Program booklet »Le nozze di Figaro«

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LE NOZZE DI FIGARO COMEDIA PER MUSICA in four acts Text LORENZO DA PONTE after La folle journée ou Le mariage de Figaro by Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais


2 flutes / 2 oboes 2 clarinets / 2 bassoons 2 horns / 2 trumpets timpani / strings pianoforte

AUTOGRAPH Deutsche Staatsbibliothek Berlin Biblioteka Jagiellońska Krakau WORLD PREMIÈRE 1 MAY 1781 Vienna Court Opera at the Altes Burgtheater FIRST PERFORMANCE 15 OCTOBER 1870 Opera house on the Ring DURATION

3 H 30 MIN



SYNOPSIS ACT 1 The morning of Susanna and Figaro’s wedding day. Figaro is measuring the room that Count Almaviva has set aside for Susanna and him. Susanna is not happy with the room, which is situated between the private chambers of the Count and Countess. She explains to Figaro that the Count is regretting abo­l ishing the droit de seigneur, the right of the lord of the manor to spend the first night with every new bride. Now, the Count is making advances to her. He chose the room to be close to Susanna. Figaro swears to frustrate the Count’s plans. Marcellina wants to press old claims against Figaro. She lent him money earlier. If he can’t repay, he has to marry her, accor­ ding to the contract. Doctor Bartolo supports his housekeeper Marcellina, to be revenged upon Figaro. Bartolo once wanted to marry the new Countess himself, before the Count cut him out – with Figaro’s help. The page, Cherubino, asks Susanna for help. The Count had caught him in the room of Susanna’s cousin Barbarina the pre­ vious evening. Now, the Count wants to dismiss him. He asks Susanna to ask the Countess to put in a good word for Cheru­ bino. When the Count enters, Cherubino hides. From his hiding place he hears the Count pressuring Susanna. Don Basilio’s voice is heard, and now the Count has to hide, to avoid being caught in a compromising situation. He chooses Cherubino’s hiding place. The page manages to save himself, and Susanna covers him with a piece of cloth. Don Basilio pleads the Count’s cause to Susanna. When he mentions that everyone in the castle has noticed Cherubino’s attraction to the Countess, the Count emerges from his hiding place, furious. Susanna and Basilio try to calm the Count. The Count, however, demonstrates how he caught Cherubino with Barbarina the previous evening. He lifts the cloth Cherubino is hiding under, and discovers him again. Figaro brings in servants who thank the Count for his genero­ sity in abolishing the droit de seigneur. Figaro asks the Count to put the white scarf on Susanna as a sign of chastity. The Count promises to hold the ceremony, but seeks to delay. Cherubino asks the Count for pardon. The Count gives it, but makes Cherubino an officer in his regiment, which means that the page has to leave for Seville immediately.




ACT 2 The Countess laments the loss of her husband’s love. Susanna elaborates about the Count’s attempts to seduce her. Figaro plans a double intrigue. Basilio will bring the Count a let­ ter accusing the Countess of having an affair. Susanna will ar­ range a rendezvous with the Count at the same time, and Cheru­ bino will be sent to this dressed as a woman to deceive the Count. Susanna and the Countess are in the process of disguising Cherubino when the Count knocks at the door. Cherubino is quickly hidden in a closet and the door is locked. Susanna hides as well. The Count, enraged by Figaro’s letter, thinks his wife is with her lover. A sound in the closet seems to confirm his suspicion, and he demands that she opens the door. The Coun­ tess claims that Susanna is trying on her wedding dress there, and refuses. The Count goes off to fetch tools to break down the door, and forces the Countess to go with him. He locks the door of the Countess’s room from outside. Susanna gets Cherubino out of the closet. The page escapes by jumping into the garden from the balcony. Susanna gets into the closet. The Countess confesses to her husband that Cherubino was in the closet. The Count is enraged and accuses her of infidelity. Then Susanna comes out of the closet. The Count is amazed, the Countess explains that she was just testing him. Figaro had written the compromising letter. Figaro announces the musicians for the wedding. The Count asks him about the letter. Figaro pretends ignorance. The gardener Antonio, Barbarina’s father, comes in raging. Some­one had jumped into the garden from the balcony and trampled on his carnations. He suspects Cherubino. Figaro claims that it was he who jumped. Antonio goes to give him the paper that Cherubino lost when he jumped. The Count seizes the paper. It is the page’s commission to the army. With the help of prompting by Susanna and the Countess, Figaro comes up with a plausible explanation. The commission is lacking the seal, which is why the page gave it to him. Marcellina, Bartolo and Basilio demand that Figaro honour the contract with Marcellina. The Count promises to look into it.



ACT 3 The Countess and Susanna are hatching their own plot. Susanna will ask the Count for a meeting, the Countess will go in her place. Figaro is not admitted into the plot. The Count gives his verdict. Figaro must pay Marcellina the sum she demands or marry her. By accident, it emerges that Figaro is Marcellina’s son, who was believed lost. His father is Doctor Bartolo. Susanna comes in, and is introduced to the new family relationships. The planned wedding becomes a double wedding, as Marcellina and Bartolo decide to get married now. Barbarina decides to disguise Cherubino as a girl. In this dis­ guise, he is supposed to go with other girls to bring flowers to the Countess. The Countess laments the fate that has brought her to such a wretched situation. Antonio has found Cherubino’s hat and con­ cludes that the page must still be in the castle. The Countess and Susanna write an invitation to the Count. Susanna writes that she will meet him in the garden at night. The seal is a pin which he is supposed to send back as a sign that he accepts. When Cherubino comes in with the girls to the Countess’s rooms, he is unmasked by Antonio. Barbarina reminds the raging Count that he has promised her anything in return for certain favours. Now, she wants Cherubino for her husband. Susanna makes use of the ceremony in preparation for the double wedding to slip the Count the letter.



ACT 4 Barbarina has lost the pin that the Count gave her for Susanna. She innocently tells Figaro of the Count’s commis­ sion. Figaro, who has not been let into the plot by the wo­ men, now suspects Susanna of infidelity. He pours out his sorrow to Marcellina. She believes in Susanna’s innocence and warns her of Figaro’s fury. Figaro has brought Bartolo and Basilio to witness Susanna’s infidelity in the garden. Susanna and the Countess enter the garden, having ex­ changed clothes. Susanna knows about Figaro’s jealousy and sings a love song to provoke him, which the concealed Figaro interprets as aimed at the Count. Cherubino comes in and sees the Countess clothed as Susanna. He wants to seize the opportunity to ask for a kiss from the woman he thinks is Susanna. While the Countess fends off Cherubino, the Count enters. Cherubino disappears, and the Count ardently woos his disguised wife, thinking she is Susanna. He hears voices, and ceases his attentions. Figaro recognizes Susanna, who is disguised as the Coun­ tess, by her voice. He pretends he thinks she is the Countess and embraces her heartily, until she furiously slaps him. Figaro explains to Susanna, and the two reconcile. To provoke the Count, Figaro and the disguised Susanna play out a love scene. The Count calls for help. In the dark he stumbles upon Cherubino, Barbarina and Marcellina. Figaro and Susanna pretend to beg forgiveness, the Count rejects them. When the Countess removes her disguise, the Count realizes what is happening. He begs the Countess for her for­ giveness, which she grants him. They all celebrate the end of a mad day, and the start of the wedding feast.





