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Domestic Intrigue: The Marriage of Figaro

The history of opera is full of brilliant efforts by standout teams of composers and writers. But a few stand out above all the rest: Falstaff by Verdi and Boito, Der Rosenkavalier by Strauss and Hofmannsthal, and The Marriage of Figaro, by perhaps the greatest team of them all, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte.

Not coincidentally, those operas also have something else in common. All three are comedies with an emotional depth that few tragedies have ever achieved.

The story of Mozart's Figaro explores territory that many found worrisome when it was written in the mid-1780s — the often contentious relationship between the classes. That's why the original play by Pierre Beaumarchais, was banned by ruling authorities in France, and why Mozart's opera made the Austrian monarchy more than a little bit nervous. Both the play and the opera clearly illuminate the limitations of rank and privilege, showing us that common sense can readily overcome wealth and power, and that genuine humility easily upstages unwarranted arrogance.

Da Ponte's dialogue is subtle and meticulously layered — but at the same time, witty and involving. Mozart's music is well-crafted and immensely sophisticated — but also tuneful and infectious.

Their opera, with all its artistic contrasts and complexities, reveals some simple, real-life truths: that harsh economic realities are no impediment to the instinctive richness of human intellect, and that stultifying social conventions will never dampen the spontaneity of human emotions.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone brings us The Marriage of Figaro in a production production from Houston Grand Opera. It stars the brilliant young soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian as Susanna, with baritone Oren Gradus in the title role.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive

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