OVERTURE TO THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, K. 492
By WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Born January 27, 1756, in Salzburg; died December 5, 1791, in Vienna
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The Marriage of Figaro, one of the most perfect of all operatic comedies, was the result of a happy and fortuitous collaboration between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte, a partnership which would also result in two more masterpieces: Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte. When Mozart first met Da Ponte in Vienna early in 1783, the latter was already established as a clever and skillful librettist and had to his credit the texts for operas by Gluck, Salieri, and Martin y Soler, among others. According to Da Ponte, it was Mozart who first suggested using the notoriously scandalous play The Marriage of Figaro by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799) as the basis for an opera. Written in 1778, the play was so daring in its implied criticism of the existing social order that it had been banned in several European countries. With its combination of political satire and unbridled libertinism, it was seen by much of the aristocracy as a threat to public morals. As quick as Da Ponte wrote the words, Mozart set them to music. It would appear that the two began work on the opera in mid-October of 1785 and completed it six weeks later. After several postponements, the premiere of The Marriage of Figaro took place on May 1, 1786, at the Vienna Burgtheater, with the composer directing from the keyboard.
The overture that Mozart composed for The Marriage of Figaro has often been called the most perfect curtain-raiser ever written by anyone for a musical comedy. Bright and bubbly, and with sharp contrasts and kaleidoscopic shifts of mood, it affords a tantalizing foretaste of the madcap stage action that normally would follow. Too good to remain the sole property of the opera house, it makes frequent appearances in the concert hall as well, and has long been a favorite of audiences the world over.
©-Kenneth C. Viant