Discover – or rediscover – the sublime beauty of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro in these selections from Youtube.
San Diego OperaTalk! with Nick Reveles
San Diego Opera's Nick Reveles hosts this in-depth examination of Mozart's delightful comedy of manners.
Act 1: Figaro: Se vuol ballare, Signor Contino
It is the wedding day of Figaro and Susanna, valet and maid to the Count and Countess Almaviva. Susanna warns Figaro that the lecherous Count has designs on her. He wants to revive the feudal droit du Seigneur that supposedly entitled the lord to possess the bride of any of his servants. The count had abolished the practice upon marrying the countess, but now wishes to revive it in order to have his way with Susanna.
Susanna is perfectly capable of taking care of herself, but Figaro is furious. After Susanna leaves, Figaro expresses his determination to overthrow the Count's plans with a defiant little soliloquy:
You want to dance, dear little Count?
Well I'll call the tune!
... I'll uncover his plans by concealing my own.
I'll make defence an art and upset his schemes.
The best revolutionary anthems are edgy, subversive, and catchy, and this aria fills the bill on all counts.
It begins, unexpectedly, as a minuet – a courtly dance associated with the aristocracy – which Figaro sings with polite insolence. He appropriates the music of the aristocracy to declare his intention to overthrow the count's schemes. As Figaro becomes more and more agitated, the minuet is replaced by a fast-paced contredanse (a country dance associated with the bourgeoisie) that dashes along, lickety-split, before returning to the suave minuet.
This is music that tells us the Count has met his match.
Bryn Terfel is Figaro in this 1999 Metropolitan Opera production, conducted by James Levine.
Act 1: Cherubino: Non so più, cosa son cosa facio
Cherubino, the count's young male page, is discovering girls – and as a result he's in a constant state of delicious turmoil. Traditionally, Cherubino is a trousers role, i.e., a male role played by a female singer. In Pacific Opera Victoria's production the role will be performed by countertenor Ray Chenez.
Here mezzo soprano Federica Von Stade is the ardent, confused Cherubino.
Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio,
or di foco, ora sono di ghiaccio
I no longer know what I am, what I do;
now I'm all fire, now all ice;
every woman changes my temperature, every
woman makes my heart beat faster.
The very mention of love, of delight,
disturbs me, changes my heart, and
speaking of love, forces on me a
desire I cannot restrain!
... I speak of love while I'm awake,
I speak of love while I'm sleeping,
to rivers, to shadows, to mountains,
to flowers, to grass, to fountains,
to echoes, to air, to winds,
until they carry away
the sound of my useless words.
... And if no one is near to hear me
I speak of love to myself.
From a 1980 production conducted by Georg Solti at Paris Opera Garnier.
Act 3: Sull'aria...che soave zeffiretto (the Letter Duet)
To expose the Count's infidelity, the Countess has Susanna write a letter inviting him to meet her for a tryst. In this lovely duet, two strong, intelligent women, of two different classes, are united in purpose.
Che soave zeffiretto
Questa sera spirerà
Sotto i pini del boschetto.
A little song on the breeze
What a gentle little Zephyr
This evening will sigh
Under the pines in the little grove.
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa is the Countess, with Ileana Cotrubas as Susanna. John Pritchard conducts the London Philharmonic in this 1973 production from Glyndebourne.
Morgan Freeman and Mozart: The Shawshank Redemption Opera Scene
Sull'aria (the Letter Duet)
How many people discovered opera through the 1994 movie The Shawshank Redemption?
Here is the mesmerizing scene in which convict Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) defies authority by barricading himself in one of the offices of Shawshank Prison and putting on a record. Everyone in the prison yard is transfixed as the ethereal sounds of Sull'aria blast out over the PA system.
Another inmate, Lifer "Red" Redding (Morgan Freeman) describes the moment in a voice-over:
I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don't want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can't be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.
Here Sull'aria is performed by Edith Mathis (Susanna) and Gundula Janowitz (the Countess) in a 1968 recording. Karl Böhm conducts the Deutsche Oper Orchestra.