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Le nozze
di Figaro
20 March 2023
Conductor Philippe Jordan
Mise en espace Katharine Strommer and Lisa Padouvas

Mozart Le nozze di Figaro

Opera by the Wiener Staatsoper
Monday 20 March 2023 - 19 h
Opéra de Monte-Carlo

Opera buffa in four acts
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) 
Libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, based on The Marriage of Figaro by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais
Premiere: Vienna, Burgtheater, 1 May 1786

It is one of those theatres, century-old places that have nurtured a spirit, a “house” style for so many years, whose orchestra is made up of musicians from one of the most mythical groups (in our case, nothing less than the Vienna Philharmonic!), standing in a city where the air itself seems to carry the music, and where you must see a performance of an opera by Mozart or Richard Strauss once in your life. For the first time, the Vienna Staatsoper will be giving a unique performance of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro in the Principality, and this a mere few days after having premiered the opera in its famous theatre. Shown in a semi-staged version, this Marriage will be conducted by Philippe Jordan, and his expert performers will let us savour the charms of this particularly idiomatic Viennese style as never before. Thanks to them, Mozart’s music will regain all its poetry, poignancy and its deepest musicality. Even if the spirit of the original comedy is well known, this is an event not to be missed under any circumstances. Rediscover unter practically ideal conditions the strength of feeling and the poetic subtlety with which Mozart’s music empowered Beaumarchais’ play!


1 ©OMC - Cassette Vidéo
Production team
Conductor | Philippe Jordan
Stage manager | Katharina Strommer
Stage manager | Lisa Padouvas
Conte Almaviva | Andrè Schuen
Countess Almaviva | Federica Lombardi
Susanna | Anna El-Khashem
Figaro | Peter Kellner
Marcellina | Stephanie Houtzeel
Basilio | Norbert Ernst
Don Curzio | Andrea Giovannini
Bartolo | Stefan Cerny
Antonio | Wolfgang Bankl
Barbarina | Johanna Wallroth
Cherubino | Isabel Signoret

Artists' biographies
Artistic and technical teams

Philippe Jordan

Stage director
Katharina Strommer
Lisa Padouvas


Conte Almaviva
Andrè Schuen

Countess Almaviva
Federica Lombardi

Anna El-Khashem

Peter Kellner

Isabel Signoret

Stephanie Houtzeel

Norbert Ernst

Don Curzio
Andrea Giovannini

Stefan Cerny

Wolfgang Bankl

Johanna Wallroth


Bogdan Roščić

General Manager
Petra Bohuslav

Tour Manager
Stephanie Wippel

Assistant tour manager
Helena Bilgeri

Orchestra Manager
Christine Honolke

Chorus Master
Thomas Lang

Céline Restier

Stage managers
Elisabeth Pelz
Andreas Fischer

Felicitas Schönauer

Orchestra technicians
Martin Stangl
Ernest Steinwender

Social media
Hemma Gritsch

Petra Bartel
Maria Goldmann

Jakub Topor

Wiener Staatsoper Orchestra

Rainer Honeck

Violins I
Maxim Brilinsky
Martin Zalodek
Isabelle Ballot
Andreas Großbauer
Lara Kusztrich
Ekaterina Frolova
Petra Kovačič

Violons II
Hannah Cho
Martin Klimek
Harald Krumpöck
Ben Lea
Johannes Kostner
Martina Miedl

Christian Frohn
Robert Bauerstatter
Ursula Ruppe
Innokenti Grabko
Michael Strasser

Péter Somodari
Raphael Flieder
Ursula Wex
Bernhard Hedenborg

Double bass
Herbert Mayr
Jerzy Dybał
Filip Waldmann

Karl-Heinz Schütz
Karin Bonelli

Clemens Horak
Herbert Maderthaner

Daniel Ottensamer
Andrea Götsch

Lukas Schmid
Wolfgang Koblitz

Ronald Janezic
Jan Janković

Stefan Haimel
Daniel Schinnerl-Schlaffer 

Thomas Lechner

Choir of the Wiener Staatsoper

Nukumi Kyoko
Segarra María Isabel
Lühn-Skibinski Daliborka
Danielová Denisa
Exner Krisztina
Last Kaya Maria

