The Marriage of Figaro



Marcos Portugal (1762-1830)
The Marriage of Figaro
La pazza giornata, ovvero Il matrimonio di Figaro

Opera in two acts
Critical edition prepared by Bárbara Villalobos, Gabriel Cipriano, Marco Aurélio Brescia, Pedro Cachado and Rejane Paiva, supervised by David Cranmer, under the auspices of the Marcos Portugal Project. With thanks to the Centro de Estudos de Sociologia e Estética Musical (CESEM), Universidade Nova de Lisboa and the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT).

Libretto by Gaetano Rossi, after Beaumarchais
English translation by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray

The Deanery garden, Bampton, 23 and 24 July 2010
The Orangery Terrace, Westonbirt, 29 August 2010
St John’s, Smith Square, 7 October 2010
The Opera House, Buxton, 15, 18 23 July 2012, for the Buxton Festival


Figaro, a manservant to Count Almaviva
Nicholas Merryweather
Susanna, maid to the Countess and engaged to Figaro
Emily Rowley Jones
Marcellina, former housekeeper to Dr Bartolo
Cara Curran

Dr Bartolo

Mark Saberton
Cherubino, a page, and the Countess’ godson
Joana Seara
Don Basilio, a music master
Robert Winslade Anderson
Rosina, Countess Almaviva Lisa Wilson
Count Almaviva John-Colyn Gyeantey
Antonio, a gardener, uncle to Susanna Nicholas Morris (2012)
Edmund Connolly (2010)
Cecchina, his daughter Caroline Kennedy
Gusmano, a notary Robert Gildon
Servants Luci Briginshaw (2012)
  Angela Simkin (2012)
  Joseph Morgan
  Sian Winstanley (2010)
  Susan Moore (2010)
Conductor Robin Newton
Director Jeremy Gray

The Orchestra of Bampton Classical Opera (July, August)
The London Mozart Players (October)



The action takes place during the course of one day in the castle of Aguasfrescas, the seat of Count Almaviva, outside Seville

Act One, Scene 1a half-furnished ante-room, morning

It is the morning of the wedding of the servants Figaro and Susanna.  Susanna tries on her bridal veil whilst Figaro measures the room which has been granted to them by the Count.  Susanna is deeply suspicious as the room is too close for comfort to the Count’s own chamber – she knows all too well that although the Count has officially abolished the droit de seigneur he hopes to revive it just once more – with her, on her wedding day.  Figaro vows to outwit his immoral employer.

Marcellina and Bartolo plan to disrupt the wedding – she has a contract requiring Figaro to marry her if he cannot repay a loan she once made to him.  Bartolo is very happy to get his own back on Figaro who contrived for the Count to snatch Bartolo’s ward Rosina from under his nose (in The Barber of Seville).  The adolescent page Cherubino expresses his despair to Susanna: he has been banished from the castle and so will never see her again.  Susanna knows that it is Countess who is really the object of his infatuation.  The Count arrives unexpectedly, intent on arranging an assignation with Susanna.  Cherubino is forced to hide; the Count, on hearing the voice of the music master Basilio, must do the same.  The scurrilous conversation between Basilio and Susanna provokes the Count and, to Basilio’s delight and the consternation of the others, he accidentally uncovers Cherubino.  The Count is furious when he realises that the page has overheard his own attempted seduction of Susanna.  

A group of servants, led by Figaro, arrives to sing the praises of the Count’s new enlightened policy.  The Count plots to delay the wedding a little in order to give Marcellina the chance to press her claim.  Diverting attention back to Cherubino, he appoints him immediate appointment as an officer in his regiment.  The Count resolves to pursue Susanna despite her indifference.

Act One, Scene 2: the Countess’s chamber, later that morning

The Countess is in despair, seemingly having lost the love of her husband.  Figaro tells the Countess and Susanna that he has sent an anonymous letter to the Count warning him that his wife has a secret assignation.  Figaro elaborates on his plot, suggesting that Susanna should invite the Count to a meeting, but that he will send Cherubino, who has not yet left the castle, disguised in her place.

Cherubino arrives to take his leave of his godmother the Countess, whom he adores passionately.  He sings a canzonetta that he has composed about the turmoils of adolescent love.  The Countess notices that Cherubino’s army commission has not been sealed.  Warming to Figaro’s plan, the women dress up Cherubino as a girl.  Susanna leaves momentarily, and the Countess is horrified by the unexpected arrival of her husband; Cherubino hides.  The Count is suspicious and the Countess is forced to pretend that it is Susanna in the wardrobe.  Susanna slips back into the room and hides in an alcove.  The Count is determined to break down the wardrobe door, and takes his wife with him in order to fetch the requisite tools, locking the room behind him.

Susanna releases Cherubino, who escapes through the window, and she takes his place in the wardrobe.  When the noble couple return, the Countess in great agitation confesses that it is Cherubino who is hidden: both are amazed when Susanna steps out.  The Count has to ask for forgiveness, and the women own up to the deceit of Figaro’s letter of assignation.

