It was hailed as a masterpiece at its premiere in Vienna in 1786; it still is a masterpiece. The Marriage of Figaro was revolutionary, both musically and textually. Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte created, in effect, a new form of opera; one in which the drama was advanced in the arias and ensembles unlike the form up to that time of recitative being used to tell the story. Mozart asked Da Ponte to base an Italian libretto on a French play by Pierre Beaumarchais. The play was frankly subversive to the extent that it was banned by the Emperor in Vienna. In the fourth act of the play, Figaro has a speech in which he rages against the privileges of inherited nobility. This was changed in the opera to a rage against unfaithful wives and thus the opera was passed by the censors. But the opera still mocks the aristocratic masters, giving the servants the upper hand, particularly the women. In many ways it is a perfect opera: endlessly beautiful music used to tell the story and reveal the characters in a mostly light-hearted way.
Figaro is returning to the Opera House (Oct. 18- Nov. 2) in a revival of the truly beautiful production directed by Sir David McVicar with lovely sets and costumes by Jenny Tiramani. Created first for the Royal Opera House, this production has already been seen in Melbourne and Sydney but its return is welcome for the honour that it does to this Mozartian masterpiece.
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