PREFACE IN THE GERMAN LIBRETTO FOR THE WORLD PREMIÈRE OF LE NOZZE DI FIGARO The time prescribed for dramatic performances based on prac­ tice, a certain number of performers typically appea­ ring, and several other clever observations in respect of good practice, the location and the audience are the reason why I have not translated this superb co­ medy but rather have created an imitation, or let us say an extract. As a result, I was compelled to reduce the original sixteen characters to eleven, two of which can be played by a single actor, and, in addition to one whole act, to omit many effective scenes, char­ ming wit and clever ideas found throughout the pi­ ece. Instead I added songs, arias, choruses and text appropriate for the music, which the poetry but not the prose suggested to us. Despite the fact that both I and the Kapellmeister* spared no effort and tried with great diligence and care to make this work as short as possible, the opera will nevertheless not be one of the shortest that has been performed on our stage. We hope you will find sufficient excuse for this in the variety of threads from which the action of this play is woven, the vastness and grandeur of the same, the multipli­ city of the musical numbers that had to be made in order not to leave the actors inactive too long, to di­ minish the vexation and monotony of long recitatives, and to express with differentiated colours the various emotions that occur, but above all in our desire to offer as it were a new kind of spectacle to a public of so re­ fined a taste and understanding.

*“Kapellmeister” means the composer. YING FANG as SUSANNA PETER KELLNER as FIGARO



THE COMPLEXITY OF THE FOLLIES OF A DAY Le nozze di Figaro is perhaps Mozart’s most perfectly structured work for the musical theatre stage. By the time he wrote Idomeneo, if not before, he had started making fundamental changes to his libretti, co-creating and breath­ ing life into characters based on pre­ defined roles and establishing ever more musically nuanced emotional depth in them. Ongoing development of his compositions, his extensive experience honed not least by countless visits to the theatre, and the good fortune he enjoyed through his artistically pro­ ductive partnership with the congenial Lorenzo Da Ponte allowed him to reach another pinnacle with Figaro. The fact that the three masterpie­ ces created in quick succession with Mozart – Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte – seem to complement each other in a kind of triptych only adds to their special stan­ ding. The action in each of these come­ dies takes place in the space of no more than 24 hours – as indicated in the title of the Beaumarchais source material La folle journée, Le nozze di Figaro takes place in the course of a day – and in all three cases a particular background ba­ sed on Italian models is evident in the

shaping of the characters; this is not found in Mozart’s German-language works for the stage. The audience is skilfully introduced to the atmosphere of the day of follies in Le nozze di Figaro by an overture that differs from Mozart’s other overtures in several special features. Firstly: the usual solemn introductory chords in the orchestra are absent. Instead, the music launches immediately into a virtuoso, soft, unison theme at a fast presto. Secondly: there is no real theme in the strict sense, but rather recurring musical figures. And if we do want to call it a theme, we find – thirdly – one with a seven-bar phrase instead of the four- or eight-bar phrase normally ex­ pected in classical music. This formally indicates that something has gone haywire here. Furthermore, after just a few bars Mozart juxtaposes what were in his day the most extreme dynamic effects, with a pianissimo opening suddenly changing to fortissimo. All this sets the stage for the unexpected, quasi effervescent events of the up­ coming action and kindle a sense of excitement in the audience. Apropos dynamics: once the over­ ture ends, Mozart goes in a new direc­



tion in this regard too: especially in the ensembles he prescribes frequent changes in dynamics, which was un­ usual at the time. Here a piano or sotto voce, there a forte or diminuendo. We find many shades of meaning, puns, and ambiguities in this score that in fact represent an additional challenge for the singers. In Figaro, Mozart achieved an un­ usual attribute not seen before in re­ citatives. With their liveliness, their musical gestures they almost invite you to sing along, in their psycholo­ gical subtlety, fundamental intricacy and ambiguity they encourage and demand creative interpretation, pre­ cisely because nothing, no note, no rest, no rhythmic phrase was written by chance. Mozart reveals incredible sensitivity and infallible instinct in the way he handles the brilliant written instructions of Da Ponte. Every detail, all punctuation has its musical equiva­ lent, requiring performers constantly to think between the lines and words. Barrie Kosky put it in a nutshell when during rehearsal he stated that when singing a phrase the performer must already have the next phrase formula­ ted in their head. When punchlines and closing text are well placed, when the tempo of the often very dense content is aligned to the dramatic context, and a consis­ tent rhythm is established, these often under­estimated and sometimes repre­ hensibly neglected passages prove to be sparkling jewels that connect organi­ cally with the arias and ensemble num­ bers. For example, in the recitative be­ fore Cherubino’s “Non so più cosa son” if you have Susanna deliver her lines more slowly and calmly in contrast to the excited, prattling page, it creates

an effective symbolic colon that then leads seamlessly and compellingly into the aria. What a huge difference there is between this and the rather awk­ ward and stiff secco recitatives written by Süssmayr for Mozart’s last opera La clemenza di Tito! This liveliness, psychological sub­ tlety and complexity are naturally not limited just to the recitatives, but per­ vade the entire score. An abundance that is spread before the audience from the start of the first act and which in its diversity represents an exhilarating, gripping challenge to all participants but above all the conductor is this: in the space of about 40 minutes, in addi­tion to the chorus no fewer than seven of the eight central characters are introduced in rapid succession and an amazing intrigue is established in which all the participants are driven by their own interests. The first three numbers are assigned to the couple to be married, Figaro and Susanna; Mar­ cellina/Bartolo follow as their intriguing counterpart, and then – virtually in the middle of the act – Cherubino appears like a complete musical foreign body from another world, and finally the third schemer – Basilio – and the antagonistic Count are introduced. Only the Countess is missing from this dramatically so brilliantly structu­ red turmoil, thereby elegantly empha­ sizing her special status. In order to realize the momentum of this act in­ tended by the creators and manage its deliberate complexity, the conductor must establish an elaborate tempo dramatization. He must be sure to maintain a certain pulsating drive, a relationship stemming from the effer­ vescent overture. Stop-and-go is out of the question! This applies all the more



since Mozart – as he did later in Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte – intentio­ nally composed a cohesive, longer section at the very beginning, to set all the action in motion. The first two duets are, in my opinion, sometimes taken at too leisurely a tempo. Toge­ ther with the recitatives they bookend, they should be more playful in nature and lead from the happy mood, above all Figaro’s, into his cavatina “Se vuol ballare”, in which he first expresses his anger and threatens the Count using puns and double entendre. The way in which Mozart contrasts Figaro’s burgeoning aggression with an apparently harmless, elegant minuet is wonderful and matches Da Ponte’s diminutives such as “Contino” (little Count) or “chitarrino” (little guitar or re­ ally the Count’s backside to be paddled). One might discuss whether Cheru­ bino’s first aria should be understood as a brief pause in the first act. However, I personally see this as a breathless por­ trayal of a pubescent boy driven entire­ ly by hormones, constantly storming and stressing, and so I keep the propul­ sive style adopted in the overture until the Countess’s aria at the beginning of Act 2. The tempo should not be uncoupled from the nature of the character in question. Furthermore, the additional instructions given by Mozart are more meaningful than the actual tempo indi­ cation. For example, with an “Allegro con spirito” the “con spirito” is of grea­ ter importance for the performer than the “allegro”. To be sure, the performer must read between the lines when it comes to questions of tempi. As pre­ cisely as Mozart specified many things in the score, liberties are not only allo­