Lach Anna
Peros Irina
Reiter Barbara
Kogler Sabine
Meijts Dymfna
Agur Kristina

Höft Burkhard
Krzyszkowski Jacek
Lauder Roman
Ho Meng-Chieh
Hara Christoph Levente
Lökös Daniel

Thyringer Martin
Huber Konrad
Pizarro-Enríquez Alejandro
Markovits Csaba
Sano Wataru
Pfeiffer Ferdinand

A few words with Philippe Jordan

Philippe Jordan

What does Monte Carlo mean to you? 

I have a special relationship with Monte Carlo in more ways than one. Among other things, because my father [Ed.: the late Swiss conductor Armin Jordan] conducted the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo –not least, he recorded the music for Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Parsifal film with this orchestra, in which he also portrayed Amfortas. Incidentally my first, intense encounter with Parsifal. And: there were talks about my taking over the OPMC! But in the end Paris prevailed…


How do you sense the heritage of the Viennese Classical period in Austria, how is it imparted?

When working with the wonderful Orchestra of the Vienna Staatsoper, you can always feel how much the music from the Viennese Classical period is anchored in the DNA of these musicians: you notice it in the way they play, in their sound and especially in their unique phrasing. They all know how to phrase collectively, how to breathe and feel together: that is cultivated in Vienna, in Austria, from an early age and passed on and handed down in this orchestra over a long period of time.


How do you cultivate this heritage? 

Mozart remains the foundation of the Vienna Staatsoper’s extensive repertoire, and everything else is built upon it: also how you play Verdi and Wagner, or how you develop the ensemble of singers. Therefore, the preservation of this style remains one of our top priorities. And our idea of reviving the concept of a Mozart ensemble aims at establishing a consistent style for the Staatsoper in general.


The Orchestra of the Vienna Staatsoper…

… has an incredible personality and is characterised by the magnificent Viennese sound –the Wiener Klang–, i.e. a soft and warm tone that emanates from, among others, unique instruments such as the Viennese horn, oboe and timpani. Therefore, this orchestra’s sound is by nature far closer to Mozart’s times than that of most other groups.One often associates it with the Romantic period, but the references to the Classical period are almost stronger.


How do you see the ensemble of the Vienna Staatsoper and how do you look after it?

The outstanding ensemble of singers is a cornerstone of our institution! Together, we spend much time at music rehearsals: there, we work on articulation, colours, dynamics and the text. Mozart is also incredibly important and healthy for what we call our “musical hygiene”!


A tip for Cecilia Bartoli in her new position as director of an opera house? 

Stay the way you are!


Act I

Figaro’s and Susanna’s bedroom. Figaro, the valet, is measuring the space for his nuptial bed, offered to him by Count Almaviva. Meanwhile Susanna, Figaro’s fiancée, tries on the bridal hat she will be wearing for their wedding that day (duet “Cinque, dieci, venti, trenta”). Their bedroom has been assigned to them by the Count, but Susanna is upset when she finds out that it is next door to their masters’ bedroom. Figaro, on the contrary, is delighted (duet “Se a caso madama”). Susanna explains that she is unhappy because the Count has started to pursue her as he is bored with his wife. Aided and abetted by Basilio the Count is trying to seduce her, even though he has officially abolished the feudal right which authorizes the lord of the manor to sleep with his servant’s bride. Alone, Figaro vows to foil his master’s plans (aria “Se vuol ballare”). He exits.

Marcellina, the old housekeeper, enters with Dottor Bartolo. She shows him a document signed by Figaro promising to marry her, and she is determined for him to honour his promise. Bartolo is only too happy to take revenge on Figaro and he promises to help her (aria “La vendetta”); he leaves. When Susanna arrives Marcellina begins to insult her, but her provocation backfires and she leaves (duet “Via resti servita, Madama brillante”). The page Cherubino arrives, he is very upset. He tells Susanna that the Count dismissed him when he caught him flirting with Barbarina. Chastised by Susanna for not controlling his youthful impulses Cherubino confesses to her that he is unhappy in love. He snatches from her a ribbon belonging to the Countess with whom he is in love (aria “Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio”).

