The marriage of figaro

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By Donald Pippin

It’s the day Figaro and Susanna are getting married, or is it? Not if Count Almaviva gets his way. Lord of the castle where the two are employed as servants, he too has his eye on Susanna. A nobleman born with a sense of total entitlement, he is long accustomed to getting what he wants. Can two lowly servants dare take him on? Figaro welcomes the challenge, probably unaware that he is starting a national revolution:

You cut the measure,

But I give the beat.
Five easy lessons!

I’ll be the teacher.

My courses feature

Counts on their toes.

Five easy lessons!

Learn the fandango,

Jota and tango

From one who knows.

Alert! Alert! Be nimble,

Nimble, nimble, nimble . . .

Watch and be wary,

Eye out for trouble,

Sly and discreet.

Never shall Figaro

Fall in defeat,

In rank defeat.

First to confound him,

Tease him and taunt him,

Turn him around till

He’s where I want him.

Nor shall I stop till the plot is complete.

Never shall Figaro admit defeat.

Nor shall I stop till all’s complete.
On with the dance!

Allow me the pleasure.

You cut the measure,

But I give the beat!

Old Dr. Bartolo, also eager to thwart the marriage, has reasons of his own for wanting to get back at Figaro:

How this stirs the manly senses.

Overlooking past offences,

Disregarding past offences,

I consider beneath contempt.

But with cunning calculation,

Perfect timing, care and caution,

We can manage.

Here’s a case of litigation,

Calls for caution, calculation,

Guile and gamble, courage ample,

But I’ll follow to the finish.

The odds are weighty against a lady,

Potential scandal,

But the challenge I’ll attempt.
Books of legality, fuss and formality,

Records I’ll comb for the fine technicality.

Matter semantic, outmoded, pedantic,

With wit I’ll exploit to further the cause,

I’ll fight to further our worthy cause.
All in Seville know old Doctor Bartolo,

And I warn Figaro, beware my claws,

My sharpened claws!
Cherubino, the very young page boy, is a ball of confusion, a tinder box constantly on the verge of combustion, a leaf tossed about in a perpetual whirlwind …

With the girls I’m a ball of confusion;

With a woman I fall all apart.
Words of love and desire and affection

Stir my pulse and enflame my complexion,

And I’ve no choice,

But then must give voice

To that yearning,

That sweet hunger dwelling deep in my heart.

I forget who I am, where I’m going,

Back and forth, hot and cold, never knowing.

With the girls I’m a ball of confusion;

With a woman I fall all apart.

Love, only love while waking;

Love, only love while sleeping.

I cry aloud to mountains,

To flowers, fields and fountains,

To echo, breeze and zephyr.

My am’rous song floats ever

And fades in the distant air.

With none around to hear me,

With none around to hear me,

Just to myself I sing of love --

Even if no one’s there!

Obviously not the sort that stays out of trouble for long, he is soon sent off most unwillingly to join the army. Figaro bids the boy farewell, but can’t resist pointing out a few differences between the easy, luxurious, leisurely life he is leaving, and the rugged new life he is headed for:

March away from the laughter and banter

Of the darling, the court cavalier.

Feast no more on a diet of dainties;

Leave behind masquerades and cotillions,

Conversation of sparkle and brilliance,

As you head for a soldier’s career.
Say goodbye to fair complexion,

Pretty phrases, soft affection

And secret embraces.
Time to throw off the role of the lover,

The despair of the fair and the bonny.

Drop the role of the young Don Giovanni;

Say goodby to the court cavalier.

Into battle goes the dandy,

Sword at side and pistol handy,

Beard unshaven, pack on shoulder,

Weather freezing, getting colder,

New fiasco by the minute,

Leather purse but nothing in it.

Little need for velvet breeches

In the swamps and frozen ditches.

Ice and sweat upon your forehead,

Toil abundant, diet frugal,

Blare of trumpet, call of bugle;

Round your head the bullets whistle

As you plod through thorn and thistle

Toward the enemy frontier.

Say goodbye to silk and satin,

Sparkling wine, foods that fatten.

Dainty hands, smiling faces,

Tender words and secret embraces.

Time to throw off the role of the lover;

Play no longer the fair young enchanter.

March away from the laughter and banter

Of the lad whom the girls all adore.

Cherubino’s off to glory,

Cherubino wins the war!

The Countess grieves over the marriage that has gone awry and the love that seems to have faded:

Heed and comfort my lonely sigh.