wed within a certain frame of reference and with good taste, but are in line with the composer’s wishes. For exam­ ple, tradition had it that the overture, marked as 4/4, could not be played fast enough for Mozart. The dogmatic approach of some conductors in the past against a more rapid Alla breve should therefore cer­ tainly be questioned. Or, an accelerando in the “Corriam tutti” struck up by the entire ensemble in the finale ultimo (in which an effervescent passage is heard in the orchestra, referring back the be­ ginning of the overture) is not expli­citly stated in the music, but the musical atmos­phere of the situation seems to require it. Furthermore, tempo questions should always be based on natural speech rhythms and the relations with­ in the overall architecture should be coordinated. This is especially clear in the two chain finales at the end of the second and fourth act: the musical in­ spiration streaming out here is poured into a form in which each passage is bril­ liantly developed from the previous one. The key here is to shape the transi­ tions coherently and keep the tempi for the individual scenes in relation to each other. Strictly viewed, these finali are to an extent the harbingers of throughcomposed opera! Mozart began this development in his Entführung aus dem Serail with the ten-minute quartet at the end of the second act. In Figaro the two chain finali last a total of 20 minu­ tes with the music continuing without a break, without applause. In Zauberflöte Mozart increased these sections again to 30 minutes. If we compare the four acts of Le nozze di Figaro, we notice that each



act has its own basic quality. The first act, starting with the majestic, ceremo­ nious D major overture, sparkles with a bright and scintillating feel – not least due to the dominant sharp keys of Su­ sanna, Figaro and the Count. With its flat-heavy key signatures, the second act radiates a certain noble and chamber play-like intimacy – after all, we are in the rooms of the Countess. In the third act the neutral C major character predominates the public space where every­ one gathers: first in the threa­ tening situation in court, then in the hopeful wedding atmosphere. The fourth act reflects a certain night mood, a summer’s night dream mood, when things appear that would be unthinkable in daylight. In F minor, Barbarina’s cavatina introducing the act conveys a strangely subdued night key. The dark-timbred chords of Figaro’s aria and the chamber music scoring of Su­ sanna’s rose aria (“De vieni non tardar”) – plucked strings, three solo woodwinds – heighten this impression. In general, in terms of keys and in­ strumentation Mozart continued down the path he had started on in Idomeneo and Entführung. Each number and each character simply has their own colour – as mentioned, Susanna is generally in sharp keys, with strings and oboes predominating in the accompaniment, the Count has timpani and trumpets. Other veiled connections are also clear­ly present: for example, it is not by chance that Cherubino and the Countess are very closely connected through flat keys and clarinets. Just the fact that Cherubino’s cavatina in pre­ dominantly sharp keys in the first act is written in E-flat major and antici­ pates the entrance aria of the Countess in E-flat major the second act makes

the emotional relationship between the sensitive artist soul Cherubino and the neglected Countess evident in the music. In this connection it is interesting to take a brief look at the use of major and minor keys in Figaro. The usual equation above all in Romantic music of “cheerful is major and sad is minor” does not yet apply to Viennese classical music; rather major and minor were in­ tended to express atmospheric colour. I have already mentioned the nocturnal mood evoked by the F minor of Barba­ rina’s cavatina. The A minor Fandango in the third act is anything but sad, ra­ther it is lively and festive. On the other hand: how incredibly well Mozart succeeded in expressing wistfulness and melancholy in the Countess’s two arias! We do however know that in the case of the Countess this was inten­ ded to covey a momentary emotion and not a symptom of depression in this still young woman. As we know, she will have fun with Cherubino and Susanna too, but she is definitely not at risk of committing suicide. In the first act of Rosenkavalier, Richard Strauss picked up on exactly this mood in the Mar­schallin’s “Kann mich auch an ein Mädel erinnern” – one is almost temp­ ted to call it plagiarism – and wrote “heiter bewegt” above it. The fact that Mozart had already used the basic melody of his “Dove sono” seven years earlier for the “Agnus Dei” of his Coro­ nation Mass and in both cases adapted it ideally to suit the mood of the con­ text says something about the great­ ness of the idea. With the Count’s “Contessa perdo­ no” and the lovingly forgiving answer of the Countess at the end of the opera



Mozart created another intensely mo­ ving moment. Naturally the question remains open of how long her hus­ band’s discretion will last – but the music causes us to believe for a couple of breaths that lasting love was found. For a short while probability and so­ ber reality are disregarded. A truly transcendental moment! At this point the opera evolves towards a cathartic peak, as the noble couple in the mea­

ning of Shakespeare are touched and trans­formed by their experience in the course of the action. But – and this is the delightful and beautiful thing about Mozart – the other multi-faceted characters survive transformations: in the case of Figaro and Susanna in Act 4 by all means through painful experience and resul­ ting cathartic metamorphosis.



WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART TO LEOPOLD MOZART 7 May 1783 Mon três cher pêre [sic]! Another short letter! I intended to delay writing un­ til Saturday, as I must attend a concert today, but as I have something to say which is of considerable impor­ tance to me, I must steal the time to write a few lines. I have not yet received the music I wanted. I cannot imagine what has become of it. The Italian opera buffa has recommenced here and is very popular. The buffo is particularly good. His name is Benuci. I have loo­ ked through a hundred libretti, and more, but have not been able to find even one with which I am satisfied. At least, so many alterations would be required that even if the poet were to consent to this, it would be easier for him to write an entirely new text. In fact, a new libretto is always the best plan. A certain Abbate da Ponte is our poet here. At present he has a great deal to do in theatrical revision, and he must per obligo write a new libretto for Salieri. That cannot be ready for a couple of months. After that, he promises to write one for me. But who knows whether he will or can keep this promise! As you know, these Italian gentlemen are very civil to your face. Well, we know them! If he is in league with Salieri, I shall never while I live get a libretto from him. I should so like to show what I can do in an Italian opera.





In the conception phase of your production you once said that Le nozze di Figaro revolves first and foremost around two questi­ ons: one of time and the other of space. At first glance, that seems like a formal concept, but it is the opposite. With the question of space and time, the issue ari­ ses immediately: who has both and how do they make use of them. A very modern work? bk Absolutely, in various regards. Time and space are incredibly im­ portant aspects of Le nozze di Figaro, also in contrast to the two other operas on which Da Ponte and Mozart collabo­ rated: Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte. In Don Giovanni there is information about interior and exterior, but it has nothing to do with how the piece pro­ ceeds. Così fan tutte is an abstraction and a laboratory, space has nothing to do with the interaction between the six characters. You cannot put on Figaro without examining these questions. The importance of the spaces becomes clear in the first few minutes: the space that Figaro and Susanna are to live in, an anteroom, is a gift from the Count. And it is a space that people are cons­ tantly entering – as is the Countess’s room, which we see in Act 2. This space

is really her private room, no one other than Susanna has any business being there. But people are constantly coming and going. No one respects her boun­ daries. ns In other words, we can quickly understand the relationships between the characters from the spaces, and also from how each character interacts with each space. bk Correct, and this is precisely why what happens in Act 4 is so brilliant. This act takes place in a garden or a fo­ rest. We know from Shakespeare, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream or As You Like It, and from fairy tales and mytho­ logy, that a garden or a forest – espe­ cially in the evening – is a democratic space. Anything is possible, status is irrelevant. You can disguise yourself, you can play a role and do whatever you like. All the boundaries imposed on the space are gone. ns In Le nozze di Figaro, the time is already indicated in the subtitle: La folle journée, The Follies of a Day. The action can be clearly de­ fined as 24 hours. But for the most important characters it is also about access to or control over time. Figaro and Susanna have no control over their own time.