The gardener Antonio is furious because a man has jumped from the window and ruined his geraniums.  Figaro claims it was him, but Antonio is convinced it was Cherubino.  Antonio produces a paper which the man dropped and which therefore surely Figaro must recognize as his own.  With helping hints from the women, Figaro correctly again manages to thwart the Count.  Marcellina, Bartolo and Basilio arrive, pressing Figaro to repay Marcellina or marry her.  The scene ends with general confusion.

Act Two, Scene 1a public room in the castle, late afternoon

The Count is perplexed by the day’s events and is suspicious of everyone.  Nevertheless, when Susanna agrees to a night-time assignation, he is overjoyed.  His elation is quickly undermined on overhearing a remark she carelessly makes to Figaro.

Marcellina tells Bartolo that she is determined to press her marriage claim with Figaro, despite a promise she once made to Basilio.  The notary Gusman judges the case in her favour, much to the Count’s pleasure.  Figaro protests that he needs parental permission to marry but he was abandoned as a baby: the details of his story make Marcellina and Bartolo realise that they are his long-lost parents.  Although at first Susanna is furious when she sees Figaro embracing Marcellina, soon everyone is happy - except for the Count.

The Countess dictates a letter to Susanna to entice the Count, intending to dress herself up as her maid in order to embarrass her husband.

Girls bring flowers for the Countess; Cherubino is dressed up amongst them, but is discovered by Antonio.  Cecchina makes an embarrassing revelation about the Count.  A band is heard and there is much merriment to accompany the double wedding of Figaro and Susanna, Bartolo and Marcellina.  Susanna secretly passes the assignation note to the Count, and he pricks his finger on the pin used to seal it.

Basilio interrupts with a drunken song in praise of all women.  He trades insults with Figaro.  Basilio still hopes to claim Marcellina as his own bride but retreats on discovering that Figaro would be his son.  The Count eagerly anticipates the amorous pleasures of the evening.

Act Two, Scene 2the castle garden, late evening

Figaro is dismayed to learn from Cecchina that Susanna is planning a rendezvous with the Count, and he vows to have his revenge.  Marcellina disbelieves that Susanna could be duplicitous.

Cecchina hides, awaiting Cherubino.  Figaro recalls the ups and downs of his colourful life and bewails the Count’s intentions.  The Countess and Susanna, dressed as each other, plot the evening’s entertainment.  Susanna taunts Figaro, whom she realizes is eavesdropping, by pretending that she is waiting for her noble lover.

Cherubino tries to flirt with ‘Susanna’, in actuality the Countess.  The Count, recognising his wife from her voice, assumes she is unfaithful; Figaro, recognising her costume, thinks the same of Susanna.

The Count attempt to seduce ‘Susanna’, and Figaro eavesdrops, horrified.  Approaching voices cause the Count to rush away.  Figaro begs for help from ‘the Countess’ but, soon discovering that she is in fact Susanna, he decides to play along with the charade and to trick her by extravagantly expressing his love.  Susanna cannot keep up the pretence.  Reconciled, they resume their flirtation as ‘the Countess’ and Figaro in order to provoke the Count.  The Count is furious and summons everyone to witness the infidelity of his wife; he is resolute that she will be shamed and punished.

The masquerade eventually becomes clear.  The Count begs for forgiveness and the Countess, with dignity, accedes.  The ‘mad day’ ends with reconciliation and rejoicing.


‘...a work among the most interesting and attractive Bampton have discovered
Opera Now, Jan/Feb 2011


‘...a work among the most interesting and attractive Bampton have discovered

Opera Now, Jan/Feb 2011

Bampton Classical Opera have merrily fought the tyranny of the standard rep for the past 18 years, and their latest unearthing was the 1799 version of Figaro by one Marcos Portugal, a (you guessed it) Portuguese composer who wrote the work for Venice.

Now it seems Portugal hadn’t seen Mozart’s Figaro or its score, but I bet someone he knew had – maybe the librettist Rossi; there are moments way too close for coincidence.  And the da Ponte libretto certainly forms the basis of the script here – the layout of the aria and recit is nearly identical, the Countess’s entrance delayed and so on.

In many ways Portugal shows how Mozart is better, but this is no rubbish, and in its finales and scoring you hear a Mayr-esque missing link between Mozart and Rossini: woodwind duets jaunt along behind Susanna – whose joyous moments express themselves in Rossinian coloratura – and the finales combine Mozart’s rhythmic gear changes with an adventurous use of modulation, notably as the Count pulls the cast out of the summer-house at the end.

There’s a good deal of simple accompaniment but characters come with an individual orchestral and rhythmic style (Cherubino in particular having a folksy, dancing idiom) that also shows a more advanced ambition than his buffa models Paisiello and Cimarosa – Portugal was of course consciously writing a sequel to Paisiello’s smash-hit Barber.

The garden performance in July was the one to have seen, but this mutatis mutandis version at St John’s had the usual romping Bampton spirit.  Nick Merryweather’s expert buffo Figaro led the dance, but the star was Susanna, sung by Emily Rowley Jones, whose strong, bright, warm and focused soprano was well up to the considerable demands that Portugal makes, and whose arching lines had a nice yearning timbre, notably in the lovely Deh vieni-style night-garden number with its elegiac double-cor anglais accompaniment.