Hearing the Count’s voice Cherubino hides behind the armchair so as not to be caught alone again with a woman. Unaware of the page’s presence, the Count begins to pursue Susanna and tries to get her to agree to a rendez-vous in the garden. They then hear Basilio coming and the Count also dives behind the armchair forcing Cherubino to jump out from his hiding place into the armchair and hide under a dress. Basilio tries to persuade Susanna to give in to the Count, advising her not to show too much affection towards the page as they suspect him of having an eye on the Countess. Hearing this the Count jumps out from his hiding place, vowing to punish Cherubino. Susanna tries in vain to defend him. The Count says that he found the page trying to woo Barbarina and lifts up the dress under which he is hiding. (trio “Cosa sento! Tosto andate, e scacciate il seduttor”). His angry outburst is interrrupted by the arrival of Figaro and a group of peasants who have come to thank the Count for abolishing the droit de seigneur on his land (chorus “Giovani liete”). Figaro asks the Count to place the bridal veil on Susanna to symbolize the abolition of this wicked feudal right. The Count is outraged by this provocation and discreetly asks Basilio to prevent the wedding by helping Marcellina to marry Figaro. Susanna vainly begs the Count to forgive Cherubino, but he decides to draft him into his regiment in Sevilla. Figaro pretends to tease the young lad, but in an aside promises to speak with him before he departs (aria “Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso”).

Act II

The Countess is alone in her boudoir lamenting her condition as a neglected wife (aria “Porgi, amor, qualche ristoro”). Susanna enters and tells her mistress of her husband’s attempts to seduce her. Figaro then appears intent on confronting the Count. The three of them concoct a plan to unmask the flighty Count: they will send him an anonymous letter saying that the Countess is unfaithful to him. Susanna will set up a rendez-vous with the Count, but it is Cherubino disguised as Susanna who will go to the rendez-vous; they will then be caught out by the Countess. Cherubino is sent for and the Countess urges him to sing the love song which he composed for her (aria “Voi, che sapete che cosa é amor”). Susanna dresses Cherubino up as a woman and does his hair; she notices that there is no seal on his regimental commission (aria “Venite inginocchiatevi”). When Susanna leaves the room to fetch a ribbon the Count suddenly appears. Cherubino jumps inside the closet and locks the door. The Count hears the noise and tries to force the closet door open because his suspicions about his wife’s infidelity have been aroused by the anonymous letter. The Countess pretends that it is only Susanna trying on her wedding gown (terzetto “Susanna, or via sortite”). Meanwhile Susanna has returned and watches the scene hidden behind the bed. The Count decides to go and fetch some tools to force the closet door open and takes his wife with him. Before leaving the room they lock all the doors. Susanna seizes the opportunity to take Cherubino’s place in the closet. Cherubino’s only option is to leave by the window (duettino “Aprite presto, aprite”). The Count and Countess return; the Countess reveals the truth to him, that it is not Susanna who is hiding in the closet but Cherubino and that it is all a harmless prank. The Count is furious and threatens to kill the page. But he discovers Susanna in the closet. He asks the Countess to forgive him, which she does. Figaro then arrives and invites everyone to the wedding. The Count shows him the anonymous letter. The two women admit that Figaro wrote it. At first Figaro denies it, but finally confesses. Antonio the gardener then appears and shows a broken vase to the Count, claiming that it had been broken by a man who had jumped out of the window. Figaro saves the situation by saying that he is the culprit. But Antonio then shows them a document he had found which had been dropped by the fugitive. Recognizing it as the letter officially appointing Cherubino as an officer it is now the women’s turn to save the situation and Figaro. They say that Cherubino had given it to Figaro so that he could ask the Count to put his official seal on it. Marcellina, Bartolo and Basilio enter demanding justice for the old governess whom Figaro had promised to marry. The Count decides to postpone the wedding until he has sorted out this confusing situation.