bk We see this from the hierarchical structure of the piece. I have often said to my performers: Please remember that Figaro and Susanna are not friends with the Count and Countess. They work for them, they must serve them. Above all in Act 1, it is important to understand that everything that happens is taking place on a normal working day. Routines and duties are not cancelled on their wed­ ding day. Status is so important in this piece. The characters express that time and again, as does the Countess: she assigns tasks, gives orders. And this is particularly im­portant, because in Mo­ zart and Da Ponte’s day it was revolutio­ nary for a countess to disguise herself as her servant or for a servant to dress as a countess and for the two of them to sing together. ns The two of them are in a kind of forced coexistence. The fact that the two are not friends, as you said, is also explicitly poin­ ted out. We should not forget the Countess’s cry in her melan­ cholic aria “Dove sono i bei mo­ menti”. The fact that she has to ask a servant for help is an unbe­ lievable humiliation for her. bk And yet we must always remem­ ber the period in which Beaumarchais wrote the play: it was the beginning of the end for these aristocratic indivi­ duals. Naturally not for those who had power and abused it. Today’s aristocrats are people with money. ns We can also see that the times are changing in another sense based on the way the character of the Countess is described. Her sentimentality is characteris­ tic of the epoch of sensibility – essentially a middle-class fe­ male figure.

bk Above all, the Countess has a number of first-world problems, but it is true that her melancholy is linked to this idea of love. In part 3 of Beaumar­ chais’ Figaro trilogy, La mère coupable, everything has turned out differently. In it, the Count and the Countess both have lovers, the Countess had a relation­ ship with Cherubino, who has since died – to a certain extent they had an open marriage in the best aristocratic tradition. But that doesn’t help us with Le nozze di Figaro. ns For the production of Le nozze di Figaro we don’t need to have read the other two parts. The play works on its own. You have often talked about the Figaro cosmos. bk For me, there is a link between Chekhov, Shakespeare and Da Ponte. All three design a cosmos for their plays. The world of Three Sisters, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Figaro. A very particular world with rules, status and hierarchy that is a metaphor for the entire world. This is the opposite of the Wagnerian idea of musical theatre in the 19th cen­ tury. You might ask: what does this cherry orchard near Moscow have to do with me? But thanks to Chekhov’s ability to view things like human love, jealousy, feeling lonely, as if through a microscope, he says more about the world at large than if he had started off by asking the big existential questions. That is the reason why Le nozze di Figaro is my favourite Mozart opera, fol­ lowed closely by Così fan tutte, and then Idomeneo. These pieces draft the imag­ ery for the world in a quite ama­zing way. All the relationships between the characters – this incredible microcosm in its detailed banality has more to say about the world than any great abstrac­



tion. It is so special, so amusing, touch­ ing and so deep in its levity, clarity, and also in its unresolved issues. Be­ cause it is also so wonderful when “la folle journée” is over and we don’t know what will happen at 7 o’clock in the following day. ns You mention levity. Earlier you sometimes indicated a kind of comedic element such as we find in Luis Buñuel, for example in the film Le journal d’une femme de chambre (Diary of a Chambermaid). Those are chamber dra­ mas with extremely dark sides. bk What is important to me is flip­ ping domestic situations into the surreal, for example the way we see it beauti­fully done in Buñuel’s Le ­charme discret de la bourgeoisie. Surreal is a pattern that one thinks in: life is surreal. Naturally I am not doing a Buñuel production, but I believe that like all great directors Buñuel under­ stands that tears and laughter exist side by side. There is a thread in comedy that I consider particularly important. After Da Ponte, we find it for example in the 19th century in Georges Feydeau, who is rarely performed any more. Much later then in the Marx Brothers. It is a style of comedy that destabilizes situa­ tions. From there, is it much closer to tragedy than you might think. That is also the case in Le nozze di Figaro. We have seen the scene a thousand times when the Count discovers Cherubino, yet we still laugh. We enjoy the Count’s shock at this point. Naturally the work has incredible depth. But I believe it is deep because it is so facile. We are making a big mistake when we say: I take Le nozze di Figaro seriously and accordingly don’t regard the piece as funny. That would be saying comedy is

frivolous or not deep. That is a big mis­ take. Shakespeare knew this. There is so much melancholy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and yet it is one of the funniest plays ever written. The same applies to Figaro. Naturally we have shades of loneliness, forlornness, sad­ ness, vulnerability, indeed on almost every page of this score. But the struc­ ture and form are so subtle, so trans­ parent, that we feel very close to these people. And in turn we are these people. That is the genius of Mozart and Da Ponte. ns Count Almaviva is not an easy character to enact. He is egoistic, a man driven by desire and so can easily become one-dimen­ sional. What do you think about this character? bk The Count is the reason why we find ourselves in the dilemma that is the crux of the story. And we are in the same situation in our world. Picture a toxic white masculinity that says: I want something, so I will take it, I have a right to it. We don’t need to go looking for a ritual from the 18th century to tell that story. But the Count is not Jeffrey Epstein or Harvey Weinstein. ns Who is the Count? bk What the Count wants and does in this work is intolerable. But it is in­ tolerable within the framework of a comedy. In other words, everybody knows it. And everybody does their best to humiliate him – successfully. The Count’s “trial by humiliation” is what the entire piece is working towards and what it ends up in. We laugh at it too: we delight in the re­ venge that the other characters are able to take. What in­terests us about the Count in the work is the emo­ tions that he provokes in others –



the Countess’s pain, Susanna’s fear, Figaro’s anger. If we say: this work is about a white toxic man, and that is all that we por­ tray, then the piece cannot be a comedy. Because it isn’t funny. People like Har­ vey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein aren’t funny. The difference in Le nozze di Figaro is that the structure of the piece allows us to follow the other characters as they take their revenge. ns The Cherubino that we see in your production is interesting. In your perception, Cherubino is an artist, a poet. bk There are many ways to approach this character, for example also seeing in him the little Mozart who writes this wonderful music without know­ ing how he does it. I would say: when this charac­ter enters the stage and says “I have written a song” and that song is “Voi che sapete che cosa è amor”, then you can’t help but say: the kid has talent. We have often regarded Cheru­ bino as an awkward teenager, and yes, that can work too. But I think it is more interesting if we regard him a bit more as an adolescent artist who takes his love and passion very seriously. He is insecure, but he is talented. And natu­ rally he is afraid of war, he is sensitive. ns When we’re talking about Che­ rubino, the question is always what kind of sexuality or ero­ ticism he represents. In the 19th century Søren Kierkegaard wrote of Cherubino “his desire is not yet aroused but only wist­ fully suspected”, but in the in­ terim we have found many other approaches. bk Cherubino represents sexual am­ bivalence. Most fifteen-year olds are relatively gender-fluid anyway, and

