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A guide to The Marriage of Figaro

28 January 2020
A young man holds out his arms. The silhouette of a cherub shows on the yellow background.

If you’ve ever watched Jane the Virgin – every series rated 100% on Rotten Tomatoes - you will understand how a plot that is ridiculously complicated can deliver such sheer, delightful comedy. The satirical, The Marriage of Figaro, is no different, renowned for its preposterous plot, like something out of a telenovela, and more famously, for its jovial wit. Here, we’ll lay down the general groundwork so you don’t get completely lost but leave all the good bits for when you come along and see it for yourself.

There is the rowdy Count Almaviva who has his lecherous eyes set on Susanna but she loves Figaro. The two young lovers are planning to marry but the Count is planning to use an old custom to have his wicked way with her. There is scheming, plotting and sub-plots as well as plans A, B and C. The trickery begins; the couple enlist the help of the Countess, who is tired of her fickle husband’s philandering ways, and the cheeky Cherubino; together they conceive a plan to humiliate the Count.

Plot A is as follows; Cherubino dresses up as a girl to seduce the Count, but the Count thwarts this when he sends him away to join the army; plot B involves Susanna and the Countess swapping clothes in order to try to expose the Count’s infidelity. If that’s not complicated enough, there is a sneaky side plot as well; the much older Marcellina has loaned Figaro lots of money and together with Bartolo, plans to force Figaro into a marriage with her. This plan is scuppered by the discovery that Figaro is actually her long lost son – a melodramatic twist that would be right at home in a telenovela.

It’s not just the plot that will keep you on your toes; the music is also highly energised with the characteristic aria, Non piú andrai, performed yearly at Trooping the Colour, which celebrates the Queen’s official birthday. The overture has also been featured in blockbuster films, such as The King’s Speech and if you’ve ever seen the film The Shawshank Redemption you may remember the scene where one of the prisoners manages to play the duet, Duettino- Sull'aria to the entire prison over the loudspeaker, which gorgeously encapsulates what it is to be human.

The opera also has a political undertone; the battle of the classes conveyed charmingly with humour. At one point, for instance, the Count complains that, ‘the servants in this house take longer to dress than their masters’ to which Figaro replies, ‘Because they have no servants to assist them.’

It all ends happily ever after with the Count begging the Countess for forgiveness and her graciously granting it. The women are even allowed to live to tell the tale which is a rare and glorious thing in opera; so make the most of it and come and see WNO’s The Marriage of Figaro, the perfect antidote to the New Year blues.