The wedding hall. The Count is pondering over the latest developments when Susanna enters. Unknown to Figaro she and the Countess have devised a plan whereby Susanna asks Almaviva to meet her that evening (duet “Crudel, perchè finora”). In reality it is the Countess who will go to the rendez-vous, wearing her chambermaid’s clothes. As Susanna leaves the room she bumps into Figaro. She assures him that he will win the case Marcellina has brought against him. The Count overhears this and, realizing that he has been duped, vows to seek revenge (aria “Vedrò mentr’io sospiro”).

The trial begins. The judge, Don Curzio, orders Figaro to either repay Marcellina or marry her. Figaro tries to play for time by arguing that his parents are not there to consent to the marriage. He tells them about his childhood as an abandoned child and shows them a birthmark on his right arm. Marcellino recognizes him as her son Raffaello, the love-child she had had with Don Bartolo. Susanna arrives with the dowry offered by the Countess as repayment of the Marcellina’s loan. When she sees Figaro tenderly embracing Marcellina she slaps him, but the old woman explains the latest developments to her. She and Bartolo are to be legally wed, and so there will be a double wedding! (sextet “Riconosci in questo amplesso una madre”). Meanwhile Cherubino has still not left to join his regiment. Barbarina urges him to disguise himself as a woman and to join the group of peasant girls who are going to present flowers to the Countess. Alone, the Countess is reflecting on the happiness she has lost and vows to win her husband back (recitativo accompagnato ed aria “Deh Susanna non vien... Dove sono i bei momenti”). Susanna arrives to tell her the latest news. The Countess dictates a love letter to her to take to the Count, confirming their assignation (duettino “Che soave zefiretto”). As a sign that he agrees to the rendez-vous the Count must return the pin attached to the letter. A chorus of peasant girls, including Cherubino, arrives to serenade the Countess. Antonio quickly unmasks Cherubino and denounces him to the Count who is furious.

Figaro arrives to invite everyone to the wedding and the Count can at last accuse him of all the lies he told in the Countess’s boudoir. While the wedding march is preparing to set off and a fandango is playing, Susanna gives the Count the letter about the assignation. He pricks himself with the pin and drops it, which makes him twice as angry. Figaro helps him to find the pin, thinking that the letter is from a peasant woman. As soon as the pin is retrieved the Count invites everyone to the banquet.

Act IV

In the garden. Barbarina has lost the pin which the Count had sent her to return to Susanna and is desparately looking for it (cavatina “L’ho perduta, me meschina”). She meets Figaro who realizes that the writer of the letter is none other than his young wife. In a fit of jealous rage he seeks comfort from his mother who tries to calm (aria “Il capro e la capretta”). Basilio and Bartolo, who have been sent for by Figaro, reflect on the danger of associating with the high and mighty (aria “In quegli anni, in cui val poco”). Figaro is left alone with his bitter thoughts: he is betrayed by his wife on the very day of of his wedding, and he accuses women of being the ruin of mankind (recitativo accompagnato ed aria “Tutto è disposto... Aprite un po’ quegli occhi”).

Susanna and the Countess enter the garden wearing each other’s clothes. They are followed by Marcellina. Susanna pretends to linger behind to enjoy the breeze, infuriating Figaro (aria “Deh vieni, non tardar”). While the Countess is waiting for the Count at the agreed meeting place Cherubino arrives. Mistaking her for Susanna he tries to kiss her (finale “Pian pianin le andrò più presso”). Figaro observes the scene from his hiding place, venting his bitterness, not realizing that the real Susanna is a couple of feet away from him. The Count then arrives. Furious to find his paramour with another man he tries to slap Cherubino but slaps Figaro instead who has come out of his hiding place.