Ah, restore that lost devotion,

Or relent and let me die.

Cherubino calms down enough to compose a love song for the Countess, or is it for Susanna? Or for any woman in sight?

What curious fever has me in tow?

What sweet vibration stirs in my heart?

What sudden tempest tears me apart?

Comes an excitement full of desire!

Now I am freezing, now all afire;

Pleasure unclouded, then bitter pain.

Chill turns to fever, then ice again.

Ever pursuing, ever in flight,

Yet what I follow fades out of sight.

I shake and tremble, repine and sigh

Without intending or knowing why.

I find no quiet by night or day,

But may this torment not go away!

Have you the answer I long to know?

What curious fever has me in tow?

Fuming, the Count begins to suspect that all is not going well in his courtship of Susanna. Worse yet, that he is being taken for a ride -- and by two mere servants who can’t seem to grasp the fact that they are so vastly inferior:

To play the jilted lover

While he enjoys the prize!

The girl for whom I hunger

To a lowly menial plighted,

My passion unrequited

While in his arms she lies!

Oh, no! I’ll stop the marriage.

The rites shall be prevented.

None but a fool dares flourish

And thrive while I’m tormented.

To hold me up for ridicule

And cast my rank aside.

Only determination

For the reward of vengeance

Provides a consolation

To pacify my pride, my manly pride,

And cheer my tortured heart.
The Countess, reduced to conspiring with her servant and friend Susanna in a plot to shame the Count and bring him to his senses, sadly recalls past days of happiness. But perhaps the spark can be reignited:

Youthful season of tender sighs?

Gone forever, taken for granted,

Love replaced by futile lies.

Though the burst of joy has altered

Into tears of bitter pain,

As in days serene and sheltered,

Why does my own love remain?

Now unwanted, why does my own love remain?
Are they over, those hours enchanted,

Youthful season of tender sighs?

Gone forever, ignored, unwanted,

Love replaced by futile lies.

May I hope for but a moment

That my tears are not in vain,

That my constancy shall conquer

And his heart be mine again!

Figaro rages in disillusion upon learning that his beloved Susanna has actually consented (or so he thinks) to a secret rendezvous with the Count,:

Get rid of stupid fantasies,

Observe them open-eyed.

Did you believe them angels?

A fool to trust your senses!

But look with cleaner lenses

Before the knot is tied.

They’re masters of sorcery

To lure and enthrall.

They’re sirens whose melody

Is fatal to all;

A temptress who turns away

The moment she’s beckoned,

A comet whose afterglow

Survives but a second.

Like roses that prickle

Or doves full of malice,

A fly is less fickle,

A serpent less callous.

A man-eating tiger

Is not too unlike her,

And woe to the so and so under her spell,

Caught under the spell.

But what is the use going further?

The rest you know only too well,

But only too well.
In the garden after twilight, mid balmy evening breezes, Susanna, presumably waiting for the Count’s arrival, sings the most tender of love songs. Though no one else is present, she alone, and we, know to whom the song is addressed. The Count would not be pleased.

Yield to the call of joy and beauty blended.

The moon is hid, the stars blow out their candles;

Dark the sky and below, serene and tranquil.

Here waters murmur, stirred by playful breezes;

Whispers waken the heart from drowsy languor.

The air is sweet, with fragrant flowers scented;

All is set for the play of love’s caresses.

Come, my beloved, while nature in sleep reposes.

Come, beloved! Your forehead I would crown

With a garland of roses.
A glorious finale brings all the multiple threads together. After a good many misdirections and unforeseen complications, the Count and the Countess are reconciled, and Figaro and Susanna have good reason to hope that their marriage will be the happiest that ever graced the face of the earth.

At last, all contented, we share our delight.

From a day at odds, tormented,

Full of follies and caprices,

Love at last unites the pieces,

Putting former woes to flight.

Sing out, hosanna! Be happy, be merry!

And a joyful toast to those that marry’

Figaro and his Susanna

Let us celebrate tonight.

All in chorus, let us celebrate tonight!


Leporello, Don Giovanni’s beleaguered servant, has a thankless job:

Out in weather cold and wet,

Often down on hands and knees.
I am all for changing places;

Servant work is not for me;

Toil is not my cup of tea.

No, no, no, no!

This work is not for me.

Why should he hold all the aces?

