions, he demands an explanation. Just a short while ago he discovered Cherubino under a table flirting with Barbarina, and he demonstrates the way in which he lifted a tablecloth and found the lad. To his surprise, Cherubino is again hiding and has overheard his attempts to seduce Susanna.

Chasing Cherubino into the hall, the Count encounters Figaro and the entire household, who have assembled to sing praises of their master. The Count renounces his droit de Seigneur and blesses the marriage of Figaro and Susanna. Rather than performing the wedding on the spot, the Count postpones the ceremony until later in the day. In order to spite the crowd and to silence Cherubino, he orders the young lad to join the army immediately. Singing the mock military aria "Non piu andrai" ("Now your days of philandering are over"), Figaro ironically tells Cherubino what to expect – no flirting, no fancy clothes, no money – just cannons, bullets, marching, and mud.

Act II: The Countess' apartment

We meet Countess Rosina in her bedroom. Evoking great empathy from the audience, she sings of the happiness in her past and the loss of love in her present life. In the touching cavatina "Porgi amor" ("Love thou holy purest impulse") she prays that the Count's affection may be restored to her or that she can find escape in death. Encouraged by Figaro and Susanna, she agrees to set a trap for the Count. They will send Cherubino, disguised as Susanna, to a pre-arranged rendezvous with the Count that very night. Simultaneously they will make him believe that the Countess is having an affair with another man.

Cherubino enters, delighted to see the Countess again. He sings the simple and sentimental "Voi che sapete" "(What is this feeling?"), a portrayal of his youthful love. The Countess and Susanna begin dressing him as a girl. As Susanna arranges his costume, she sings the humorous aria "Venite, inginocchiatevi" ("Come, kneel down"). The Countess notices Cherubino's officer's commission, observing that the seal has been forgotten.

The Count knocks on the door. To his dismay, it is locked. At the sound of the knocking, Susanna steps into an adjoining room and Cherubino hides in the dressing room. The Countess opens the door for her husband. Hearing a sudden noise in the dressing room, he doubts his wife's claim that Susanna is inside. The three sing a trio that expresses their respective emotions – i.e. the Count's fury, his wife's terror, and Susanna's anxious assessment of the situation. Taking the Countess with him, the Count leaves in search of a crowbar to force open the door. As soon as they leave, Susanna enters the room and helps Cherubino escape through the window.


(Act II continued)

The comic finale of Act II begins as the Count and Countess return. To their surprise, Susanna emerges from the room. The Count begs his wife's forgiveness for suspecting that she had deceived him. All appears to be well until Antonio, the gardener, enters with broken flowerpots and complains that someone has jumped from the window onto his flowers. Rushing back into the room to announce that all is ready for the wedding, Figaro quickly improvises, fakes a limp, and claims that he's the one who jumped. Antonio spoils this story by producing a paper dropped by the fugitive. Prompted by a whisper from the Countess through Susanna, Figaro claims that the paper was in his pocket because it lacked a seal. At that very moment, Bartolo, Marcellina, and Basilio arrive. They wave the contract that Figaro has with Marcellina, claiming that he must postpone his wedding to Susanna. The Count agrees to investigate the situation.

Act III: Great Hall in Almaviva's manor

The Count plans to force Susanna to accept his attentions by threatening to make Figaro marry Marcellina. But Susanna seems ready and willing, promising him a rendezvous later that day. Although he is overjoyed, he then hears Susanna conspiring with Figaro. In a rage, he vows to take his revenge by punishing Figaro instantly and Susanna later. Alone, the Countess recalls her past happiness: "Dove sono" ("They are over"). She is still deeply in love with her husband and ashamed that she needs her servants' help to win him back.

Marcellina enters accompanied by her lawyer Don Curzio. The lawyer demands that Figaro pay his debt or marry Marcellina at once. Figaro has discovered clues suggesting that he might be of noble birth. He explains that he can't marry without his parents' consent. He's been searching for them for many years. As he reveals a spatula shaped birthmark on his arm, Marcellina realizes that Figaro is her long-lost son, fathered by Bartolo.

Susanna arrives to see Figaro and Marcellina embracing and assumes that her fiancé has betrayed her. When she learns the truth, she calms down. Determined to trick the Count, the Countess and Susanna compose a letter confirming the secret rendevous in the garden later that evening. Their song is known as the "Letter Duet", with Susanna repeatedly echoing her mistress' dictation. They seal the letter with a pin that the Count is to return as an indication that he will keep the appointment. The Countess herself, not Cherubino, will meet the Count in disguise.

Dressed as a girl, Cherubino appears with his girlfriend, Barbarina, daughter of Antonio the gardener. Antonio has found Cherubino's cap. He enters and unmasks the young man. The Count is furious that Cherubino has disobeyed his orders. Barbarina interrupts to say that when the Count attempted to seduce her, he promised her anything she wanted. She now wants to marry Cherubino. The Count is forced to agree. With a march playing in the background, everyone assembles for Figaro and Susanna's wedding. As she dances with the Count, Susanna slyly hands him the letter sealed with a pin. Although Figaro sees the exchange, he does not suspect anything out of the ordinary.

