Pure genius! The Marriage of Figaro Overture was written by Mozart just
hours before the opera's first performance in Vienna on 1st May 1786, and
yet it is an obvious masterpiece of composition that remains as popular
today as it was then.
Frantic in style, the overture most unusually does not quote any themes
from the opera, but sets out instead to prepare the us for the hectic events
which are to follow in the opera itself. The tempo marking is 'presto' which
translates to 'very fast'. Despite only being four minutes in length, Mozart is
able to stun his audience with high velocity rising figures and drawn-out
crescendos to ensure that both audience and orchestra are placed firmly on
the edge of their seats in anticipation. The opera features the hero Figaro
and the overlord, Count Almaviva who tries to thwart Figaro's impending
marriage to Susanna by making lecherous advances towards her. Hilarity
In the introduction, listen out for the earthy bassoons that underpin the
grumbling strings as they announce the first agitated theme which is
answered calmly by the rest of the wind section only to be struck down by
the strings! The opposing personalities characterised by strings and wind
define the whole overture which culminates in the strings ringing out their
defiant off-beat staccato chimes.
The opera itself was an immediate success not only in Vienna but elsewhere
in Europe. It was one of three collaborations between Mozart and Italian
librettist Da Ponte. Later collaborations were the hugely popular Don
Giovanni and Così Fan Tutte. The opera is based on Pierre Beaumarchais'
1778 stage comedy, le Mariage de Figaro. The play was at first banned in
Mozart's home city of Vienna because its anti-aristocratic overtones were
considered dangerous in the decade before the French Revolution. Da
Ponte's libretto omitted the original's political references and the opera
became one of Mozart's most successful works. The overture is especially
famous and is often played as a concert piece in its own right.
Programme notes for BHSO performance, Nov 2014
Written by Meghan Nicholas
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