Alone at last with “Susanna” the Count starts wooing her ; he offers her a ring and tries to lure her into a pavilion. Unable to take it any longer, Figaro makes a noise which makes the Countess run into the pavilion to hide. The Count exits to find out what is going on. Figaro is joined by Susanna who is wearing the Countess’s cloak and imitating her voice. Figaro begins to tell her about the Count’s intentions, but suddenly realizing that it is his wife he pretends to court her. In a fit of jealousy Susanna slaps him. The situation then becomes clear and the newlyweds lovingly reconcile. The Count remains to be confounded. Seeing him arrive Figaro and Susanna continue their game of seduction. The enraged Count seizes Figaro and calls for his entourage to witness the Countess’s adultery (“Gente, gente! All’armi, all’armi!”). In front of Antonio, Basilio, Bartolo and Curzio, he accuses his valet of trying to seduce the Countess. Cherubino comes out of the pavilion, followed by Barbarina, Marcellina and lastly Susanna whom everyone thinks is the Countess. They all condemn her, and Figaro pretends to show remorse. The real Countess then comes out of the other pavilion and exchanges her cloak with Susanna’s. Realizing that he has been tricked the Count asks for his wife’s forgiveness and she grants it. Everyone rejoices over the happy ending and they all leave to rejoin the wedding celebrations.

Claire Delamarche © Opéra de Monte-Carlo 2023
Translated by Mary McCabe

The Vienna Staatsoper

The structure of the opera house was planned by the Viennese architect August Sicard von Sicardsburg, while the inside was designed by interior decorator Eduard van der Nüll. It was also impacted by other major artists such as Moritz von Schwind, who painted the frescoes in the foyer, and the famous “Zauberflöten” (“Magic Flute”) series of frescoes on the veranda. Neither of the architects survived to see the opening of ‘their’ opera house: the sensitive van der Nüll committed suicide, and his friend Sicardsburg died of a stroke soon afterwards.

On May 25, 1869, the opera house solemnly opened with Mozart's Don Giovanni in the presence of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth. The popularity of the building grew under the artistic influence of the first directors: Franz von Dingelstedt, Johann Herbeck, Franz Jauner, and Wilhelm Jahn. The Vienna opera experienced its first high point under the direction of Gustav Mahler. He completely transformed the outdated performance system, increased the precision and timing of the performances, and also utilized the experience of other noteworthy artists, such as Alfred Roller, for the formation of new stage aesthetics.

The years 1938 to 1945 were a dark chapter in the history of the opera house. Under the Nazis, many members of the house were driven out, pursued, and killed, and many works were not allowed to be played.

On March 12, 1945, the opera house was devastated during a bombing, but on May 1, 1945, the Staatsoper “at the Volksoper” opened with a performance of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. On October 6, 1945, the hastily restored Theater an der Wien reopened with Beethoven's Fidelio. For the next ten years the Vienna State Opera operated in two venues while the true headquarters was being rebuilt at a great expense

The Secretary of State for Public Works, Julius Raab, announced on May 24, 1945, that reconstruction of the Vienna State Opera would begin immediately. Only the main facade, the grand staircase, and the Schwind Foyer had been spared from the bombs. On November 5, 1955, the Vienna State Opera reopened with a new auditorium and modernized technology. Under the direction of Karl Böhm, Beethoven’s Fidelio was brilliantly performed, and the opening ceremonies were broadcast by Austrian television. The whole world understood that life was beginning again for this country that had just regained its independence.

Today, the Vienna State Opera is considered one of the most important opera houses in the world; in particular, it is the house with the largest repertoire. It has been under the direction of Bogdan Roščić since July 1, 2020.

©Wiener Staatsoper, 2023

“A new genre, as it were, of performance” (Da Ponte)

In the preface of the bilingual libretto (Italian/German) of Le nozze di Figaro, printed in Vienna in 1786, Lorenzo Da Ponte wrote of his desire to “offer to a public of such refined taste and enlightened mind a new genre, as it were, of performance”. This collaboration, the first between Mozart and the librettist, who would go on to offer him Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte, marked a turning point in the evolution of Mozart’s opera career, in fact of the history of opera itself.

