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‘Marriage of Figaro’ is a play by Beaumarchais. It was performed during the eighteenth century in France and is a continuation of his earlier play. The protagonist is Susanna who is Figaro’s fiancée and works as a maid for the Countess. The Count wants to take Susanna from her fiancée Figaro, who is his valet. This makes Figaro to vow for revenge against his Master, who believes that he has a right to sleep with every woman. The Countess also learns about his philandering husband and worries so much. As the play progresses, the Countess and Susanna plans on how to trap the Count so that he is ashamed of his actions. They successfully trap him, but he reconciles to his wife and they later re unite.
Symbolically, the play is linked to what was happening in France before the Revolution. This is the reason why the government eventually banned it since it felt that it was being attacked by Beaumarchais, who directly criticized social and political aspects that were happening during those days. Later, Mozart and Da Ponte converted the play into an opera but they omitted the parts that were critical to the government. The paragraphs below discuss the origins of the literary work by Beaumarchais as well as the story behind Mozart’s translation of the work into an opera ties together music, literature and comedy.
The play was written just before the French Revolution and this forms the origin of his literal works. Beaumarchais commented directly on social reform as well as on the differences that existed between the rich and the poor. This caused a rift between him and the government. He had the courage to attack the government due to its weaknesses in a very irritating way. “He said that when he had done battle with lions and tigers, he couldn’t be bothered with repulsive little insects that only dared to bite under cover of darkness” (Cunningham and Reich 41). This made the king very furious and immediately ordered his arrest. To make it worse, he was not taken to the Bastille that was meant for political opponents but, rather, he was kept in a room meant for prostitutes and thieves. He refused to leave the prison, even after his friends contributed money for his release, until the whole cabinet watched his play (Cunningham and Reich 41).
In the play, Beaumarchais shows a struggle between Figaro and the Count; which is based on wits. This clearly brings out symbolism since before Revolution in France, there was battle between the common people and the noble. Therefore, Figaro symbolizes the common people while the Count symbolizes the noble government in France before Revolution. Figaro has the courage to confront the king, who is very much determined to cheat with his fiancée. He feels that equality should be applied irrespective of one’s background and this makes him utter these words to his Master:
Because you are a noble lord you think yourself a superior being. Nobility, wealth, rank, offices, all make you proud! How have you earned so many advantages? All that was required of you was the effort of being born and nothing more, and for the rest, you’re no better than another man! While I, by God, lost and nearly smothered in the mob, have to battle for mere existence with more wits, effort and ingenuity that are used to govern all Spain in a century (Cunningham and Reich 45)!
The above speech symbolizes grievances of the common people in France due to the hardships they were undergoing through. The noble government did not have time to listen to their cries. But this was short-lived because after the Revolution, they got their freedom. The yearning for freedom and justice in France formed one of the origins of Beaumarchais literary work, for example symbolism.
In Act IV, Beaumarchais uses soliloquy element whereby Figaro, “unleashes a violent outburst against the ineptitude of aristocrats, the looseness of morals, the cruelties of useless wars, and the intrusion of censorship on free speech ...” (Cunningham and Reich 78). Figaro expresses his anger due to the injustice that is being carried out by the aristocrats as well as their immorality and cruelty. Furthermore, freedom of speech has already been suppressed by the government. He does not understand why every woman should sleep with the king a night before her wedding day. In essence, Beaumarchais portrays the real features of the government in France before Revolution. At that time, the government was very biased and used excess powers. Therefore, the soliloquy element has been used to express the hatred of the common people in France towards their government due to the difficulties they were undergoing through. Oppressive government acts as another origin of the literary work by Beaumarchais.
Satire is another literary element used by Beaumarchais in his play. He uses it to criticize aristocracy as well as libertinism which were prevalent before the French Revolution. He was a very determined man who used his intelligence and wisdom for the sake of his people. People in France respected his ideas and that is reason why they contributed a huge amount of money so that he could be released from jail. Therefore, aristocracy and immorality in France formed the foundation of Beaumarchais using satire as one of the literary elements in his play.