Cherubino is a radiant, well-known example of gender fluidity. For the Count he represents potential compe­ tition, also because of his ability to slide into scenes and slide out again. He is between worlds, an adolescent. A young woman dressed as a man who is then disguised as a woman. With Cherubino we see not only the cherub, the angel, but also a certain adolescent melancholy – that’s correct. And he also has all the hormones. There is no aria in the history of music theatre in which the hormones of an adolescent are so plainly represented as in Cherubino’s first aria “Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio”. It is a hymn to adolescence. ns Is he a threat to the Count be­ cause he represents a comple­ tely different kind of sexuality? A sexuality that the Count has no connection to, that he per­ haps doesn’t even understand? bk Yes, you could say that. It is also important that he knows that everyone loves him. No one loves the Count. So it is also wrong to say that Cherubino grows up to be a Don Giovanni or a Count. He is something quite diffe­ rent. The Count would never have been capable of singing or composing “Voi che sapete”. Incidentally, the same ap­ plies to Don Giovanni. Cherubino is a fragile, gender-fluid composer, an artist. ns How would you summarize this opera? Does it make a point about love that still applies to us today? bk What makes Le nozze di Figaro so powerful is that love is not described, but is practised. Love as a verb. Other than Cherubino, the characters don’t sing that much about love. Figaro and Susanna show their love more than they reflect it. With the Count­ ess, we see only the pain that her love



for her husband causes her every day. What we see is that love is not static, but is constantly in motion, or perhaps even changes completely. Marcellina is the best example of that. She desires Figaro as a lover. Then in Act 3 we have the exposé, and suddenly we are in an Oedipus story again; then she has to transform her love within a few bars, from “that is my future husband” to “that is my lost child.” It’s a perfect exam­ple of love in motion. ns What is the situation with love and forgiveness? At the end, the Countess forgives the Count – in the music too. Is it absolute proof of love or complete capitulation? bk I once read that in Mozart the half-tone interval, as we hear from by the Count – in this case A-sharp to B-flat – is always a sign of unfaithful­ ness. The Count is asking forgiveness in a moment of shame and shock. In that moment, he sincerely hopes for the Countess’s forgiveness. But at least his unconscious knows that he won’t remain faithful to her. Perhaps the mu­ sic should be understood in this vein. The Countess’s music has no such mo­ ments, her forgiveness is honest. But I don’t think that forgiveness really oc­ curs as a complete solution here. I think she forgives him at the moment, but she says: “I forgive you once again.” Her en­ tire life has been a series of absolutions.


Is this the last time that she for­ gives the Count? bk Who knows? Who knows what she will think when she wakes up the next day. For me, she is trapped in an endless crisis. Her marriage is a catas­ trophe. That makes it very real and very modern. She cannot escape from this loop. And this pain, the melancholy, when her forgiveness is repeated softly by the ensemble. The happy ending follows like a coda. But not everyone is happy. ns What form does this coda take? It fulfils the requirement of a comic opera that the ending must be happy. The fast “corriam tutti” almost invites a contra­diction. bk The ending is as if someone put a record on: happy music, let’s all dance. The critical elements lie underneath. It is as if someone is singing “Happy birth­ day”. Everyone has to sing it because the piece has to end. When I imagine what I would do if I were writing this play... I would perhaps end with the question (sings) “perdo-ona...” – Blackout. What does forgiveness mean? I think this is another example of how amazingly modern the play is. This such incredibly human dialogue: “Do you forgive me?” – “I forgive you, although” And the “al­ though” is in the music, not in the text.





HOW SUSANNA TAUGHT THE COUNT SOCIAL MORES SOCIO-CRITICAL TONES IN MOZART’S LE NOZZE DI FIGARO In autumn 1824, 35 years after the French Revolution, the youngest bro­ ther of King Louis XVI (executed 1793) ascended to the French throne. The first official act of the 67-year-old king was to declare freedom of the press and the elimination of censorship. Just a few months later, a daily newspaper was established in Paris with the title Le Figaro. A more appropriate title for the newspaper could scarcely have been chosen. With it, the newspaper foun­ ders were alluding not only to a highly gifted conveyor of news, but also a time in which the dream of human rights and freedom of the press was starting to take shape and had not yet been conta­ minated by hateful reality. Figaro – this was the theatrical cha­ racter of the shrewd, intelligent and rebellious Andalusian barber chosen by Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumar­ chais to memorialize the third estate, the middle classes, and, to be sure, also to an extent himself. The three parts of the Figaro trilogy were written be­ tween 1774 and 1790; the first two parts, Le barbier de Séville ou La précaution inutile (1774) and La folle journée ou

Le mariage de Figaro (1784) were highly successful, and not just as plays. They found their way into opera faster than any other play. It was nothing unusual per se for spoken dramas to be adap­ ted as operas; there are very few opera libretti that like Aida were written from scratch and not based on any lite­ rary source material. The speed with which Figaro became an opera hero is nevertheless surprising and may be due in part to the fact that the play it­ self was modelled after a comic opera. Beaumarchais completed a first version of his Barber comedy in 1772, initially as an opéra comique; there are many traces of the songs intended for the piece in the work for spoken thea­ tre that premièred two years later, such as the serenade below the window in which the Count reveals his supposed name of Lindor to his beloved. When Mozart was staying in Paris between March and September 1778, he proba­ bly saw Beaumarchais’ Barber comedy. He composed twelve variations for pia­ no (K 299a/354) on that very serenade, the second verse of which begins with the words: “Je suis Lindor”.



In 1782 Giovanni Paisiello wrote an opera entitled Il barbiere di Siviglia based on Beaumarchais’ comedy. When this opera was premièred in Vienna a year later, Mozart was present. And when in 1785 the second part of the trilogy, Beaumarchais’ La folle journée ou Le mariage de Figaro, was presen­ ted, he immediately jumped at the op­ portunity. He had been looking for a suitable libretto that would ignite his musical imagination for some time. “I looked through at least 100 – or even more – texts, but did not find a sing­ le one that satisfied me”, he wrote on 7 May 1783 to his father. This letter mentioned for the first time the name of a “certain abate daPonte as poet”. But it was not until more than two years later that the poet and the com­ poser would get together and Mozart could convince Da Ponte of the idea of a libretto based on La folle journée ou Le mariage de Figaro. Da Ponte assumed the task of neutralizing the political overtones of this rebellious play, which was banned in Vienna, to such an ex­ tent that Emperor Joseph II would approve its performance as an opera. In his comedy, Beaumarchais drew a rather disparaging picture of the nobility and a society in which a count could take whatever he pleased and his subordinates had no rights at all. A servant who gives his mas­ ter the run-around and makes him a laugh­ ing stock did not fit in the world-view of estate-based society – no wonder then that La folle journée ou Le mariage de Figaro prompted out­ rage and also fear amongst the ru­ ling class. Le nozze di Figaro premièred as an opera buffa on 1 May 1786 at the Altes Burgtheater and was supposed to be thoroughly enjoyable.