Lisa Wilson’s Countess had a gorgeous voice too,a sort-of rivh sadness perfectly suited to the unhappy suspensions of her cavatina.  They blended ecstatically in the letter duet – one place where it’s impossible to believe someone hadn’t described ‘Che soave zeffiretto’ to Portugal.  Nice support from Joana Seara, Mark Saberton and John-Colyn Gyeantey as a lyric-tenor Count, a sentimental reconciliation scene a million miles from Beaumarchais and a few terrific ensembles rounded out a work among the most interesting and attractive Bampton have discovered.


Robert Thicknesse


...every gesture carefully conceived, every word audible, and every note precise and true
Opera October 2010


...every gesture carefully conceived, every word audible, and every note precise and true

Opera October 2010

A comfortingly familiar title, a cast-list of household characters, a well-known, if improbably convoluted, tale; and, the expectant audience were indeed treated to a gorgeous production of Figaro – but not quite ‘as they knew it’.

Renowned for unearthing forgotten treasures from the Classical era, Bampton Classical Opera have turned their attention to an ‘alternative’ account of Figaro’s complicated journey to married bliss, composed in 1799 by the Portuguese composer, Marcos Portugal.

The archaeological graft was undoubtedly worth the effort.  Portugal’s score may lack Mozart’s driving dramatic ensembles, but its charming arias and duets reveal rich musical resources and a wide emotional range.  The young cast were uniformly accomplished.  Nicholas Merryweather, playing his second Bampton Figaro (he appeared in Paisiello’s Barber in 2005), displayed outstanding diction, projecting word and line without forcing, and his strong, flexible baritone conveyed the sharp ingenuity of this resourceful barber.  Susanna was sung by Emily Rowley Jones.  Her coloratura sparkled and her upper register was unfailingly focused, with perfect intonation and sweet tone.  She blended deliciously with Lisa Wilson’s Countess in their Act 2 duet. As Cherubino, Joana Seara was fittingly gamine; buoyant vocal lines were matched by an astute sense of comic timing.  John-Colyn Gyeantey was an earnest Count, but his unyielding tenor struggled a little at the top, and he sometimes lacked the necessary musical and dramatic stature.

Rossi’s libretto essentially preserves da Ponte’s plot; Gilly French’s and Jeremy Gray’s translation was unfussy and droll, indulging in some clever versifying (‘anxious’/’fractious’) and typically slick one-liners – Basilio’s raucous karaoke to the pleasures of women, riotously delivered by baritone Robert Winslade Anderson, eliciting the snide put-down, ‘His music’s worse than Mozart’s…’.  The decorative screens of Almaviva’s Andalucian palace economically evoked Moorish Spain, and there was some witty business with props – Figaro’s bed was delivered by ‘Ikea Sevilla’.  The comic confusion was well-choreographed, particularly during the disclosures of the chaotic Act 2 sextet.  As the moon gleamed across the shadowy stage, the nocturnal shenanigans in the garden for once made perfect sense.

Portugal’s score is noteworthy for its clarity and lightness, textures always appropriate to situation.  Conductor Robin Newton drew warm, sensitive playing from the oboes and horns in some striking woodwind obliggatos; Kelvin Lim’s continuo was consistently idiomatic and alert.  Co-ordination between pit and stage was superb, and Newton kept a confident, controlled hand on the reins throughout.

Only in Act 2 Scene 2, when a series of long arias followed a lengthy scene change, did the pace begin to flag.  For this was a long evening; at almost three-and-a-half hours, the production asked a lot of its audience.  Yet, on this still, cool evening, with every gesture carefully conceived, every word audible, and every note precise and true, Bampton rose to the heights of its own elevated standards.

Looking ahead, the excavation work has begun already, with preparations underway for the UK première of Gluck’s Il parnaso confuso at the Purcell Room in June 2011.  Long may the digging continue.


Claire Seymour


uniformly excellent...
The Oxford Times, 30 July 2010


uniformly excellent...

The Oxford Times, 30 July 2010

In typically adventurous mood, Bampton Classical Opera’s offering this year was the UK premiere of The Marriage of Figaro by Marcos Portugal, who enjoyed considerable success in 18th-century Europe but has since vanished into obscurity. Comparisons with Mozart’s version were inevitable, and it has to be said that Portugal’s music is not quite as engaging as Mozart’s, and librettist Gaetano Rossi’s adaptation of Beaumarchais’ play not quite as compelling and pacy as Da Ponte’s. And yet, as the familiar characters — Figaro, Susanna, Cherubino et al — filled the stage, it was impossible not to be drawn into this unlikely farce. The witty new translation by Jeremy Gray and Gilly French helped things along, as did the uniformly excellent cast that Bampton Opera is so adept at gathering together.

Nicholas Merryweather, who played Figaro in Bampton’s production of Paiseillo’s The Barber of Seville in 2005, stepped back into the character with ease, delivering a confident, spirited and vocally strong performance. Emily Rowley Jones matched him well as a charming and lively Susanna, Lisa Wilson gave a moving performance as Rosina and John-Colyn Gyeantey was full of convincing rage as the much put-upon Count. But the star performance, for me, was Robert Winslade Anderson’s Don Basilio, played with a subtle drollery that prompted some of the biggest laughs of the night. He also had one of the strongest voices on the stage, and was one of the few among the cast able consistently to make himself heard on this outdoor stage.