Never before, since the interludes of opera seria had been emancipated and authorized to form opera buffa, circa 1730, had a work in this genre ever shown such ambition in the complexity and balance of its intrigue, the diversity of emotions displayed, and, above all, in the noblesse of the music. However, the birth of this their first child was not without difficulty, due as much to the problems of censorship as to the myriad of intrigues abounding at the Italian Theatre of the Court of Vienna, re-opened in 1783 after an eclipse of seven years (during which the Emperor tried to make it exclusively German) and directed by Antonio Salieri, under the leadership of Count Franz Xaver Wolf Orsini-Rosenberg, artistic director of the Imperial Theatres.

In the absence of any correspondence between the two authors, we do know, however, from Da Ponte’s memoirs, the origin of Le nozze– although his narrative can be unreliable. The two admired each other and it was in their mutual interest to work together. Da Ponte was the official court poet and hoped that his career would connect with Mozart’s, whose obvious brilliance would reflect on his own glory. As for Mozart, who at the time was looking for an Italian libretto as well as a commission, there were only benefits to be gained from winning the poet’s favour.

According to Da Ponte the idea for Le nozze came from a conversation with Mozart: this “vast, multiform, sublime subject” appeared to Da Ponte to truly satisfy the “enormity of his genius”. It only remained for them to obtain the imperial authorisation to treat a subject as subversive as Le nozze di Figaro. In the same way that Louis XVI had for a long time forbidden the premiere of Beaumarchais’ play (written circa 1778, it wasn’t until 1784 that the play was finally presented to the public of the Comédie-Française, although printed versions had circulated secretly), his brother-in-law Joseph II, in February 1785, had forbidden the Emanuel Schikaneder troupe to perform its German version in Vienna.

Da Ponte claimed full credit for having swayed the Emperor, but the Sovereign’s interest in the young Mozart undoubtedly lent weight to his decision. Also, contrary to what Da Ponte would have us believe, it was clearly Joseph II who requested and obtained that the intrigue be expunged of its most political elements, notably Beaumarchais’ sharp criticisms of the aristocracy. Nevertheless, the Emperor allowed the licentious aspects of the dramatic plot to remain intact, proof of this enlightened monarch’s tolerance, but who was also perhaps not averse to targeting an aristocracy and their, at times, poor virtues, thereby winning the sympathy of the rising bourgeoisie. In addition, Joseph II’s interest in the project is shown by the inclusion of a ballet, whereas he had previously prohibited using dance in opera. Da Ponte’s rivals seized the opportunity to blow out of proportion this breach of the rules. According to the poet, it was the Emperor himself who requested that the ball be added, which the authors had deliberately refrained from including in the wedding scene. The Emperor considered that the lack of a ball seriously affected the credibility of the action.

The score was essentially composed in six weeks, from mid-October to the end of November 1785. Mozart worked intermittently on the orchestration until the spring; he added the opera to his catalogue on 29 April 1786. Totally in keeping with the spirit of the time, and driven by a frenzied theatrical rhythm, Le nozze di Figaro gave Mozart the most magnificent success of his career. After the premiere at the Burgtheater in Vienna on 1st May 1786, a further eight performances followed, hailed by many encores. However, the triumph of Vicente Martín y Soler’s opera buffa, Una cosa rara, (from which Mozart reproduces a musical theme in the banquet scene in Don Giovanni) led to the disappearance of Le nozze from the music scene in Vienna. Nevertheless, it did go on to triumph in Prague, followed by performances in major European capitals. Le nozze indeed saw an eclipse during the 19th century, which was generally not very sensitive to Mozart’s charms. But, re-adapted to current tastes at the end of WW1 (mainly thanks to the creation of the Salzburg Festival, where it was performed in 1922), Le nozze, since then, has never left centre stage.