After some years, Mozart decided to translate the work of Beaumarchais into an opera. The problem was that the play had already been banned by the government. The man who was behind this translation was known as Lorenzo Da Ponte; a poet. He is the one who suggested on omitting some of the parts in the play that were offending to the government, so that they could be permitted to translate the play to an opera. Mozart decided to add music to the opera so that it would appear beautiful. He made some promises to the Emperor, who gave him permission to go ahead, “I have omitted or cut anything that might offend good taste or public decency at a performance over which the Sovereign Majesty might preside. The music, I may add, as far as I may judge of it, seems to me marvelously beautiful" (Cunningham and Reich 53). Immediately, the emperor gave him a go ahead.
Mozart’s opera is one of the outstanding among others because of its uniformity, combination and its progressive development. He used ensembles as a symbol of Revolution in France. “It brought a new dramatic and psychological realism to the medium. Instead of taking characters and their emotions using their own word, so to speak, audiences could now see and evaluate them in a variety of social contexts” (Cunningham and Reich 55). Furthermore, “the musical metaphors and the staged songs in the comedies both furnished the subject and suggested the placement of the arias in the opera” (Cunningham and Reich 56). Da Ponte strengthens the work done by Beaumarchais by using drama, which is then improved by Mozart, who makes it more interesting by adding music. The opera has been well developed by use of drama that is full of humor as well as music. Therefore, literature, comedy and music have all been tied together making it look real.
Music in the opera makes it very admirable and excellent. For example, when the Count and the Countess reunite, the audience gets a better understanding due to the use of music. They clearly see the harmony, happiness and joy that arises when a husband and a wife unites again after forgiveness.
Both the play and the opera had a significant to the society during those days. “Mozart’s opera too, in its exaltation of the servant classes, sets forth a cunning criticism of the ancient regime” (Cunningham and Reich 57).The play and the opera show how different classes existed among people in France in the eighteenth century. Mozart uses literature, drama and music to clearly show cruelty and shame. The opera brings out an aspect of life that is more sensible, kind, positive and tough-minded, “a unique utopian moment of reconciliation thus occurs, where the Master is integrated into the community of equals” (Cunningham and Reich 60). This occurs after the Master is trapped by his wife and caught red handed when he is about to cheat with his servant’s wife. This becomes very embarrassing for him and that is why he begs for pardon from his wife. Mozart uses music and drama to make this part memorable and amazing.
Mozart portrays the theme of equality by using different musical methods. “Occasionally, he gives accompanied recitatives, for example, to servants and at one point literally exchanging the vocal parts for the original singers who created the roles of the Countess and Susanna” (Cunningham and Reich 66).This clearly shows democracy. Mozart wished there was democracy in France during the eighteenth century and that is the reason why he ties music and this theme. Humor is expressed when the pageboy, Cheburino, sings with a moderately high range, which is meant for women. He is a teenage boy who admires all kind of women including the old. Surprisingly, in the play, he even admires the Countess.
The opening of the opera has got no music but a mood has been set to briefly describe the plot. Clearly, there is tension as well as devices for secret plans. Therefore, notes of the same pitch have been used in the music as well as a low sound from the instrumentals. Besides, “hushed dynamics hint at the dark aspects behind the mask of comedy” (Cunningham and Reich 69).
There is a lot of conflict among the characters especially of different sexes, which occurs at the middle of the opera. It is portrayed by use of loud series of musical notes that are played by the bassoons using the lower strings (Cunningham and Reich 79). Males are represented by large sounds from the drums, which depict anger. They are then ridiculed by their female Counterparts by use of higher-pitched notes using the violins (Cunningham and Reich 79). Later, the same violins play very sweet melodies thus showing moral uprightness as well as reconciliation. Moreover, comic has been applied by use of chattering musical instruments such as the woodwinds to represent Don Curzio, the judge, who has an artificial set of false teeth that is incomplete. Besides, the chattering woodwinds represent his stammering (Cunningham and Reich 80). Finally, there is joy when Figaro is allowed to marry Susanna, his fiancée, and it is expressed in music played by the characters using horns and trumpets as they march happily to “proclaim Figaro’s broader theme of triumph of love, virtue and truth that transcend the absolutist barriers of sex and station” (Cunningham and Reich 81).