Jeremy Gray’s direction was, as always, minimal and unfussy, allowing the action to unfold without gimmicky distractions, and the Bampton Orchestra played with its usual efficiency under Robin Newton’s exacting baton.


Nicola Lisle


The other ‘Marriage of Figaro’
Opera Today, October 2010


The other ‘Marriage of Figaro’

Opera Today, October 2010

The opening night of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, in Rome in 1816, was violently disrupted by vociferous protests from supporters loyal to Paisiello, whose own comic interpretation of Beaumarchais’ politically-charged play had appeared in 1782.

Fortunately, Bampton Classical Opera’s presentation of a ‘rival’ The Marriage of Figaro, by the little-known Portuguese composer, Marcos Portugal (1762-1830), was not interrupted by raucous complaints by die-hard Mozartians. Given its UK première in the Deanery Gardens at Bampton in July this year, this is believed to be the first production of this witty and effervescent opera since its première during the Venetian Carnival season of 1800.

Gaetano Rossi’s libretto essentially preserves Da Ponte’s familiar plot and structure, a fact which is not surprising given that at this time it was common for libretti to circulate independently of their accompanying scores. Gilly French’s and Jeremy Gray’s translation was typically witty and droll, some self-conscious rhymes (fractious/anxious) and slick one-liners adding to the air of frivolity and recklessness.

The plot may be immediately recognisable but the characters wear different musical costumes. The young cast were uniformly accomplished and committed; theatrically convincing and consistent, they really entered the spirit of piece, indulging its light-weight humour but also intimating its darker currents. There was a spontaneity and freshness about the on-stage choreography: thus, the ‘parade’ of characters during the overture, which might have seemed contrived, in fact captured a naturalist ‘busyness’ and sense of domestic intrigue. We were given a series of miniature cameos — a sort of cinematic role call — immediately and economically capturing each character’s essential temperament: Figaro’s confident ingenuity, Susanna’s cleverness, Bartolo’s grumpiness and the Countess’s quiet gravity.

Performing his second Bampton Figaro (he appeared as Paisiello’s barber in 2005), Nicholas Merryweather stood out: clear, firm and relaxed of tone, his diction was superb (no mean feat in this venue) and he exhibited a musical and dramatic confidence and ease which surely indicate great successes to come. In his programme notes, David Cranmer explains that, even if Portugal had been familiar with Mozart’s score, it would not have served as a good musical model, for his concise arias — with their energetic accompaniments — would not have provided sufficient opportunity for the singers to show off their virtuosity. Portugal’s first Susanna was Teresa Strinasacchi, evidently a soprano of first-rate technique and expansive range; but Emily Rowley Jones had no difficulty dispatching the demands of Susanna’s sparkling coloratura. Her intonation was unfailing true and her tone engaging.

I first saw this production at Bampton Deanery Gardens, in July, a picturesque outdoor venue which was perfectly placed to capture the ambience of seductive conspiracy, and I was a little worried how it would transfer to the confined space at St John’s, with its theatrical restrictions and limitations. Interestingly, the result was in fact a tighter sense of theatrical timing and movement. Moreover, some of the characters seemed positively to benefit from the more intimate stage space — John-Colyn Gyeantey’s Count, in particular, presenting a much more focused reading of the role. The rather blundering buffoon-like figure from Bampton was here replaced by an angrier, more severe Count, of greater musical and dramatic stature. Previously, I had found his tone rather unyielding, but now he discovered a weight and compass which greatly enlarged the scope of the part and enhanced the dramatic tension.

The role of the Countess seems to have been constrained by the technical limitations of the first interpreter, Rosa Canzoni; and this is a shame as it would have been nice to have heard more of Lisa Wilson’s sweet, composed tone, which blended so beautifully with Rowley Jones in their Act 2 duet.

A gamine Joana Seara pouted and cringed as the frustrated, gauche Cherubino, but while her upper register dazzled, I sensed a slight hard-edge to her tone, particularly in Act 1. Robert Winslade Anderson bellowed warmly as the vivacious, mischievous music-master; Basilio’s drunken karaoke to the pleasures of women was riotously delivered, eliciting the snide put-down, ‘His music’s worse than Mozart …’ from a contemptuous Figaro. Mark Saberton’s Bartolo and Cara Curran’s Marcellina completed the gifted cast of principals; and Edmund Connolly (Antonio) and Caroline Kennedy (his daughter, Cecchina), delivered these minor roles in charming and accomplished fashion.

The sets were devised by Jeremy Gray, Mike Wareham and Anthony Hall, and the lighting design deserves especial mention, with its striking contrasts of bright complementary shades — deep blue suggesting the seductive light of the moon against a rich Seville orange evoking the balmy warmth of both the climate and burgeoning passions; emerald green intimating the cool composure of the Countess juxtaposed against deep purple suggestive of erotic ‘Turkish delights’.