Claire Delamarche, translated by Mary McCabe © Opéra de Monte-Carlo 2023

“An exquisite blend of wit and melancholy” (Stendhal)

In Beaumarchais’ Le Barbier de Séville the young Rosine, Bartholo’s ward, is infatuated with Count Almaviva and his wife, thanks to the scheming plans of the barber Figaro, and to the annoyance of her tutor Bartholo who wants her for himself. In the follow-up, La Folle Journée, ou Le Mariage de Figaro, we see Countess Almaviva abandoned by her dissolute husband. He covets the chamber maid Suzanne who that same day is due to marry Figaro, now the Count’s servant. The Count wants to exercise his jus primæ noctis (right of the first night), but above all to maintain a regular liaison with the young bride. The curtain rises on Figaro wondering how to arrange the couple’s future bedroom. The room assigned to the young couple by the Count is so small that Figaro wonders if the bed will fit in. As a further symbol of the master’s power, their bedroom is located half-way between the Count’s and Countess’s bedrooms, a situation that places the two servants at the mercy of their masters. This “folle journée” ends in the garden, by moonlight, just as the wedding festivities begin. Between the hyper-confined universe of the initial scenes and the final breath of fresh air, the day of madness sees the craziest adventures unfold, the triumph of the servants, elevated to the rank of principal roles, and the turpitudes of their master.

There are four competing couples, playing a double game of symmetry: on one side the two principal couples, the aristocrats Almaviva, and the servants Figaro and Suzanne; on the other side the secondary couples, the elderly Marceline and Bartholo and the youthful Chérubin and Barberine. The quid pro quos they grapple with bounce from one character to another in a perpetual domino effect, and the smoke and mirrors game is accentuated by the sleight of hand they all play (trickery, games of hide and seek, disguises), with a hilarious high point in the garden scene – Suzanne and the Countess have exchanged their coats and disguised their voices to confound the Count, who also disguises his voice to trick Figaro who receives several slaps in the face which are not all meant for him…The climax of this story within a story is undoubtedly the duet where Figaro, who has come to reveal to the alleged Countess the liaison he thinks he has discovered between the Count and Suzanne, but discovers that he is fact speaking to his own wife and then titillates her jealousy by pretending to woo the Countess.

Yet, behind the buffoonery of the intrigue, the play, and subsequently the libretto, reveal an uncommon range of emotions which far exceeds that instilled by Paisiello in his Il barbiere di Siviglia, composed in 1787, and even by Rossini in 1816 in his own work of the same title. For his part, Mozart does full justice to Beaumarchais’ complexity. Since Entführung aus des Serail, written in German four years earlier, the composer had considerably refined his orchestral composition skills, notably his major piano concertos (Nos. 20 to 24): the woodwinds are given an essential role, the range of characters has come into play and, by their lyricism, vivacity and colours, many of the movements of these concertos even appear a posteriori as anticipations of this major work. Mozart also displays his maturity in his mastery of the rhythm and polyphony of the ensembles, particularly in the dazzling finale of Act II, an irresistible crescendo lasting 25 minutes, where the number of protagonists, at first limited to two (the Count and Countess), in the end is increased to as many as seven.

Beaumarchais’ social criticism is sublimated in a human comedy where the underlying lightness and wit blend with darker emotions, in fact a certain violence in the anger, pride and jealousy – Stendhal saw in this work ¨an exquisite blend of wit and melancholy”: for the first time since the separation between opera seria and opera buffa, the boundary between the two genres wavers, and the characters acquire a new depth. These sentiments are condensed in the arias invented ex nihilo by Da Ponte for his brilliant composer who then amplified the subtleties.

Bartolo’s extravagant call for revenge, displaying all the clichés of an opera buffa aria (aria “La vendetta, oh la vendetta”), has nothing in common with that of Figaro who, urged on by quiet anger, is determined to defy the Count (cavatina “Se vuol ballare”). The adolescent declaration of love for the Countess by a blushing Cherubino (arietta “Voi che sapete”) responds, without any duplication, to the anxious aria where he admits his distress at love’s mysteries (“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio”). The pretty portrait of Cherubino, a young boy on the threshold of adulthood, entangled in the discovery of his sexual desire (his departure for the regiment symbolises his passage “to the other side of the mirror”) is just one of the aspects taken on by Eros, the principal motor of the intrigue. It is also noticeable in Marcellina’s and Bartolo’s schemings, in the Countess’s anguished nostalgia (so magnificently personified by the cavatina “Porgi amor”), in the Count’s yearning for amorous conquests and, of course, in the wedding capers of Susanna and Figaro, whose only wish, in the end, is for a happy married life, like any other bourgeois couple, or like what their masters had enjoyed, marrying for love at the end of Le Barbier de Séville.