During the preparations for their wedding with Susanna, Figaro measures the size of their room and wonders whether the space will be enough for their bed. A duet has been used to represent the paces used by him to measure the space. Meanwhile, his fiancée is preparing her wedding hat. She looks so happy and full of satisfaction. This joy burst out in sparkling semi-quavers (Cunningham and Reich 124).
Vengeance is well depicted in the play. Dr. Batolo hates Figaro because he made him divorce his wife Rosina, who is now married to the Count. He vows to take revenge on Figaro by making him marry Marcellina, an old woman, instead of Susanna. So, in the play, Bartolo sings a solo melody that is all about revenge. Marcellina and Susanna are rivals and their rivalry is shown by them singing a malicious duet.
In Act III, Susanna and the Countess plan to trick the Count by writing a letter to him and inviting him to the garden at night. Figaro feels so jealous about this because he thinks that his wife is cheating on him. This results to mixed emotions in the play. The letter concoction by the two ladies is the foundation for the most interesting spoken number in the opera, ‘‘the letter duet; an exquisite melody, in which the lady dictates, the maid writes down, and the voices of both blend in comment” (Cunningham and Reich 187). Drama and music have been used to reveal the mixed feelings.
Mozart’s opera is very satisfying to the audience since he has used various tunes that are very charming as well as jokes. The music used has a highly decorated texture that leads to rise in tension. This causes delight and excitement to the audience due to the continuous sense of hope. Anticipation mood combined with music as well as the jokes are tied together to make the opera more interesting (Cunningham and Reich 156).
In Act I, the opera starts with two compositions from two different characters, Figaro and Susanna, which is very remarkable. As the play progresses, a sextet in act III make it more charming and humorous when Figaro learns that Bartolo and Marcellina are his real parents. The great shock is revealed by use of music as well as drama.
Mozart’s opera is unique due to the use of ensemble. Out of the twenty eight numbers of the opera, half of them were meant for the solo voice and “it is in the set pieces such as the act 3 sextet and the finales to acts 2 and 4 that Mozart was able to write perfectly, mainly because the libretto allowed him to build such large interlinked structures” (Cunningham and Reich 190). Besides, the climax in act II takes about half an hour and the music in it accounts for more than half of all the music that has been used in the act (Cunningham and Reich 190). Therefore, the opera is a very good example of a real marriage that happens by a combination of music, literature and comedy. All the three elements have been tied together, perfectly, making it more ideal.
“Mozart is able to allow each character to give voice to his or her often changing individual emotions, and maintains the musical unity like instrumental movements. The structure has a hard solidity, an unbroken continuity, and a symphonic breadth” (Cunningham and Reich 238).Mozart has done this throughout the opera.
In act II, the Countess is very worried because of her husband’s infidelity. Music has been used to show her self-respect which is conveyed by the moderately pounding accompaniments. “Therefore, Figaro expounds to the two women his plot to confuse and ensnare the Count” (Cunningham and Reich 100).Figaro contributes a lot to the plan of tricking the Count since he wants to revenge.
The climax of the opera is in act IV, whereby Figaro accuses his wife of infidelity and calls Basilio and Bartolo to act as witnesses. But the real characters of his fiancée are shown in the music while her joy “in mischief is depicted by the dramatic situation, for this song of tender love is in reality addressed by her to Figaro, although he, overhearing it, is meant to believe that she is anticipating her assignation with the Count” (Cunningham and Reich 279). It is apparent that Susanna is not cheating on her fiancée, as her husband thinks, but it is a plan with the Countess to teach the Count a lesson. Therefore, music, drama as well as literature have been tied together to make a very interesting opera. The audience is able to clearly understand the real characters of the actors.
In conclusion, France government in the eighteenth century was very dictatorial and that is the reason why they jailed Beaumarchais, who wrote the play that depicted the differences which existed between the noble and the common people. The play has been commended by so many people because it contributed a lot to the French Revolution and thus brought positive changes to the society. Basically, the play and the opera show how common sense can conquer authority and riches.