However, Mozart surreptitiously re­ introduced the political implications that Da Ponte had carefully removed from the story. Those who have ears to hear it will recognize a musical com­ mentary on the prevailing social condi­ tions at a number of points. To this end, Mozart very often used popular dance rhythms – and the political messages that went along with them. Above all the minuet: ever since the Sun King Louis XIV had identified it as his favou­ rite dance, the minuet gestures were considered to be the musical emblem of court conduct. As such, Mozart used it in Le nozze di Figaro, albeit not with the good intention of endowing the nobility with noble musical tone co­ lour, but using the subversive strategy of parading them. Figaro’s challenge to the Count, his aria “Se vuol ballare, Signor Contino” (Act 1, Scene 2) is composed in minu­ et rhythm. Figaro himself takes pos­ session of the court dance, thereby as it were placing himself on a level with the Count. More subtly – and at the same time incredibly derisively – Mozart then uses the minuet rhythm above all in the scene in Act 2 in which the jealously raging Count accuses his wife of infidelity and intends to break down the door to the cabinet with appro­ priate tools, only to see not Cheru­ bino but Susanna emerge. The lady’s maid advances though the pandemonium to a minuet rhythm. It is as if time stands still for a moment, as if the world shining out of the cabi­ net into the noble couple’s argument is more intact than the unmannerly be­ haviour of the nobility. And it seems as if with her musical reprimand of court behaviour Susanna is teaching her masters an unspoken but nevertheless



unmistakable lesson of how one should really behave. On the eve of the French Revolution, more than a hundred years after codification of the minuet as THE court dance, this connotation of a dance has lost nothing of its topi­ cality and persuasiveness. It was not the only lesson that Su­ sanna taught the Count, her bride­ groom and the public. Using her as his mouthpiece, Mozart expressed his view of what society could improve – and at that of all places in the sup­ posedly so non-political rose aria in Act 4 (“Deh vieni non tardar”). Mozart charged the text intended by the libret­ tist to be harmless, a conventional aria of yearning and love, with musi­ cal ciphers that inform the audience about something above and beyond the dramatic situation. Disguised in the Countess’s clothes, Susanna waits for the Count in the dark garden. However, she sees Figaro approa­ ching and decides to tease him by pre­ tending to gaze lovingly at the Count, but in reality making a secret decla­ ration of love to her bridegroom. It is a scene in which the conflict between the estates could have played a role in the music. A draft of an aria does exist with Susanne disguised as the Coun­ tess; it is one that a countess might have sung, with sweeping gestures and in the heroic key of E-flat major. How­ ever, Mozart decided against it and used the instrumentation, time signa­ ture and key to evoke a world in which, based on traditional ideas, there were no social differences – the world of Arcadia in the Golden Age, in which gods and men communicate on an equal footing, eternal peace rules and in which, as Ovid wrote at the begin­ ning of his Metamorphoses, loyalty and

justice prevail without prescription. The shepherds in that distant, uto­ pian Arcadia had in the course of the centuries become associated with the shepherds in the Christmas story, to whom the angels announce the Christ­ mas message of peace on earth. The music of these shepherds, as could be seen in all the illustrations of the birth of Jesus since the Middle Ages, was played on shepherd’s pipe and bagpipe, and since a tradition had become established in Italy in around 1700 to compose shepherd’s music in F major and the swaying 6/8 time sig­ nature of a “Siciliano” rhythm, these musical elements also helped describe Arcadia, the place of longing. All these elements can be found in the rose aria – the D major key, the Siciliano air, the flutes, oboes and bassoons in the orchestra. This music ostensibly illus­ trated the scene in the garden with its flowers and murmuring brooks. However, there is another layer to the rose aria. With its Arcadian tone, the music of a hierarchy-free society and the music of peace, in a world where idylls had become fragile and deceptive, in which servants speak rebelliously, with her at once serious and cheerful, capricious and sensuous, playful and sensitive aria, Susanna re­ conciles court and bourgeois worlds in­ stead of doing as Figaro does, namely pitting them against each other. Just as Susanne in the Countess’s cabinet taught the Count a lesson with the mi­ nuet rhythm, with the rose aria music she also comments on how she could see a society without upper and lower strata, without ranking, without the power of rulers over servants, without the power of men over women. And it is precisely the Count who is willing and



able to learn this lesson. The man who throughout the opera had exer­ cised the right to hassle Susanna while also accusing his wife of infidelity, and in expectation of a clandestine rendez­ vous goes into the garden at night. What he does not know is that the Countess and Susanna have switched clothes. And now he believes what he is seeing is his servant Figaro flirting with the Countess. Outraged, he sum­ mons the entire household, rejecting all pleas for forgiveness. Until the real Countess steps out of the darkness and asks for forgiveness. In the general stupefaction, the Count begs the Countess’s forgive­ ness, which she grants him, and the opera ends like all opera buffa with general rejoicing. A composer other than Mozart would probably have accommodated these short and not very meaningful lines in the general flow of the music, especially since the household then expresses their general approval. Mozart however creates one of the most magnificent goose-bump moments in opera history. The Count, who has just repeated his “No!” with great implacability, now realizes that his lordly self-righteousness was mis­ guided. It is no more than ten bars in this finale of more than 500 bars, but in them time seems to stand still and the world changes. The Count, master of the house, who missed no opportunity to demonstrate his domination, bows to the moral and manifest superiority of his wife, recog­ nizes his wrong­ doing and promises to do better. And Mozart relished this moment in the music. Ever since the Count called to arms to punish Figaro and his supposedly unfaithful wife, the nervous, excited quavers in the strings

have not stopped. Now, however, at the words “Contessa, perdono” the tempo abruptly changes from Allegro assai to Andante, the quavers are silent, and the instruments follow his declama­ tion, so that a moment of absolute pea­ ce and intimacy is created through the music. The Countess answers him in the same vein, and it almost seems as if with their regained intimacy the two of them are alone and see no one else in the midst of the turmoil. The Count begins his apology with an upward sixth interval charged with tension, increasing this to a seventh in the repeat. For her part, the Coun­ tess soothes and eases the situation by answering “only” with a fifth interval and then repeating it, instead of choo­ sing a larger interval. Suddenly it is no longer a turbulent comedy of mistaken identity, but an auratic moment. And all those in attendance are so capti­ vated by this moment that initially all they can do, in disbelief and “sotto voce”, is very quietly repeat the Coun­ tess’s melody until in fact the exube­ rance typical of buffa operas bursts out. It is as if this “Contessa, perdono” opens up a view of a better world – a world in which the rulers are capable of humility and the humiliated can for­ give. Reality looked rather different. It erupted a short while later into a vio­ lent revolution. In Le nozze di Figaro, Mozart pointed out the shortcomings of estate-based society. With his mu­ sic, he illustrated avenues out of this poor state of affairs. He loved female roles and especially Susanna quite un­ashamedly. And yet he showed the Count – and with him all his relatives in the audience – a possible way out of the pretentiousness for which they had only themselves to blame. Next pages: HANNA-ELISABETH MÜLLER as COUNTESS ALMAVIVA YING FANG as SUSANNA ANDRÈ SCHUEN as COUNT ALMAVIVA


CHERUBINO’S ART “Egli è ancor fanciullo,” (“he’s still a boy”) Susanna says, referring to Che­ rubino, when she’s trying to protect the page from the Count’s ire. “Un fanciullo,” (“a boy”) the Coun­ tess also replies, when the Count de­ mands to know who is hiding in her closet. The Count seems even more furious at this dismissal of his rival – because he is a rival. When Cherubino first enters, he is in despair. He’s going to be banished from the house, the Count himself has decided it. Why? Because the Count caught him with Barbarina, Susanna’s cousin. What the Count was doing in the home of her father Antonio, the gardener, is something we learn in Act III, when Barbarina openly asks the Count befo­ re the house’s inhabitants to honour a promise. When he was kissing and em­ bracing her, he declared she could have anything she wants from him (she wants Cherubino for her husband). Everyone loves Cherubino, he’s so young and pretty, whether dressed as a boy or a girl. And Cherubino has so­ mething to offer. The page is in love. Rather than worshipping an ideal, he’s in love with every woman he’s ever met. He overflows with pubescent enthusiasm when he sings his first aria:

Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio, Or di foco, ora sono di ghiaccio, Ogni donna cangiar di colore, Ogni donna mi fa palpitar. He doesn’t know what he is or what he’s doing, he feels hot and cold, every woman makes him blush, and makes his heart beat faster. The director Bar­ rie Kosky fittingly called this aria from Act 1 a “hymn to adolescence” – puber­ ty seems to be on the verge of breaking out from every pore. Søren Kierkegaard had a different view. The Danish philosopher placed Cherubino in the first of three stages of his model of the “musical erotic” which he illustrates in his major work “Either/Or” with three male charac­ ters from three of Mozart’s operas – Cherubino, Papageno and Don Giovan­ ni. The goal of Kierkegaard’s analysis is to define Don Giovanni – the opera, explicitly not the character – as having arrived at sensual genius by a route leading through the different ways in which – according to Kierkegaard – the sensual, the erotic and desire is present in Mozart’s music and his male charac­ ters. “If we remember that desire is pre­ sent in all three stages, we can say that in the first stage it is specified as dreaming, in the second as seeking, in the third as



desiring.” For Kierkegaard, Cherubino is still asleep, and dreaming. “The sensual awakens, though not to movement but to quiescence, not to joy and gladness but to deep melancholy.” Kierkegaard uses a metaphor from bio­ logy, or specifically zoology. Quiescen­ ce describes a delay in development due to external circumstances. One example is hibernation in vertebrates. What does Kierkegaard hear when he’s listening to “Non so più, cosa son, cosa faccio”? Somnambulistic confusion, incomprehension, with resulting me­ lancholy and overload. A remarkable example of a biased reading, an inter­ pretation rooted in its prior assumpti­ ons. Kierkegaard does not understand Cherubino’s overflowing sensuality as sexuality, but only as its precursor. The gender game in which Mozart writes a woman’s vocal part for the character of a young man who is in love with all women and finally disguises himself as a woman is for Kierkegaard a gender limbo which he recognizes from the plant world. “This contradiction also points to the contradictory nature of the stage; the desire is so indeterminate, its ob­ ject so little distinguished, that the de­ sired rests androgynously in the desire, just as in plant life male and female oc­ cupy one blossom. Desire and its object are joined in this unity since they are both neutrias generis.” Kierkegaard insists on seeing the page and the objects of his desire as neutered, “without gender”, because he cannot imagine that “the object” is not “distinguished” from the desire, but gender can also be distinguished by its unclear, constructed and fluid nature. Authors like Michel Foucault (Herculine Barbin) or Judith Butler

(Gender Trouble) describe in the late 20th century how questions of trans­ vestism and hermaphroditism have occupied people through the centu­ ries. If Kierkegaard is only able to see Cherubino as a hibernating animal or a plant, this cannot be explained just by “the time”. Barrie Kosky’s Cherubino character is also distinguished by what the direc­ tor calls its “gender fluidity”, which is perceptible at many points in the opera. In the interplay between Susanna, Che­ rubino and the Countess, the androgy­ nous aspect is important – his skin is softer than hers, Susanna complains, as she dresses Cherubino, many women would be glad of it (of what, exactly? There is an ellipsis at this point in the libretto). And he should stop being so pretty. The disguise scene, where Lo­ renzo Da Ponte turned one line from Beaumarchais’ play into an aria for Su­ sanna (“Venite inginocchiatevi”) is the first of two travesty scenes for Cheru­ bino. In Act 3 Barbarina also thinks it’s a good idea to disguise Cherubino as a girl, to present flowers to the Countess together with him and the other young women of the area. The idea isn’t im­ mediately followed up, but will play a role in the plot: during the disguise in Barbarina’s apartment, Cherubino’s hat is left behind. As a result, Barbarina’s father An­ tonio discovers the two and marches in with the Count in tow to expose them in front of a crowd of witnesses (in­ cluding the Countess). This gives Bar­ barina an audience when she reminds the Count of the promise mentioned earlier (you might almost think that Barbarina deliberately left the hat out). But there is more to say about this character driving the action than his



overflowing pubescent enthusiasm and androgynous fascination. Cheru­ bino takes tingling adolescence to ex­ tremes, and tops it by writing poetry. Something else that director Barrie Kosky noted in looking at Cherubino is that while the page’s first aria des­ cribes his emotions, the second is iden­ tified from the start as the page’s own work. He wrote the song, it’s success­ ful, and he wants everyone – or every woman, at least – to know it. Romanist Jürgen von Stackelberg who translated classic Italian poets such as Francesco Petrarca, Dante Ali­ ghieri and Torquato Tasso into German has looked closely into Cherubino’s poetry. Stackelberg was particularly interested in how Da Ponte developed Cherubino from the material he found in Beaumarchais’ Le mariage de Figaro. He noted that “Non so più, cosa son, cosa faccio” powerfully reinforces the character’s profile. In Beaumarchais we find at the corresponding point an emotional outburst which demands to be shared: “I don’t know if I’m coming or going; for a while now I’ve felt some­ thing stirring in my breast; my heart beats faster if I just see a woman; the words love and desire make me trem­ ble. The need to tell someone I love them has become so strong that I say it if I’m walking through the park alone, to your mistress, to the trees, to the clouds, the wind that scatters them like my words.” (I, 7) Da Ponte also emphasized the ra­ cing pulse (“ogni donna mi fa palpi­ tar”), but Stackelberg noted that the walk in the park had been expanded into a “positively baroque sounding appeal to Nature” – Da Ponte’s Cheru­ bino is talking to the water, the shade,

the mountains, the flowers, the herbs (or grass), the springs, the echo, the air and the wind. Parlo d’amor vegliando, Parlo d’amor sognando, All’acque, all’ombra, ai monti, Ai fiori, all’erbe, ai fonti, All’eco, all’aria, ai venti, Che il suon de’ vani accenti Portano via con se. E se non ho chi m’oda Parlo d’amor con me. Stackelberg interprets Da Ponte’s point – Cherubino talks to himself about love if nobody else is prepared to listen – as a “more strongly selfcentred, ‘solip­sistic’ concept” of the page. Actually, Beaumarchais’ Cherubino also mentions nocturnal monologues about love – the relocation at the end is more appropriate for the aria, and describing this as “solipsism” seems perhaps a little too strong. It is true that Cherubino as an opera character for Da Ponte gains the opportunity to indulge his poetic ego in the intensifi­ cation of the second part of his aria, by breathlessly interweaving nature and sensation in the manner of a poet of sensitivity. The canzona – in Mozart, the ariet­ ta – “Voi che sapete che cosa è amor” is again important for Cherubino’s character, although in a different way. He presents this as a piece he has writ­ ten himself. At the point where Beau­ marchais’ Cherubino sings a romance to the melody of the French nursery song “Malborough s’en va-t-en guerre” (“Marlbrough goes to war”), Loren­ zo Da Ponte and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart have put a song that quickly became the page’s visiting card.



Voi, che sapete che cosa è amor, donne vedete, s’io l’ho nel cor. Quello ch’io provo, vi ridirò, è per me nuovo, capir nol so. Sento un affetto pien di desir, ch’ora è diletto, ch’ora è martir.

You ladies who know what love is, see if I have it in my heart. I will tell you what I feel, it’s new to me, and I don’t understand. I have a feeling full of longing, sometimes rapture, sometimes anguish.

