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Classical 101

Who is This Guy Figaro, Anyway?

Adam Cioffari
Guy Barzilay Artists

Opera Columbus presents Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro in English at the Southern Theater on Wednesday March 4 at 7:30; Friday March 6 at 8 and Sunday March 10 at 2 p.m. Westerville born and raised Adam Cioffari, fresh from appearances in Houston, Berlin, Stuttgart and Santiago, sings the title role.

A buddy of mine once had a dog named Figaro. Come sunset he’d yell at the back door Figaro! Figaro! Figaro! I doubt he knew that Figaro sang and I doubt he knew who Figaro actually was.

Figaro, the Barber of Seville, is hairdresser to the stars in 18th century Seville. He’s an apothecary, a surgeon, a gossip and a fixer. He does everything for anyone with a purse including hoisting lottery tickets and enabling “assignations”.  Poet or pimp, Figaro is the  creation of French dramatist and bon vivant Pierre-Auguste Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799).

I doubt Monsieur Beaumarchais intended to begin a revolution when he created a character smarter than any of the nobility. It is with Figaro’s help that the goo-goo eyed Count Almaviva is finally able to win his beloved Rosina. A few years later, the Count and Countess Almavivia are having a Charles and Diana-esque unhappy marriage. Figaro is about to be married himself, and all of a sudden he is the second smartest person in the room.

Susanna, Figaro’s intended, is the smartest.  She too, sings well, and Susanna adores the Countess. Figaro is ready to punch the Count’s lights out for his philandering ways, including pawing at his dear Susanna. I won’t give away the plot except to tell you the Count gets his and apologizes to his wife. What happens after that need not detain us here.


Mozart’s music completely depicts the subtitle La Folle Journée (“One Crazy Day”) that Beaumarchais gave to his  Le nozze di FigaroIt becomes a long opera without a wasted note. We have the smart Susanna, the good-hearted if slightly doofyFigaro, the slick count,  a horny page-boy (played by a girl if you come in late) an unhappy Countess and assorted schemers and hangers-on. And after this the deluge.

In Mozart’s day it was unheard of for a servant (Figaro) to be smarter and better than the nobility (Almaviva) . Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte was more devilish even than Beaumarchais; not for da Ponte was there any watering down. Mozart and da Ponte created a Figaro who was, in fact, intimidating to his own master.

Sensibly,  Le nozze di Figaro and its prequel  Le Barbier de Séville were banned in France by order of the hapless, and soon headless, Louis XVI. The young Queen Marie Antoinette, who had a fondness for expensive dress-up, saw no harm in portraying both Rosina and Suzanne at her own theater in Versailles. Was she the only person at court to miss the irony?

Where Beaumarchais and da Ponte could be cutting and even vicious, Mozart was incapable of writing cynical music. Everyone in Le nozze di Figaro  ends up where they are supposed to be. The C major ending tell you that. What happens later is told in the third Beaumarchais Figaro play La mère coupable “(The Guilty Mother”). It ain’t pretty.


Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.