The orchestral players were positioned behind the Moorish screens which effectively portrayed Almaviva’s Andalucian palace, but despite this placement, the ensemble between stage and ‘pit’ was surprisingly good; only occasionally did one or two of the singers slightly anticipate — which was surprising as Robin Newton, conducting the lucid, bright London Mozart Players, urged the action along at a brisk pace, whirling us through the first act and establishing an exciting dramatic momentum. Indeed effectively he revealed the dynamic quality of some of Portugal’s ensembles, particularly at the end of Act 1 and during the chaotic shenanigans of the Act 2 sextet.

Leaving the church, one patron was heard to remark, ‘I really hadn’t expected the music to be so good’. In fact, he should not have been surprised: Bampton Classical Opera are committed to reviving works of genuine musical and dramatic value. Their courageous repertoire is meticulously researched and selected, and thoughtfully and inventively staged.

Bampton have give us Paisiello’s Barber and Gazzaniga’s Don Giovanni (1997 and 2004). What’s to come? A neglected Così? Portugal’s Figaro is unlikely to replace Mozart’s barber in the opera-going public’s affection, but his joyful opera is definitely worth hearing. It may lack the intensity of Mozart’s complex dramatic ensembles but its chain of charming arias and duets reveals rich musical resources and engaging invention. It is not merely a ‘curiosity’ but a work of considerable operatic merit — and it’s a pity that not more of the British opera press were here to enjoy it.


Claire Seymour


What the audience said


What the audience said

Wonderful! The cast a joy to watch as well as a joy to listen to. Good costumes, good lighting, good sets as well as good singing!

Excellently undertaken – attention to detail most enjoyable. We very much enjoyed the evening. Thank you very much. Everything very nicely done in a beautiful setting.

Even better than usual high standard!

It was such fun - wonderfully sung, never mind the directing/acting and the beautifully sounding London Mozart Players.  The libretto was very witty and the diction of the singers ensured none of it was lost for the audience to hear.  It is now a fixed date in my diary and my friends are delighted to have found such an entertaining and enjoyable opera company.

As ever, every word was audible, and your witty translation came over really well - such a delight.  I loved especially the "dashing white sergeant" and "nothing like a dame" references, and was chuckling away at these and others.

[We] were bowled over by both the opera itself and the performance last Friday. Portugal is an amazing find and it was an immense task, significantly fulfilled, to bring an unknown work three hours long triumphantly to the stage. Congratulations to all concerned. The music was tuneful, rhythmic and what occurred on stage held the attention throughout. The production and staging couldn’t have been bettered.

Absolutely terrific show.  Enormous congratulations.  It was 'the epitome' of a Bampton show and hence of opera in a garden. Wonderful entertainment and standards all round.




La pazza giornata o sia Il matrimonio di Figaro
David Cranmer


La pazza giornata o sia Il matrimonio di Figaro

In the 21st century we are accustomed to the notion of a repertoire of operatic works drawn from the past, of recognised interest and merit, that have come to constitute a ‘canon’. Were we to go back to 18th-century Italy, we would find a very different picture. There was no repertoire or canon as such. Operas were composed and performed, one after another. Some would be successes. This would mean that they would then be copied (by hand) and performed in other theatres in other Italian cities and possibly in other European cities that had Italian theatres, such as London, Paris, Madrid, Lisbon, Munich, Vienna, Prague, St. Petersburg, and so on. Others were fiascos and never heard again. More rarely a work would be heard in just a few theatres before being consigned to oblivion. Success or failure depended on many factors beside the actual quality of the work. Much depended on the singers, their capabilities and how far they themselves believed in and championed the works they performed. Equally often, however, it depended on that great unforeseeable: the whim of the audience and claques, paid or not to cheer or make a commotion. But even successful operas would, as a rule, have only a relatively brief period of popularity, lasting ten or perhaps twenty years (rarely more) before disappearing to make way for new waves of popular works.

It is also a characteristic of the ‘canon’ repertoire that we have gradually grown used to over the past two hundred years that it does not admit within its midst more than one opera on the same theme. Thus operas that were popular at one time have had to give way to others, as in the case of Paisiello’s Il barbiere di Siviglia (performed by Bampton in 2005), replaced in public affection by Rossini’s, and Rossini’s Otello by Verdi’s. Similarly, despite the recognised qualities and success of Leoncavallo’s La bohème, it gradually lost ground to Puccini’s.

Sadly, the ‘other’ Barber, or Otello or Bohème are too often seen now as curiosities rather than the works of considerable dramatic and musical merit that they are in their own right. And yet it would be quite wrong to criticise this curiosity, since it is precisely this that leads to revivals of neglected operas, hidden by the shadows of the great pillars of the ‘canon’: by way of example, the many Don Giovanni operas, of which Giuseppe Gazzaniga’s once popular version, in particular, has received justified attention (including productions by Bampton in 1997 and 2004), and the Fidelio operas – Mayr’s L’amor conjugale and Paer’s Leonora, whichhave both been revived in recent decades, including a production of the latter by Bampton in 2008. It is in this spirit of allowing the ‘other’ to speak that we now enjoy the modern premiere of the Marriage of Figaro, by the Portuguese composer Marcos Portugal, first performed in Venice on Boxing Day, 1799.

