The Marriage of Figaro: Synopsis


Act I

An unfinished room

Figaro, valet to Count Almaviva, is measuring the floor, while Susanna, the Countess’ maid, puts the finishing touches on her bridal attire. They are to be married that very day, and as a wedding gift, the Count is giving them a bed and a new room to share. Figaro observes the room’s strategic location to both the Count and Countess’s apartments, but when Susanna realizes this now will be their lodgings, she is apprehensive. It is a little too convenient for the Count, who has made it clear through Don Basilio his romantic intentions toward her. Figaro counters that the master has relinquished the antiquated droit du seigneur, but Susanna discloses his offering of a handsome dowry if she submits. Susanna leaves to answer the Countess’ page, and Figaro angrily plans to teach the Count a lesson.

Elsewhere, Marcellina enlists the help of her former employer, Dr. Bartolo. She intends to frustrate the wedding day by executing a contract made between her and Figaro – he has failed to repay a debt, and therefore must marry her (in spite of the great difference in their ages). She hopes to frighten Susanna into rejecting the Count’s advances, thereby using his irritation to her benefit. Bartolo heartily agrees to the plan, for he has his own score to settle – three years ago his marriage plans to Rosina (now the Countess) were upset by Figaro, that meddling barber of Seville.

Marcellina encounters Susanna, and they exchange courteously veiled sniping remarks. Marcellina exits in a fury, and in comes the page boy, Cherubino. He is distraught – the Count caught him in Barbarina’s room and now he is to be dismissed. No more will he behold his true love, the Countess. About to leave the room he eyes the Count approaching and hides behind an armchair. The Count immediately begins to press his advances on Susanna. Basilio is seen nearby, and the Count, not wanting to be compromised, takes cover behind the armchair. Cherubino slips into the chair, and Susanna cleverly conceals him. Entering the room, Basilio begins to make slanderous innuendoes about Cherubino’s love escapades, implicating Susanna and even the Countess. This draws the Count out of hiding. He angrily orders the page be found at once but soon discovers Cherubino is already in the room and has heard every word, including his romantic overtures to Susanna.

Figaro enters with staff and peasants. They offer a chorus of thanks to the Count for renouncing the abhorrent droit du seigneur with a clever reminder that Figaro and Susanna are the first wedded couple to benefit from the repeal. Susanna and Figaro make a further entreaty – Cherubino must be pardoned for his amorous indiscretions so he may join the wedding festivities. But the Count does more than that, offering the young man an honorable position in his regiment. His departure will be immediate. Figaro bids a comic farewell, detailing the great glories Cherubino is about to face.

 

Act II

A bedroom

In her boudoir, the Countess laments the loss of her husband’s affection. Susanna attends to her lady and confesses the Count’s illicit proposition. Figaro enters and tells them the Count is taking up Marcellina’s cause in the disputed contract. He hopes to confuse the situation by inflaming the Count’s jealousy – he has sent an anonymous letter, via Basilio, informing his master of a future assignation between the Countess and an unnamed lover. At the same time, Susanna is to let the Count know she is willing to submit to his wishes in the garden. But when the Count arrives, he will find in her place Cherubino disguised as a woman.

Figaro departs, and Cherubino arrives moments later. As a parting gesture, Susanna instructs him to sing a song he wrote in honor of the Countess. While sizing him up for the charade to be performed that evening, the Countess notices his commission, hastily unsealed. As they prepare Cherubino’s disguise, Susanna leaves for a moment and a knock is heard. It is the Count, and the mortified Cherubino scurries into the Countess’s wardrobe. Once allowed entry, the Count is immediately suspicious – the door was locked (it almost never is), and he heard voices. He shows his wife the letter, but the confrontation is interrupted by a loud noise coming from the closet. The Countess says it’s Susanna in a state of undress and orders her to be silent – the Countess’ integrity is in question, and she refuses to dignify these accusations by opening the closet. The Count leaves to get some tools and takes the Countess with him, locking all the doors so no one can escape.