While he makes a gallant entry

I’m stuck outside playing sentry,

The lowly sentry.
I am all for changing places;

Servant work is not for me;

Toil is not my cup of tea.

No, no. no. no. no. no.

This work is not for me.

Don Giovanni, after seducing then jilting Donna Elvira, has abruptly disappeared. Still undaunted, she goes searching to find him:

A helpless prey of passion,

By love was I misled,

Flattered, and then betrayed.

Oh, let him run for cover,

Turn from the tears I’ve shed!

I’ll find the faithless lover

And see my pain repaid.

She is soon to learn some jarring facts when Leporello shows her a massive volume, no less than a meticulous catalogue of Giovanni’s innumerable conquests:

I’ve a list of the beauties discarded,

And the loves he has left broken-hearted.

Look it over, peruse it with me ---

Alphabetic, from A down to Z.
In Verona, six hundred and forty,

Down for Dresden, two hundred eleven;

France and Turkey, a mere ninety seven.

Ah, but in Spain, ah! Here already

Are one thousand ---- plus

One, two, three.

Rank or station doesn’t matter;

All are portions on his platter,

Under twenty, over eighty,

Chamber maid or leading lady,

Service rendered to the gender,

Stout or slender, high or low . . .

He’s a man without a bias,

Cold or torrid, fair or florid,

Diabolical or pious,

Plain or pretty, dull or witty,

Service rendered to the gender,

Stout or slender, high or low.

Armed with weapons for each encounter,

Phrases tailored for town or country,

Pale is sweeter, dark profounder ---

Thus he captures all and sundry.

Beauty comes in varied sizes;

All dimensions fan the fire.

Tall and stately tantalizes,

But the tiny, teeny tiny, teeny tiny

Rate even higher.
Age he favors unresisting;

More inclusive thus grows the listing.

But the pride of this old sinner

Is the budding rank beginner.

Rich or poor, naïve, mature,

Or be she harridan or goddess,

Be she harpy, harridan or goddess,

If she’s wearing skirt or bodice

See my master set to go.

Don Giovanni on the go!

The master of seduction, inspired by challenge, is smoothly at work on Zerlina,

a pretty peasant girl already on her way to the church to get married to Masetto:

Not far away, in splendor,

We there shall blend as one.
I would, and yet I wonder . . .

Your words that flow like wine,

So soothing, smooth and tender,

Are spoken perhaps in fun.
For you alone I’ve waited . .

Masetto’s claim is stronger.
For greater heights you are fated.

Can I resist much longer, resist much longer?
Darling! Darling! Melting in soft surrender . . .
As one, we go invited

Along a pathway lighted

By love and love alone.

By love! By love!

So hand in hand, as one,

We’re off to lands unknown

Of love and love alone.
Donna Elvira, overhearing, delivers a fiery warning to Zerlina:
Be off or pay the cost!

Go back the way you came!

Oh, flee a monster lost

To shame and decency.

Oh, heed a word of warning:

From my misfortune learn.

Before too late, return

To peace and sanity,

Run, run from danger!

Be off or pay the cost!

Go back the way you came!

Oh, flee a monster lost

To shame and decency.
Don Ottavio blissfully reflects on his love for Donna Anna:

When she rejoices,

My day is mended.

When she’s in sorrow,

I’m in despair.

Mortal, mortal despair.

She need but sigh

For me to suffer;

In grief or anger,

Her tears I share.

When she is smiling,

I walk on air.

Giovanni, buoyant as ever, plans a party which will no doubt add a good many

more names into the infamous book:

Wine by the gallon,

Beer for the hearty.

Call for a party

Into the night.
Serve by the way a

Ton of paella;

More pretty lasses

You can invite.

Round up an orchestra;

Fill up the glasses.

Light up the castle;

Offer the masses

Razzle and dazzle.

Let’s do it right.

Lovemaking after

Feasting and laughter.

Beauty galore

I’ll not overlook.

And by tomorrow,

Not three or four more,

I’ll have a score more

Names in the book.

Zerlina has been spared the hapless fate of countless predecessors, but clearly she has some explaining to do to Masetto, her ill-used fiance. Luckily, she knows just how to go about it . . .

Prove your honor; pounce upon her

Like the lion on the lamb.
With display of manly muscle

Turn a tiff into a tussle.

Ah, but then, serene again,

Receive a kiss with more to come . .

Ah, a twinkle you’re concealing,

You start to waver. I have a feeling

The storm is over.
Arm in arm, the quarrel mended,

Peaceful, carefree and contented.

