Watch Le nozze di Figaro from Garsington Opera
2 November 2017
It is the wedding day of Figaro and Susanna, but will their marriage ceremony ever take place? During the course of a crazy day a series of confusing events unfolds, all brought to life by Mozart’s music of consummate grace, wit and joyous invention. Watch Garsington Opera's summer 2017 production in full below, until 2 May 2018.
A brief account of the plot
The action takes place in the late 18th century at the Castle of Aguas Frescas near the city of Seville.
It is the day that Figaro, Count Almaviva’s manservant and Susanna, Countess Almaviva’s maid are due to be married, but there are several obstacles in their way.
The Count has made the liberal gesture of revoking the feudal ius primae noctis (entitling him to the virginity of every female servant on her wedding night) but would like to make an exception for Susanna. Marcellina and Bartolo, both of whom have old scores to settle with Figaro, discuss a plan for getting their revenge.
The Count has offered Susanna a dowry (which could be used to pay off Marcellina) but on the condition that she sleeps with him first. During the course of the day, Figaro attempts to outwit his master, while the Count does his best to delay the wedding and Cherubino, his page, creates havoc by falling for every woman in sight.
Marcellina’s claim collapses when it turns out that Figaro is her long-lost son by Bartolo, leaving the Count unable to delay the wedding any longer. Susanna and the Countess, under cover of darkness, decide to teach the Count a lesson and dress up in each other’s clothes, resulting in the Count making love to his own wife in error. On discovering his mistake he is obliged to beg her forgiveness, which she grants.
A room in the castle, morning
Figaro is measuring the floor of the bedroom that has been assigned to him and Susanna by the Count. Susanna warns Figaro of their master's designs on her. Figaro has unwisely signed a contract agreeing to marry Marcellina, a spinster from Seville, if he fails to repay a sum of money that he once borrowed from her. She proposes to enforce the contract and Bartolo agrees to support her.
Cherubino is in disgrace because the Count has discovered him in a compromising situation with Barbarina, the gardener's daughter. Hearing the Count approach, Cherubino hides and overhears the Count propositioning Susanna. When Basilio arrives, the Count tries to hide in the same place and discovers Cherubino.
Susanna and Figaro ask for the Count's blessing on their marriage, but he postpones the ceremony until later in the day, after the hearing of Marcellina's case for breach of promise. Realising that he has been overheard, the Count forces on Cherubino a commission in his regiment, with orders to depart on active service with immediate effect.
The Countess's bedroom, later the same morning
The Countess laments the loss of her husband's love. Figaro alarms her and Susanna by telling them that he has sent the Count an anonymous letter, warning him that the Countess is planning to meet a lover. The plot develops: Susanna will agree to an assignation with the Count that night but her place will be taken by Cherubino, dressed as a girl. The Countess can then catch them red-handed.
Figaro leaves the women to dress Cherubino accordingly, at which point the Count, having received the incriminating letter, storms in to confront his wife. Thanks to Susanna's quick thinking, Cherubino manages to hide and then makes his escape via a window.
The women confess to the Count that the letter was a hoax, before Figaro returns and complicates matters by denying all knowledge of it. Anotonio the gardener demands to know who has jumped into his flower bed. Marcellina has recruited Bartolo and Basilio as witnesses in the pursuance of her case. In the confusion, Figaro's wedding seems under serious threat.
A hall in the castle, evening
Susanna deceives the Count into thinking that she will meet him in the garden but his suspicions are aroused and he is determined to outwit her. The Countess reflects on her past happiness and present wretchedness and humiliation.
The Count's lawyer, Don Curzio, concludes that Marcellina's contract is legal: Figaro must either pay her or marry her. However, it emerges that Figaro is the long-lost natural son of Marcellina and Bartolo, who decide that they had better marry each other at once and make him legitimate.
The Countess agrees to take Susanna's place, wearing her clothes, to meet the Count in the garden. At her dictation, Susanna writes a letter confirming the assignation and fastens it with a pin, which he is to send back as acceptance. Meanwhile, Cherubino has been dressing up again and, encouraged by Barbarina, appears as one of a group of peasant girls. The Count penetrates his disguise but his anger is undermined by Barbarina.
As the double wedding is celebrated with singing and dancing, Susanna contrives to give the letter to the Count. Figaro observes the exchange.
The garden, night
The Count has given Barbarina the pin to return to Susanna but she has lost it. Figaro finds her looking for the pin and leaps to the wrong conclusion, thinking that Susanna has made a genuine assignation with the Count.
The Countess and Susanna are disguised as each other and, in the darkness, a series of mistaken identities ensues. Figaro hides and watches as 'Susanna' pretends to long for the Count's embraces, in order to pay Figaro back for suspecting her. Cherubino makes advances to the Countess, thinking she is Susanna. The Count makes the same mistake.
Susanna carries on pretending to be the Countess but Figaro recognises her and they kiss and make up. The Count, seeing Figaro apparently making love to his wife, summons everyone to the spot to expose the treachery. The true state of affairs becomes clear. The Count acknowledges that he is in the wrong and the Countess gracefully yields to his entreaty for forgiveness. All join to proclaim her generous humanity.