Having quietly slipped into the room, Susanna has secretly observed the entire situation. She takes Cherubino’s place, and left with no other option of escape, Cherubino jumps out the window. The Count and Countess return – she now prepares her husband for what he might find inside and begs for his understanding, but when Susanna emerges instead of Cherubino, both are dumfounded. Figaro arrives presently, and once the issue of the letter is settled (merely a joke to tease the Count), he announces the hour has arrived for the wedding ceremony. The Count tarries – Marcellina is due to arrive any minute to present her claim. Instead, Antonio the gardener comes in, fussing over flowers damaged by a falling man. Again suspicions are raised, but the three conspirators allude to the old man’s habitual drunkenness, and Figaro admits it was he who jumped to escape the Count’s wrath – he had been in the adjoining room waiting for Susanna. Antonio produces a document dropped by the escapee; the Count grabs it and demands Figaro to tell him what it is. The Countess whispers to Susanna – it is the page’s military commission – and Susanna in turn whispers to Figaro. Figaro suddenly remembers and adds that he was bringing it to the Count because it lacked the official seal. Marcellina, Bartolo and Basilio belatedly arrive and make their case – Figaro is obligated to marry Marcellina if he can’t pay off the debt.

 

Act III

A state room prepared for a wedding feast

The Count reviews the complex events of the day and eyes Susanna and the Countess discussing details of their covert plan. Confronting Susanna alone, he insists Marcellina shall marry Figaro. Susanna retorts that the debt will be repaid by the dowry promised by her employer. The Count denies making any such promise, but Susanna coyly reveals that her protests have been feigned – she is willing to meet the Count in the garden as he desires (the Countess having persuaded her to do so). She encounters Figaro as she leaves the room and whispers that there is no longer need for a lawyer. The Count overhears this remark and is enraged.

Barbarina masks Cherubino in woman’s clothes to conceal his supposed departure. Alone, the Countess rues the humiliation she suffers as the result of her unfaithful husband and recalls happier days.

Don Curzio’s judgment enforces the terms of the contract – Figaro will have to marry Marcellina. Figaro argues he cannot marry without the consent of his noble parents, whose birthright was indicated by the jewels and linens thieves found nearby when he was kidnapped as a small child. Marcellina and Bartolo recognize a distinguishing mark on his arm and realize that Figaro is their long-lost son.

Susanna enters, and seeing Figaro embrace Marcellina, momentarily becomes jealous. When all is explained, Bartolo decides to do the right thing and announces there will be a double wedding ceremony. Marcellina discharges the debt as a wedding present to the young couple.

Antonio informs the Count of Cherubino’s sighting on the premises dressed as a young girl. The Countess dictates a letter to Susanna confirming the clandestine meeting with the Count and seals the note with a pin. It is agreed they will exchange cloaks so the Countess, disguised as Susanna, can catch her husband red-handed.

Peasant girls (Cherubino among them) present flowers to the Countess. Antonio arrives and exposes the page’s deception to the Count. Barbarina intercedes as the Count is about to release his wrath – he once promised to do anything she asked in exchange for her kisses. She begs for permission to marry Cherubino. Figaro invites all to dance as the wedding ceremony begins. As the couples prepare for the fandango, Susanna slips the letter into the Count’s hand.

 

Act IV

The garden

Barbarina searches for the lost pin she was entrusted to return to Susanna as confirmation of the rendezvous. Figaro happens upon the scene and pretends to play along; privately he discloses to Marcellina his despair over what he believes to be Susanna’s infidelity. His mother advises him not to be rash, and after he leaves, she goes to warn Susanna, whom she believes to be innocent.

Susanna and the Countess wait in the darkness. Marcellina has clued them in, and knowing Figaro can hear her voice, Susanna sings of her happy anticipation of a lovers’ tryst. Looking for Barbarina, Cherubino happens upon the Countess, and thinking it is Susanna, makes his approach. The Count arrives, and the game of mistaken identities ensues. Figaro and Susanna are eventually reconciled, and the Count, who has had a chance to woo “Susanna” (the Countess), is caught when he threatens to expose the unknown man (Figaro) he believes is seducing “the Countess” (Susanna). All is forgiven as the day of folly draws to a close.


 

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