Synopsis of "The Marriage of Figaro" by Mozart

by Christopher Faille

"The Marriage of Figaro," which premiered in Vienna on May 1, 1786, was the first of three operas produced by a partnership between composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. They would also work together on "Don Giovanni" and "Cosi fan tutte."

Act I

We soon learn that Susanna and Figaro are engaged to be married. Figaro is valet to Count Almaviva, and Susanna is the maid to the Countess. Susanna informs Figaro that the Count is infatuated with her and plans to send Figaro away on a mission so he can pursue Susanna himself. Troubling as that is, there is another threat to this marriage. Figaro has borrowed money from a housemaid of Dr. Bartolo's, Marcellina. Marcellina doesn't want her money back -- she wants to use the debt to compel Figaro to marry her rather than Susanna.

Act II

Figaro, Susanna and the Countess -- who is offended by the Count's wandering eye -- develop a plan. Susanna will ask the count to meet her in the garden that evening. But a page of the Count's, Cherubino -- himself established already as a compulsive philanderer -- will go dressed as Susanna and in her place. Then the Countess will walk into the garden and discover the Count, presumably as he is seeking to seduce someone he thinks is Susanna. This plot unravels before it can be put into operation, and the plotters have only succeeded, by the end of the Act, in annoying the Count. Marcellina arrives with a court summons regarding Figaro's debt. The Count is inclined to side with her and force a Marcellina/Figaro marriage.


Susanna decides to buy out Figaro's debt to Marcellina. Separately, Marcellina discovers she is actually Figaro's mother. She and Figaro embrace as mother and son for the first time since Figaro had been stolen away from his parents in infancy. At that moment, Susanna arrives at the scene of this reconciliation, sees Marcellina and Figaro in an embrace and becomes furious. She boxes Figaro's ears. But all is explained to her. To foil the Count's continued amorousness, though, Susanna puts into operation the original plan. She gives the Count a letter, pinned together rather than sealed, fixing the time and place for a rendezvous. The Count pricks his finger while reading the letter, and the pin falls to the floor. Figaro notices.

Act IV

The countess and Susanna dress in each other's clothing for the unmasking of the Count's devious ways. Meanwhile, Figaro has gotten wind that there will be an assignation, and he storms about the fickleness of women, "Aprite un po' quegl' occhi" ("Open your eyes a little"). The page, Cherubino, arrives in the garden and starts wooing the woman he believes to be the Countess. The Count arrives, tries to slap Cherubino, but accidentally hits Figaro instead -- Figaro has also rushed into the midst of the ever more chaotic proceedings. In time Figaro figures out which woman is Susanna and that she still loves him, and she figures out that he has figured that out. Meanwhile, the Countess thoroughly embarrasses and chastens the Count, who begs for her forgiveness -- and all ends happily.

About the Author

Christopher Faille is a finance journalist who has been writing since 1986. He has written for HedgeWorld and The Federal Lawyer and is the author of books including "The Decline and Fall of the Supreme Court." Faille received his Juris Doctor from Western New England College.

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