Figaro (servant to Count Almaviva) - Joshua Bloom
Susanna (maid to Countess Almaviva) - Jennifer France
Doctor Bartolo (former guardian to Countess Almaviva) - Stephen Richardson
Marcellina (his housekeeper) - Janis Kelly
Cherubino (page to Count Almaviva) - Marta Fontanals-Simmons
Don Basilio (a music teacher) - Timothy Robinson
Count Almaviva - Duncan Rock
Countess Almaviva - Kirsten MacKinnon
Antonio (head gardener) - Andrew Tipple
Don Curzio (a lawyer) - Alun Rhys-Jenkins
Barbarina (his daughter) - Alison Rose
Bridesmaids - Hollie-Anne Bangham, Hazel McBain
Garsington Opera Orchestra & Chorus
Conductor - Douglas Boyd
Director - John Cox
Designer - Robert Perdziola
Lighting designer - Mark Jonathan
Associate director - Bruno Ravella
Choreographer - Kate Flatt
In conversation: Douglas Boyd and John Cox talk to Henrietta Bredin
Where do we start, to talk about what John Cox unhesitatingly calls "the best opera ever written"? We settle on the fact that it all takes place within the framework of a single day, and the way in which audiences are plunged directly into the characters’ lives.
It's as much about the marriage of the Count and the Countess as it is about the marriage of Figaro and SusannaJohn Cox
Cox and Dougie Boyd have worked together before, on this opera and on Fidelio, and they clearly enjoy each other’s company and appreciate each other’s opinions.
"It’s a question of momentum, I think," says Boyd, "within the compressed time-frame – even when the music is serene, it’s never static. From the conducting point of view, it’s nothing to do with tempo, nothing to do with speed, but everything about a wheel that keeps on turning."
"You could apply that to all three of the Da Ponte operas," says Cox. "Don Giovanni could take place within a night and a day, and Così fan tutte; the timeframe there is not much longer than a day. Anyway, to cut to the chase – The Marriage of Figaro is as much about the marriage of the Count and the Countess as it is about the marriage of Figaro and Susanna.
"One marriage is on the rocks as the opera begins; the other one just about happens in Act Three and by the middle of Act Four is practically in ruins. That kind of circumstantial compression is energising dramatically as well as musically, together with the fact that both marriages are so closely interrelated in their fates."
"That complexity and the fact that different emotions and states of mind can be expressed simultaneously through music is unique," agrees Boyd, "and it’s one of the most magical moments in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus. I went to the National Theatre’s production recently and have been thinking about it ever since.
"Mozart talks about how music is the only artform where you can have maybe four people expressing four different emotions at exactly the same time. And of course he’s absolutely right and he’s a consummate master of that.
"If you’re in the audience, you don’t have to shift your attention from one character to another, you can register the fact that he’s in love, she’s in despair, she’s afraid, he’s angry – Beethoven does it marvellously as well, with Mir ist so wunderbar in Fidelio." "And so does Haydn," adds Cox, "in La fedeltà premiata. That could possibly have been Mozart’s model."
Mozart talks about how music is the only artform where four people can express four different emotions at the same timeDougie Boyd
Along with this revelatory way of making complex individual thoughts and emotions clear and communicative, in this opera Mozart and Da Ponte cut through existing conventions by giving each character – from the master, Count Almaviva, to Barbarina, the gardener’s daughter – their own weight and importance and individuality.
"Coming back to stage this production for the third time," says Cox, "I’ve been thinking about the Queen’s response to this opera. Do you know the story?
"She’d been invited to a performance at Glyndebourne to celebrate their 50th anniversary and George Christie, the chairman of the company, offered her a choice from the operas they were performing that season.
"She looked at the list and said, 'Figaro? That’s the one about the pin – I’ve seen that'. And she was quite right! Barbarina isn’t one of the major characters but by losing a tiny thing like a pin she is unwittingly the instrument of the Count’s undoing, and she also brings Figaro to the edge of the abyss. All of that is superbly crafted by Da Ponte."
Boyd starts laughing – "And it all leads up to that most devastatingly painful and beautiful moment when the Count turns to beg the Countess for her forgiveness.
"I remember when we were rehearsing that last time, I was conducting and the Countess came out from behind a statue of Venus. The music reached that sublime point, and you suddenly stopped the rehearsal and asked, 'Is that all you’re going to do there?'"
Both men roar with laughter. "Well," says Cox, "it had been a wearing session, trying to get the lighting sorted, making the statue look as if it might have been there for a hundred years rather than ten minutes and I was thinking, 'All this needs now is the music and it will be fine' – and you didn’t quite come up with the goods."
"OK, I forgive you," says Boyd. "And I of course forgave you," replies Cox.
About Garsington Opera
Garsington Opera stages a summer opera festival each June - July in the romantic setting of Wormsley, a traditional English country estate owned by the Getty Family. The very best singers from around the world perform at the festival each season, as well as many rising stars from the UK.
Just an hour from London, near High Wycombe, Garsington Opera is renowned for productions of the highest quality, housed in a spectacular Opera Pavilion with superb acoustics and unique views of the beautiful gardens and Chiltern Hills beyond.