The original play and its first operatic adaptation
The career of the dramatist, musician, pamphleteer, spy, arms dealer – and profound believer in true justice – Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-99) was by any standards remarkable. Having achieved considerable success with his comedy Le barbier de Séville, premiered in Paris in February 1775, he rapidly conceived a sequel, as we know from the partial outline of the plot that he included in the first official printed edition of Le barbier. This sequel, La folle journée ou Le mariage de Figaro (The follies of a day or The Marriage of Figaro, as the title was first translated into English) was probably finished as early as 1778 and was already accepted for staging at the Comédie Française in Paris in 1781. However, owing to its ‘political’ content, it took six applications as well as lobbying from court sources for it finally to receive approval from the censors and King Louis XVI.

The fact that it had for so long been banned guaranteed that when the play did eventually come to be premiered, on 27 April 1784, a succès de scandale was guaranteed. The success it had, however, went far beyond this, for in the weeks that followed it had an uninterrupted run of 68 performances. It was quickly printed in pirated editions and soon spread abroad. It was performed in English in London at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, on 21 February 1785, less than a year after the original production. A production was also planned in Vienna that same month, but, once again because of the ‘political’ content, the Emperor Joseph II refused to authorise its staging without substantial cuts and the project was abandoned. Curiously, he allowed it to be printed without alteration later the same year.

What then, was this dangerous content that so worried the French and Austrian monarchs? Indeed, it is not difficult to understand. Even reading the play in a 21st-century democracy, we are impressed by its daring in relation to injustices and immorality of various kinds. Its virulent satire with regard to the functioning of the courts, for example, which occupies much of Act III, reminds us of the corruption and caprice that were endemic in the judiciary of the playwright’s time, something from which he had personally suffered. However, it must certainly have been some of the speeches of Figaro (the author’s mouthpiece) that caused greatest concern. At one point, for example, he makes a scathing attack on the hypocrisy of politicians – it makes us laugh still today, because politicians have not changed.

Coming but a few years before the French Revolution, as it did, we, looking back with the wisdom of hindsight, cannot but be struck by Figaro’s long soliloquy in the final act, particularly what he has to say about the Count’s attempts to seduce Susanna:

[...] No, Count, you shan’t have her..., no, you shan’t. Since you are a great lord, you think you’re a great genius! ... nobility, fortune, position; all this makes you proud. What did you do to earn so much? Put yourself to the trouble of being born, and nothing more! Otherwise, a man just like any other.

It is not that Beaumarchais wished to change the world order – if we can accept what he tells us in his extensive preface to the first edition. He simply wished to be critical of abuses wherever they might be. The players of this drama do not seek to deceive the Count as such; they are forced to use this as a strategy to put an end to his own deceit. And although he has, necessarily, to be humbled, there is no hint of any contempt for him, only a gladness that morality and justice have prevailed.

The idea of turning Beaumarchais’ play into an opera seems to have come from the then Viennese court poet, the Abbé Lorenzo da Ponte (1749-1838). His choice of subject matter and source would have been motivated not only by Beaumarchais’ play in itself, whose literary and dramatic qualities are exceptional and whose notoriety gave it further advantages, but also by the recent success of Il barbiere di Siviglia, in the version by Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816). This opera, composed for the Russian court at St. Petersburg in 1782, had received its Viennese premiere under the composer’s direction the following year. It was one of the most successful operas of its time continuing to receive performances throughout Europe till at least the second decade of the 19th century (when it was eclipsed by Rossini’s opera) and in Vienna it had been greeted with the same enthusiasm as elsewhere.

Da Ponte tells us in his Memoirs of how he gained the Emperor’s authorisation to adapt the text, the condition being, unsurprisingly, that he expurgate it of its ‘dangerous’ tendencies. This he did, primarily by reducing Act III (the court scene) to the minimum necessary for the sense of the plot and by cutting all of Figaro’s more controversial statements. The composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91), is also believed to have had a considerable hand in certain aspects of the libretto (as he usually did), in particular the tendency to introduce characters in relation to one another, through duets and bigger ensembles rather than through solo cavatinas and arias. Librettist and composer were also a particularly well-suited partnership (though neither apparently recognised this) in their preference for concision and intensity of feeling.
Le nozze di Figaro was first performed on 1st May 1786. It survived the attempts by a claque of Paisiello supporters to create uproar and by the third performance, its success was guaranteed. Nevertheless, it only received nine performances and it only returned to the Viennese stage in 1789, when the composer made a number of revisions. Although the opera spread to other cities in the German-speaking world, it remained virtually unknown outside until after 1810. In particular, it was, to all intents and purposes, unknown in Italy.

The composer Marcos Portugal
Like a number of other composers, Marcos Portugal (1762-1830) was a far more successful composer in his own lifetime than Mozart was. Indeed, his international fame during the last decade of the eighteenth century and first of the nineteenth was greater than that of any Portuguese composer before or since.