We shall revel night and day,

Lamb and lion joined in play.

Giovanni continues his insatiable pursuit of the female sex, unaware that the lady he is serenading is none other than Donna Elvira, the determined lady he has been trying so hard to shake off:

By merely gazing down,

Relieve a lonely sigh.
Denied the healing spark

Of your consoling eye,

In doubt and lost in dark,

Forlorn, I long to die.

Those lips as ripe as cherry,

Sweeter than melody,

Hold a magical power

Transforming love’s despair.

Be kind, relieve a plight

All throbbing lovers share;

Shower me again with light

More dear than fire and air.

Despite knowing full well that she has been deceived, insulted and ridiculed, Donna Elvira, to her own amazement, cannot extinguish the flame that still burns:

Leaving heartache, remorse and pain,

Tears of grief, revulsion and pain.
Though discarded, cast out unwanted,

Why do sparks of love remain?

Why, oh why do sparks of thwarted love remain?
He seduced and then betrayed me,

His lies unrepented,

Passion turning to scorn and disdain,

To scorn and cold disdain.

He seduced and then betrayed me;

He’s left me tormented,

Seeking the answer I search for in vain,

Seeking the answer, though searching in vain,

Now discarded, cast out unwanted,

Why do sparks, oh why do sparks of love remain?

Why, oh why do sparks of thwarted love remain?

Oh, why? Oh, why?

Donna Anna cold, indifferent? So her devoted but frustrated lover is given to wonder, fearful that their hoped for union is being sacrificed to her all-consuming drive to find and punish her father’s killer. Seldom if ever does an anxious lover receive such a sublime reassurance ...

Yours forever, I’m yours alone.

Though the sanction and seal of marriage

For a while we must postpone.

For a little while we must postpone.
Bear with calm this time of trial.

In despair we call on courage.

Far, oh far from cold and cruel!

Yours forever, I’m yours alone.

Facing calmly a time of trial,

In despair we call on courage.

Surely with the help of heaven

Brighter days again will dawn.

Softer, kinder, and hallowed by heaven,

Brighter days again will dawn.

COSI FAN TUTTE (The Way of Women)
An argument heats up between two naively idealistic young soldiers and their older (and of course wiser) friend: are their sweethearts made of marble-like perfection or are they made of flesh and blood like everybody else? It soon turns into a wager:

As true as she’s lovely, as faithful as fair.

Guglielmo: Distrust Fiordiligi? You’re out of your mind!

A model of virtue and beauty combined.

Don Alfonso: Though balding and graying, I know what I’m saying.

So take my suggestion and end this debate

Before it’s question of caution too late.
The two grief-stricken sisters wave goodbye to their lovers as they sail away, presumably into battle, but in fact intending to return in disguise, each to woo the other’s sweetheart. Their real motive, I suspect, is the one that has always governed youth: they simply want to prove to the old man that he’s a fool.

O powers elemental,

Benignly escort them

Home safely to shore.

Dorabella, devastated by their departure, takes on the role of tragic heroine:
Stand farther off! My grief may be contagious.

Bar and lock all the windows.

Gross is the daylight. How I loathe the very air,

Hate my own being! What reprieve from despair,

What consolation? Leave me here alone, in lamentation.

O mortal agony of love denied me:

Prolong thy fury and let me die.

O let me die!

Bereft and desolate, in fire and thunder

I’ll storm the universe and tear asunder

The oak from mountain top

In haunting, piercing cry.

Despina, their no-nonsense maid-servant, urges the ladies to lighten up. With

their sweethearts gone, why not take advantage of their absence and have a little fun? No doubt this is what the boys are doing already:
Believe a man? Trust a soldier?

Expect for love to last?

Heaven help us, you’re living in the past!

Ever in motion,

April leaves fluttering,

Waves of the ocean,

Even the weather

Turns less than a man.

Vows of fidelity, rapturous gazes,

Flowers and flattery, warmed over phrases:

These are their calling card

Since time began.

All they see in us

Is their own reflection;

Soon as they win us

They turn their affection.

Kindness and pity are strictly taboo.

Sooner is sympathy found in a zoo.

Men are no good, but come, ladies, repay it!

Master the rules of the game as they play it.

Shame on the girl who is simple and true:

Do unto them as they do unto you.

Love is a holiday, over by dark;

Follow the leader and love is a lark!

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