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Classical 101

Ohio State Presents Mozart's 'The Marriage of Figaro'

Samuel Holland Rous
Wikimedia Commons
Illustration of The Marriage of Figaro from 1917

The School of Music at The Ohio State University invites you to a wedding – Mozart’s sublime Marriage of Figaro in Mershon Auditorium, Friday, March 1 and Sunday, March 3. 

Le Nozze di Figaro is based on the second of the three Figaro plays by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799). These plays helped change 18th-century Europe.

You know the legend of the groves of orange trees planted at the king’s chateau, Versailles? They were pretty, and their sweet fragrance masked the stench of the open latrines.

The analogy is perfect for Beaumarchais. For the first time, a servant  – the wily Figaro, the barber of Seville – outwits his master, the Count Almaviva. His Grace is shown as a contemptible boor.

Figaro has a quick brain and a good heart. He’s the only man on stage who does.

Taking on high society was too good for Mozart to pass up. His librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte, cut, rearranged and set into Italian, Beaumarchais’ play.

If the words were powerful, Mozart’s music made the situations poignant and the characters familiar. Susanna, Figaro’s love, is the smartest person on stage.


The Countess is neglected but works hard to avoid bitterness. She sings in C Major. There’s a happy finale. For now.

I’ve often likened the marriage of the Almavivas to Charles and Diana. They may have been royalty, but they didn’t have Mozart.

Ching-Chun Lai conducts the Ohio State production, with staging by A. Scott Parry.

You may remember Parry's wonderful local productions of La Rondine, Candide and La Cenerentola (Cinderella).

I asked Parry to provide some insight:

In May 1796, Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro premiered in Vienna, where it received mixed reviews due to the difficulty of its music and the complexity of its plot.

Six months later, Mozart took the opera to Prague, where its success was nearly ubiquitous. Said Mozart: “Here they talk about nothing else but Figaro. Nothing else is being played, blown, sung or whistled but Figaro. No opera more attended than Figaro, and forever Figaro!

Figaro today is considered by many to be the perfect opera. Its arias are succinct and memorable, its emotions clearly worn on its sleeve, its characters and story eternally compelling.

With Figaro, Mozart provides us with a treasure map to the inner worlds of the conflicted human psyche, brilliantly placing the sacred cheek by jowl with the profane, crashing humor and tragedy side-by-side together in all their incongruity.

It is here we witness the struggle of complex characters trying desperately to overcome their many failings while attempting to make a meaningful connection in a compromised society. The answer to the question of how lies simply in love. 

This is the answer Mozart provides, finding its zenith at the end of the piece in the most celebrated moment in all of opera – wherein the Countess steps into parity with the Count in order to bestow the power of forgiveness and put everything right. 

Though nearly a quarter of a millennium old, Mozart’s opera remains utterly contemporary, even modern in that he gives voice to the very nature of human existence in all its sordid, sublime, joyous, crazy and perfect messiness.

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.