He had received his training (as singer, organist and composer) from the age of nine at the Patriarchal Seminary in Lisbon, like virtually all musicians in the Portuguese capital. By the time he was twenty he had already come to royal attention, particularly that of the heir to, Prince João, who, in due course, owing to the death of his elder brother, was to become Prince Regent and later King João VI of Portugal. The composer was to remain in the latter’s service for some 40 years. At some point in the mid 1780s, Marcos Portugal was appointed music director of the new Teatro do Salitre. It was here that he began his career as a composer of dramatic music, providing musical numbers for the one-act spoken comic entremezes (intermezzi) and writing three full-length Portuguese operas.

In September 1792, under royal patronage, the composer set sail for Italy. During the following eight years (apart from a brief visit to Lisbon in 1795), he rapidly gained acclaim as an opera composer in various Italian cities. His first success, in the Spring of 1793, was La confusione della somiglianza, o siano I due gobbi, an opera buffa premiered at the Teatro Pallacorda, Florence. Although two of his serious operas, Il ritorno di Serse (Florence, Teatro Pallacorda, 1797) and Fernando nel Messico (Venice, Teatro San Benedetto, 1798), were well received, it was above all in Venice, in the comic genres, that he scored his greatest triumphs: Lo spazzacamino principe (farsa, Teatro San Moisè, 1794), La donna di genio volubile (dramma giocoso, Teatro San Benedetto, 1796), Le donne cambiate (farsa, Teatro San Moisè, 1797) and La maschera fortunata (farsa, Teatro San Moisè, 1798).

In 1800 Marcos Portugal returned to Lisbon, where he was immediately appointed maestro of the Teatro de São Carlos. Here, up to Carnival 1807, he wrote 12 opere serie, mostly for Angelica Catalani as prima donna, and the opera buffa, L’oro non compra amore, for Elisabetta Gafforini. By 1807 he was also increasingly in demand for sacred works, to which he thereafter largely devoted himself.

In November that year the French invaded Portugal, occupying Lisbon for just over 9 months. The royal family, prepared for such an eventuality, had left for Brazil a matter of hours before their arrival, transferring the Portuguese capital to Rio de Janeiro. Marcos Portugal was in due course summoned, reaching Rio in June 1811. Here he took up the posts of teacher to the royal princes and princesses, and official royal composer. Although the royal family returned to Portugal in 1821, he remained in Brazil, becoming a Brazilian citizen following independence the next year. He died in Rio de Janeiro in 1830.

The opera La pazza giornata o sia il matrimonio di Figaro
We have no information on the genesis of this other Marriage of Figaro apart from what we can surmise from the surviving manuscript scores and the printed libretto edition for the premiere. The latter informs us, among other things, that the librettist was Gaetano Rossi, that he based his text on Beaumarchais’ play, that the composer was Marcos Portugal and that it was first performed at the Teatro San Benedetto in the Carnival season of 1800, though the edition was printed in 1799. This last point means that the opening night must been at the very beginning of the season, since the Carnival season normally began on 26th December, going on to Shrove Tuesday of the following year.

Gaetano Rossi (1774-1855) was a young poet, who had been writing opera libretti for just a few years, mostly for Venetian theatres, and particularly for the Bavarian composer Johann Simon Mayr (1763-1845). In the course of his long career he was to write more than 120 libretti, including Tancredi (Venice, 1813) and Semiramide (Venice, 1823) for Rossini, Il crociato in Egitto (Venice, 1824) for Meyerbeer, Il giuramento (Milan 1837) for Mercadante and Linda di Chamonix (Vienna, 1842) for Donizetti. He was competent, without being exceptional, more experimental than conservative, though working firmly within the conventions of his time.

Rossi’s libretto has much in common with Da Ponte’s, to which he must have had access. This is altogether unsurprising. It was entirely usual for libretti to circulate independently of the corresponding music. Since they were normally printed, there were many copies and they would be obtained by other theatres, precisely to provide their own librettists with a point of departure for versions of their own. This was not plagiarism as we understand it, but simply part of the normal process and practice of the time. Although Rossi’s wording follows Da Ponte’s quite closely in some places, his chief debt is in the way he by and large follows Da Ponte’s decisions as to what to cut of Beaumarchais’ play, differing substantially only by reinstating certain scenes towards the end of the opera. Thus many of the arias that are familiar to us from Da Ponte and Mozart have their equivalents for the same character in the same place in Rossi’s text. This is perhaps most striking in the case of the great sextet in which Susanna learns that Marcellina and Bartolo are Figaro’s mother and father. We also find that the Countess has a cavatina “Dove siete, o bei momenti”, not in the position of “Dove sono i bei momenti” in Mozart’s opera, something Da Ponte had added to Beaumarchais’ text, but brought forward to the position of “Porgi amor”, another addition by Da Ponte. Rossi could only have done this if he had had Da Ponte’s libretto available as a model.

However, there are important changes too to the libretto. The reinstatement of certain sections of Beaumarchais’ original has already been mentioned. More immediately noticeable, however, is the difference in the number of acts. The Da Ponte/Mozart version is in four acts, almost certainly out of homage to Paisiello’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, which also, most exceptionally, had four, like Beaumarchais’ original. The norm in Italy at this time had been shifting. Up to about 1780 for full-length comic operas three acts were usual, but the third act had been shrinking to the point that increasingly it was cut altogether. Thus, by the early 1780s a two-act model was rapidly becoming usual. Rossi, unsurprisingly, did not hesitate to recast Da Ponte’s four-act text in two acts, with Da Ponte’s Act II finale serving as the basis for his own Act I finale. In general terms, Rossi created a ‘smoother’, less terse and less intense text, creating the verbal structure that would enable the composer to write music that would appeal to an Italian, rather than Viennese audience.