Gelo, e poi sento l’alma avvampar, e in un momento torno a gelar. Ricerco un bene fuori di me, non so chi’l tiene, non so cos’è.

I freeze, then I feel my soul catch fire, and the next moment I freeze again. I seek for a treasure I do not have, I don’t know who has it, I don’t know what it is.

Sospiro e gemo senza voler, palpito e tremo senza saper; non trovo pace notte, nè dì, ma pur mi piace languir così.

I sigh and moan, without wanting to, I tremble and quiver, without knowing. I find no peace, by day or night, yet it is such delight to languish so.

Jürgen von Stackelberg found allu­sions to Dante and Petrarch in this verse, and even called it a “disguised sonnet”. To reveal it, he divides the four-line strophes of the canzona into two fourline and two three-line strophes. This matches the song with the Petrarchan sonnet form, which has two quatrains and two tercets. However, the rhyming scheme Da Ponte chose is different. In connection with his sonnet theory, Stackelberg offered interesting refe­ rences to Petrarch and Dante, but ulti­ mately the Cherubino character is un­ derstandable through Mozart’s musical setting of Da Ponte’s poem. This shows us Cherubino’s poem in quatrains with end rhymes in which verso piano (plain verse, stress on the penultimate syllable) and verso tronco (truncated verse, stress on the last sylla­ble) alternate. A simple, traditio­ nal Italian verse form for the youthful author to display. It is, however, note­ worthy what Jürgen von Stackelberg had to say about the content and meta­ phors of Cherubino’s song, and how this relates to Beaumarchais.

“Beaumarchais’ page wanted to de­ monstrate the uniqueness and magni­ tude of his love to his idol – it was a hymn to the Countess. However, Da Ponte’s Cherubino wallows in meta­ phors and similes which only relate to himself. He engages in introspec­ tion, analyses his own feelings, which basic­ally are no different from those of other lovers. They also have virtually nothing specifically boyish, when they prove as contradictory as lovers have always been since time immemorial, or since Petrarch, if not since the trouba­ dours of Provence. Cherubino is tho­ roughly ‘solipsistic’ here.” Quite right – Cherubino is excited about his own feelings, the natural metaphors he finds for them, the fire and ice in his own breast. He thinks his own feelings are remarkable, and the verses he made for them are worth sha­ ring. Because this is also important – the versifying youngster is admittedly a little ashamed, but is ready to per­ form and is applauded. “I didn’t know you could sing so well,” the Countess says, and Susanna adds ambiguously,



“Oh everything he does, he does well.” In considering Cherubino’s artistry and the reaction of other characters to this, Cherubino takes on a remar­ kable colouring. His overflowing pubes­ cent capacity for enthusiasm, his all-­ embracing (he wishes) love, the self-confidence (for all his uncer­ tainty), and the ability to appeal to others are reflected in the attempts of Johann Lavater to describe his notion of “genius” in his Essays on Physiognomy; calculated to extend the knowledge and love of mankind (1775-1778). “Call it fertility of the spirit, inex­ haustibility, the font of inventiveness! Call it spirit or senses and the nervous system which easily accepts impres­ sions and responds with a rapidly in­ tegrated lively individuality! Call it the unrejected, natural, inner energy of the spirit! Call it the force of creativity; call it intensive and extensive mental power, the accumulation and concen­ tration of all natural forces; call it living performance art; call it mastery of emotions; call it effectiveness which always works, never misses in all its effect, suffering, allowing, silence, speech; call it intimacy, warmth, with the power to make them palpable! Call it the key spirit, the fire which nothing can resist; call it the living and life-giving spirit which fills its life and shares it easily in all its power; which throws itself into everything with vigour and the force of lightning!” The heavy woodwind mix of the arrange­ ment and deliberately simple structure of the song in “Voi che sapete” also prevent the assumption that Mozart and Da Ponte explicitly pre­

sented Cherubino as an 18th century genius; it is perhaps interesting to note conversely how much of Lavater’s defi­ nition of genius can also be taken as a description of the euphoric manifesta­ tions of puberty. In any case, Lavater’s expansive definition does contain cha­ racteristics which apply to Cherubino: his “intimacy and warmth” clearly with the “power to make them palpable”. In staging Le nozze di Figaro, the in­ terpretation of Cherubino as a (grow­ ing) artist adds additional colour­ing. The interplay between talent and shyness, overwhelming enthusiasm and uncertainty, combined with the androgynous aspect of the character draws a subtle picture of the appeal of the page. Cherubino is not a “boy”, or not just that. He is a young man whose sexuality is developing, and he has talent, which means that he is able to present the “analysis of his own fee­ lings” which Stackelberg talks about, in a way that captures other people’s attention. Like the creative writer de­ scribed by Sigmund Freud in “Creative writers and day-dreaming”, he has the mysterious talent for artistic form. This enables him to turn what Freud claims is the ability everyone has to “daydream” into art, from the personal, which can be unpleasant when it is revealed, to public material which is pleasing and is applauded. Freud writes “It may even be that not a little of this effect is due to the writer’s enabling us thenceforward to enjoy our own day-dreams without self-reproach or shame.” Perhaps the poet Da Ponte, and Cherubino as his proxy, are enabling us to do just this.




LEOPOLD MOZART TO MARIA ANNA BERCHTOLD ZU SONNENBURG (NÉE MOZART) Salzburg, 11 November 1785 I finally received a letter dated 2 November from your bro­ ther, 12 lines long. He asked forgiveness because he has been in a mad rush to finish the opera Le nozze di Figaro. He thanked me and you for the wishes and asked me to apologize especially to you. Besides sen­ ding his good wishes, he asked me to let you know that he does not have time to answer your letter im­ mediately: that in order to keep the morning clear for writing, he has rescheduled all his pupils for the after­noon. I know the piece, it is very tedious, and the translation from the French must certainly be chan­ ged to make it suitable for an opera. God grant that it turns out well; I have no doubts about the music. It will cost him much running around and research until the has the libretto as he wants it for his purposes. And he is always putting it off, and taking his time as is his wont; now he must set to in all seriousness because he is being pressed by Count Rosenberg.*


* Franz Xaver Count of Orsini-Rosenberg, headed up the Vienna Court Theatre from 1776 as “General Spectacle Director”.





LE NOZZE DI FIGARO SEASON 2023/24 (Première of the production 11 MARCH 2023) Publisher WIENER STAATSOPER GMBH, Opernring 2, 1010 Wien Director DR. BOGDAN ROŠČIĆ Music Director PHILIPPE JORDAN Administrative Director DR. PETRA BOHUSLAV General Editors SERGIO MORABITO, NIKOLAUS STENITZER Design & concept EXEX Layout & typesetting MIWA MEUSBURGER Cover picture MARTIN CONRADS, BERLIN Cover image title: WEEGEE (ARTHUR FELLIG): HEARTBREAK PILLOW – INTERNATIONAL CENTER OF PHOTOGRAPHY / GETTY IMAGES. Cover concept MARTIN CONRADS, BERLIN All performance photos by MICHAEL PÖHN Printed by PRINT ALLIANCE HAV PRODUKTIONS GMBH, BAD VÖSLAU TEXT REFERENCES All texts were taken from the première programme of the Vienna State Opera 2019. All articles were written for this programme. English translations Andrew Smith. Reproduction only with approval of Wiener Staatsoper GmbH / Dramaturgy. Holders of rights who were unavailable regarding retrospect compensation are requested to make contact. This production is sponsored by

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