At the summit of the score are three arias with “accompanied” recitatives, i.e. written in extenso for the orchestra and not accentuated by figures improvised by just the harpsichord on a figured bass. By their sudden splendour these three diptychs transport the work to the very limits of opera seria and are assigned to the noble characters. The most significant of them, the emotional heart of the opera, is the grand aria in which the Countess laments being abandoned by her husband (recitative and aria “E Susanna non vien… / Dove sono”, an amplified echo of “Porgi amor”). The response comes from both sides of this summit, in dramatic stages which rhythm the long fresque of the four acts, namely the Count’s aria vowing revenge on those who have duped him (recitative and aria “Hai già vinta la causa ! / Vedrò mentr’io sospiro”), and the aria of Susanna disguised as the Countess and feigning to seduce Figaro (recitative and aria “Giunse alfin il momento / Deh vieni, non tardar”). Although the arias of the Countess and the Count respond to each other from a distance, playing on the contrasts of tessitura and character (masculine aria of fury/feminine aria of lamentation), the pair formed by the arias of the two “Countesses” (the real one and the fake one), on the contrary, play on the idea of the resemblance between the model and its imitation, whose simplicity of accompaniment (a “grand” orchestral guitar) is due far more to its serenade genre than to the character’s low extraction.

However, by assuming on several occasions her mistress’s destiny, going as far as symbolically exchanging her appearance with her and experiencing the same anguish of doubt, jealousy and sadness, Susanna positions herself as the Countess’s double, more than as a caricature. Their common destiny is sealed by the affinity between these two grand arias and recitatives, as well as the letter duet (duettino “Sull’aria”). The force of each aria is strengthened by the other, and in the end the triumph of Le nozze is perhaps that of the women. But we are reassured by the final scene: the Count’s public humiliation should not be taken too tragically, the clouds accumulated here or there in the score are dispersed by the firework display which opens the banquet. Le nozze ends with none of the bitterness that reigns at the end of the “joyful drama” (dramma giocoso) Don Giovanni, where the hero, over the course of the scenes, acquires an increasingly tragic dimension. In Le nozze, the final word goes to merriment and pleasure.

Claire Delamarche, translated by Mary McCabe © Opéra de Monte-Carlo 2023

The Wiener-Mozart Ensemble

The prestigious Vienna Staatsoper was heavily damaged by bombing at the end of the Second World War and was no longer in working order. With a 150-year history, the institution experienced a particularly important post-war period from 1945 until the reopening of the theatre on the Ring in 1955. It was during this decade that Josef Krips developed a style of interpretation remarkable for its delicate sound, transparent and refined, with the support of the musicians of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra – which he was the first to conduct after the end of the war. He thus moved away from the romantic standards that demanded a robust, and voluminous orchestra, far removed from what might have existed in the eighteenth century.

The ensemble created by Krips quickly became famous for its idiomatic approach to Mozart's singing and also for its more natural and subtle stage acting. Among the singers he gathered around him at the Theater an der Wien, the ‘home’ theatre of the bombed Staatsoper, were Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Irmgard Seefried, Sena Jurinac, Wilma Lipp, Anton Dermota, Erich Kunz and Paul Schöffler. With remarkable self-discipline and passion, these singers put themselves at the service of their art, supported by stage directors such as Alfred Jerger and Oscar Fritz Schuh. The terrible hardships of the time did not dampen this shared enthusiasm.

A first performance of the Ensemble in Vienna in May 1945, followed by numerous tours (to the Salzburg Festival and the Royal Opera-Covent Garden in London, among others), brought to the world what we know today as the “Viennese style”.

SB ©Opéra de Monte-Carlo, 2023