The characters

Figaro

Figaro

Voice type: Bass-baritone

Character traits:

  • Clever
  • Daring
  • Enterprising

Need to know:

  • The main character in a popular trilogy of plays by French playwright Beaumarchais 

  • The same Figaro as in Il barbiere di Siviglia but several years older

  • Based on the wily servants of commedia dell’arte, the improvised Italian popular comedy dating back to the Renaissance

Susanna

Susanna

Voice type: Soprano

Character traits:

  • Clever
  • Brave
  • Resourceful

Need to know:

  • The opera’s longest role – she's rarely off stage, has two arias and sings in every ensemble

  • Based on the clever, feisty female servants of commedia dell’arte

  • Uses all her charm and wits to fend off the advances of her boss, the Count, and remain faithful to her fiancé, Figaro

Count Almaviva

Count Almaviva

Voice type: Baritone

Character traits:

  • Arrogant
  • Entitled
  • Lecherous

Need to know:

  • Lord of the Aguas-Frescas estate, near Seville, where Le nozze di Figaro takes place
  • In Il barbiere di Siviglia, the first play of the Beaumarchais Figaro trilogy, he hires Figaro to help him win his beloved Rosina, now Countess Almaviva
  • Having won his Countess, he has become bored with married life and now uses his noble rank to prey upon subordinate women

Countess Almaviva

Countess Almaviva

Voice type: Soprano

Character traits:

  • Faithful
  • Courageous
  • Forgiving

Need to know:

  • The spirited young Rosina from Il barbiere di Siviglia, who Figaro and Count Almaviva take away from her guardian, Dr Bartolo

  • In Le nozze di Figaro Rosina has become a mature woman, despondent over her husband’s infidelity

  • Not too proud to enlist the help of her servant and confidante, Susanna, who she regards as an equal

Cherubino

Cherubino

Voice type: Mezzo-soprano (sometimes soprano)

Character traits:

  • Charming
  • Passionate
  • Reckless

Need to know:

  • An example of a ‘trouser role’ in opera: a woman playing an adolescent boy with an unbroken voice

  • A young adolescent ruled by his hormones, he is in love with the Countess but that doesn’t stop him flirting with Susanna, Barbarina and any other young woman

  • Before La mère coupable, the third play of the Figaro trilogy, Countess Almaviva gives birth to the child of Cherubino, who has been killed in battle

The story

Act I

Wedding preparations

Figaro and Susanna are to wed. While Susanna tries on a wedding bonnet, Figaro measures the room offered to them by their master, Count Almaviva. Susanna points out its dangerous proximity to the lecherous Count’s own room. Figaro vows to thwart him. 

Enter a rival

Figaro’s old enemy Dr Bartolo and his former servant Marcellina arrive with a marriage contract between Marcellina and Figaro, which they intend to enforce. Susanna arrives and exchanges subtle insults with Marcellina.

Cherubino enters, miserable he is being sent to the army after the Count found him dallying with the gardener’s daughter, Barbarina. Seeing the Count approach, he hides. 

 

Cherubino sent away

The Count makes a pass at Susanna, but hides when Don Basilio, the gossipy singing teacher, arrives. Basilio’s mention of Cherubino gazing longingly at the Countess draws the Count out of hiding. Demonstrating how he discovered Cherubino in Barbarina’s room, he finds him yet again.

The Count is interrupted by the arrival of Figaro and a group of servants praising the Count for abolishing the ancient feudal right of a master to sleep with the virgin brides of his servants. The Count sends Cherubino off to join his regiment.

Act II

Cherubino hides

The Countess laments her husband’s neglect.

Figaro tells the Countess and Susanna his plan to send a crossdressed Cherubino to meet the Count in place of Susanna. Susanna dresses Cherubino, then leaves to get her dress. Since the Countess and Cherubino are now alone together, the Count’s arrival causes him to hide in the closet.

When a noise is heard from the closet, the Countess claims it is Susanna, who, unobserved, returns and hides behind a screen.

The switch

The Count demands that Susanna emerge from the closet. Taking the Countess with him, he goes to fetch tools to open the door.

Susanna releases Cherubino, who escapes through the window, while she enters the closet.

Returning with the Count, the Countess confesses it is Cherubino in the closet. Both are amazed when Susanna emerges.

Figaro lands in confusion

Figaro arrives. The gardener Antonio bursts in complaining that someone jumped from the window – Figaro claims it was him.

The Count is relieved when Bartolo, Marcellina and Basilio enter demanding Figaro marry Marcellina or repay his debt to her. All ends in confusion.

Act III

The Count persists

The Count continues his pursuit of Susanna.

He thinks she has accepted until he overhears her telling Figaro they have won their case. 

Family reunited

While the Countess ponders her unhappy marriage, the court case to decide on Marcellina’s marriage contract is resolved in her favour.

Figaro plays one last card – stolen as a baby from a respectable family, he requires his parents’ consent. When he describes his history and a distinguishing mark, Marcellina recognises Figaro as her long-lost son – Bartolo is his father.

The family is reunited and Susanna and Marcellina reconciled.

Sending a message

Susanna and the Countess write a letter from Susanna to the Count, inviting him to a tryst and asking him to return a pin as confirmation.

A group of servant girls arrive offering flowers to the Countess. Among them she recognises Cherubino, but unfortunately so does the Count. Barbarina, however, forces him to agree to let her marry Cherubino.

As the wedding celebrations begin, Susanna passes the letter to the Count.

Act IV

The lost pin

That night in the garden Figaro and Marcellina overhear Barbarina lamenting losing the pin she was supposed to return to Susanna, and they realise its significance. Figaro resolves to interrupt the tryst, but Marcellina decides to warn Susanna. 

Barbarina arrives and hides, soon followed by Figaro and his witnesses, Bartolo and Basilio. Disguised in one another’s clothes, Susanna and the Countess arrive to trap the Count.

Mistaken identity

Cherubino arrives, seeking Barbarina, but believing he sees Susanna, takes the opportunity to flirt with her. The Count violently replaces him and ‘Susanna’ escapes.

Mayhem ensues as the disguises confuse both the Count and, at first, Figaro, who is caught apparently trying to seduce the Countess.

Pardon granted

The Count calls for his witnesses. He refuses to forgive the ‘Countess’ for her apparent infidelity until the real Countess enters, astounding everyone.

When he begs forgiveness, she graciously pardons him, and all celebrate.

The music

Advancing ensembles

Ensembles are the dramatic engine of Le nozze di Figaro. Of the opera’s 28 musical numbers half are ensembles.

All four act finales feature solo and ensemble singing in multiple combinations. 

Minor rarity

Despite all the profound emotions the characters in Le nozze di Figaro experience, nearly all the music is in sunny major keys.

Only one musical number, Barbarina’s short aria at the top of Act IV, is written entirely in a minor key. Other than that there are only two brief bits in minor: the beginning of the Act III duet between the Count and Susanna, and the passage in the Act III finale when the Count pricks his finger with a pin.

Susanna's long-awaited aria

After three acts of frenetic hustle-bustle, a dozen ensembles and an Act II aria that barely seems like one, Susanna finally gets her moment in the spotlight in Act IV.

Her aria, 'Deh vieni, non tardar', a sublime island of calm in this action-packed opera, begins with Susanna pretending to await a tryst with the Count, but soon morphs into a deeply heartfelt expression of her love for Figaro.  

Recommended links

Le nozze di Figaro on DVD

Murashev.com – Italian-English libretto

Mozarteum.at – Mozart’s complete works, digitised for personal use or classroom study

 

Explore more interactive opera guides

Back to top