With the French Revolution looming Pierre Beaumarchais wrote the French comedy “The Barber of Seville” in 1773. It was conceived as an Opera comique and not performed until much later due to political and legal problems with the author. Mozart was intrigued by the material and wrote an Italian Opera buffa ‘The Marriage of Figaro‘ although abstained from much of the political innuendo of the ‘commoners against nobility’ message since previous incarnations of the play had been banned by the authorities.
Mozart as usual was under time pressure to complete the Opera. The story of the opera starts where Beaumarchais’ play ends: at the court of the Count Almaviva. It tells how the servants Figaro and Susanna succeed in getting married, foiling the efforts of their philandering employer Count Almaviva to seduce Susanna and teaching him a lesson in fidelity.
It is considered one of the greatest Operas ever written. In 2017, BBC News Magazine asked 172 opera singers to vote for the best operas ever written. The Marriage of Figaro came in at No. 1 out of the 20 operas featured. Interestingly in its premiere the orchestra had difficulties coming to terms with Mozart’s complicated music. Also, the Viennese audience, was more attuned to the works of the popular Salieri, and were not overly thrilled. In Prague they raved and celebrated Mozart for three weeks.
Today’s extract from the Opera ‘Ecco la marcia‘ (Here is the procession) appears in the finale of the Third act with the double wedding, during the course of which Susanna delivers her letter to the Count. Figaro watches the Count prick his finger on the pin, and laughs, unaware that the love-note is an invitation for the Count to tryst with Figaro’s own bride Susanna. As the curtain drops, the two newlywed couples rejoice.