Act IV. Garden

At night in the garden, Barbarina bewails her loss of the pin that the Count has asked her to return to Susanna as a sign that he's received her letter. When Figaro and Marcellina appear, Barbarina tells them about the planned meeting between the Count and Susanna. Thinking that Susanna is unfaithful, Figaro launches into a rant about the infidelity of women: "Aprite un po'quegli occhi". He hides when Susanna and the Countess arrive dressed in each other's clothing.

Alone and knowing that Figaro overhears her and suspects her of infidelity, Susanna sings a soliloquy to her supposed lover: "Deh vieni, non tardar" ("Come, do not delay"). She conceals herself, only to see Cherubino attempt to seduce the disguised Countess. Wanting to be alone with the woman he thinks is Susanna, the Count chases Cherubino away. Now aware that all is a joke, Figaro joins in the fun and declares his love for Susanna in her Countess disguise. The Count returns to discover Figaro with the woman he presumes to be his wife and explodes in a rage. At that moment, the real Countess steps forward to reveal her identity. Ashamed, the Count asks for her pardon. After moments of agonizing doubt, she graciously forgives him and both couples are reunited.

Highlights of the Opera

  • The Marriage of Figaro is an opera buffa in four acts. Mozart wrote the music and his frequent collaborator, Lorenzo da Ponte, wrote the libretto. The opera is based on the second comedy in Beaumarchais' trilogy of plays that appeared across a span of 20 years. Rossini's The Barber of Seville is based on the first comedy. To date, nobody has written an opera based on the third comedy, The Culpable Mother. Although the last play was never set to music, it does resolve questions that hang over Figaro. The Culpable Mother ends with the healing of a broken marriage, forgiveness, reconciliations, and the engagement of Leon, the Countess' son by Cherubino. Unfortunately, Cherubino dies, broken hearted and desperate, on the battlefield.
  • Mozart took many liberties with the Beaumarchais play, particularly in the development of individual characters. Beaumarchais needed a third play to resolve some of the issues, while Mozart accomplished fuller emotional development within a single performance. The opera The Marriage of Figaro deals with love and what it might lead to; mature profligacy and romantic adolescent sensuality; love betrayed and love rewarded; tender devotion; possessiveness; and suspicion.
  • The premiere of Figaro took place at the Burgtheater in Vienna on May 1, 1786. Mozart himself conducted. It's not clear when the first performance took place in the United States. Some say it was in 1799 under the title The Follies of a Day. At a performance in English at the Park Theater in New York in 1824, the advertisement boasted the first performance in America. During the early part of the 19th century, English versions of the opera were very popular in the U.S. It was performed in Italian in 1858 and in German in 1862. The premiere at the Metropolitan Opera took place in 1894. The magnificent cast included Sopranos Emma Eames and Lillian Nordica. Edouard de Reszke sang the role of the Count. A new Met production in 1909, conducted by Gustave Mahler, featured, Geraldine Farrar as Cherubino.
  • The opera disappeared from the stage of the Met after the 1917 season until a new production opened in 1940 with Ettore Panizza conducting Ezio Pinza, Elisabeth Rethberg, Bidu Sayao, and Rise Stevens. Since then, the ensemble nature of the opera as well as the appeal of each of the leading roles has attracted many leading singers.
  • Figaro is considered to be one of the great masterpieces of comedy in music. The melodies have charm, perfect form, spontaneity, and apparent naivete, creating wonderful character and situation. The humor of Beaumarchais' play comes through. The libretto is top notch.

Recommended Reading

  • Bolt, R. (2006). The Librettist of Venice.
  • Braunbehrens, V. (1986). Mozart in Vienna.
  • Brown-Montesano, Kristi (2007). Understanding the Women of Mozart's Operas.
  • Gay, P. (1999). Mozart.
  • Greenberg, R. (2002). The Operas of Mozart, Part 2 of 3, Lecture 14.
  • Hildesheimer, W. (1982). Mozart.
  • Kerman, J. (1988). Opera as Drama, rev.ed.
  • Landon, H.C.R. (1990): 1791: Mozart's Last Year.
  • Osborne, C. (1978). The Complete Operas of Mozart.
  • Rushton, J. (1997). Le Nozze di Figaro in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Volume 3.
  • Solomon, M. (1995). Mozart. A Life.
  • Till, N. (1992). Mozart and the Enlightenment. Truth, Virtue and Beauty in Mozart's Operas.
  • Wignall, H.J. (1991). In Mozart's Footsteps. A Travel Guide for Music Lovers.
  • Wolff, C. (2012). Mozart at the Gateway to His Fortune.

About this Website

The website contains links to the music we will hear and other background information.

Questions and Additional Information

Please reach out to Instructor Margie Satinsky with questions and requests for additional information. Contact information is: (919) 383-5998 (home/work), or (919) 812-2235 (cell/text), or margiesatinsky@icloud.com.