La pazza giornata o sia il matrimonio di Figaro was the last comic opera that Marcos Portugal composed in Italy. While on the one hand, it follows the usual conventions of the opera buffa of its time – the generally rigid division of recitative and aria (or duet or other ensemble) and the careful tailoring of the vocal parts to suit the voices of the available singers – it also demonstrates how his own style had developed in the few years he was in Italy. There are a number of features which have moved far away from the models of Paisiello and Cimarosa (1749-1801) that he had inherited and which we would nowadays associate more with Rossini, whose operatic career began only ten years later. His use of obbligato wind instruments is, frankly, astonishing, most notably (though by no means exclusively) the pair of oboes and the pair of cors anglais in Susanna’s two great arias. Yet the histories of opera would have it that Mayr was responsible for the introduction of wind obbligati, in his operas of the following decade. The stupefaction ensemble in the Act II finale, as one by one the characters reveal themselves, between modulations that can only be described as magical, is by no means unique among Marcos Portugal’s output. Yet these ensembles occur almost two decades before those in Rossini’s Barbiere and La Cenerentola.

There are also certain musical points that have to be made in relation to the comparison we must inevitably make with Mozart’s opera. First and most important, if we except features that are attributable to a libretto taking Da Ponte’s text as a starting point and conventional types of setting that Mozart followed just like any other composer, Marcos Portugal’s treatment is rather different. Given, as we have seen, that Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro was, to all intents and purposes, unknown in Italy, it would be most surprising if Portugal had had access to the score. Even if he had, it would not have provided a good model for the expectations of an Italian audience. Mozart’s arias are too concise and are limited in the opportunities they provide singers to show off their voices. Mozart’s accompaniments are far too ‘busy’ – there is far too much counterpoint. As the Emperor Joseph is reported to have said, there were too many notes. Portugal’s approach is altogether lighter. For him, the principal aim of the accompaniment was to create an ambience and to provide a support for the voices. It was above all the voices that had to convey sentiment. It was also the voices available to him that would have determined many of his compositional choices.

When Mozart composed Le nozze di Figaro, he had two first class sopranos, Nancy Storace and Luisa Laschi, available to him and this would have weighed heavily in the relative importance given to the roles of Susanna and the Countess, respectively (and explains why Da Ponte added aria texts for the Countess that were not drawn from Beaumarchais). Marcos Portugal, on the other hand, had one particularly good soprano in Teresa Strinasacchi, for whom he wrote the role of Susanna, and only a weaker singer (though competent for secondary roles), Rosa Canzoni, for the Countess. Thus in his opera Susanna’s part makes demands of the singer on a completely different scale from those of the other female roles, coming to a peak in the sextet and her Act II aria. As for the men, whereas Mozart had two fine baritones in Stefano Mandini and Francesco Benucci, as the Count and Figaro, respectively, but no outstanding tenor (the Irishman Michael Kelly was fine for secondary roles (Basilio and Don Curzio) but not of the same calibre as the baritones), Marcos Portugal was blessed with one of the leading tenors of his generation, Domenico Mombelli, who was cast as the Count. The composer already knew Mombelli’s voice from Fernando nel Messico – the title role was written for him – and they were to work together for several years in Lisbon, following Portugal’s return to his homeland. With his tenor used up as the Count, Basilio (and Don Gusmano, the equivalent of Don Curzio) thus became a baritone (Giovanni Battista Brocchi). Portugal’s Figaro was Luigi Raffanelli and his Cherubino Giulia Ronchetti. The smaller roles, with no solo arias, were played by Lucia Poleti (Marcellina), Carlo Giura (Bartolo), Domenico de Angelis (Antonio) and Maria Marcolini (Cecchina = Barbarina).

We do not know the details of how La pazza giornata was received, but we can only suppose it was unsuccessful. There may well have been a pro-Paisiello claque present, determined that the opera should not succeed, as happened to Mozart (as we saw above) and later to Rossini (with Il barbiere). It may not have been well performed. There may have been other circumstances that led to a hostile reception. We can only say that there was no other known production of this opera until now. And yet the music, as we would expect of a successful composer, is never less than competent and is often inspired.

The sources and the present edition
La pazza giornata o sia il matrimonio di Figaro survives in two manuscript scores, both of them copies (the autograph original is lost), one belonging to the Paris Conservatoire, now preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the other at the Conservatorio Luigi Cherubini, Florence. Substantial excerpts are also to be found at the Austrian National Library, Vienna. There are at least two surviving copies of the printed libretto: at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia, Rome (in the Carvalhaes collection) and at the library of the Conservatorio Gioachino Rossini, Bologna.

The critical edition used for the present production took as its principal musical source the copy at Florence, for the simple reason, that, apart from one recitative in Act II, it is complete. It is, however, a problematic source in that it contains many errors. On the basis of internal evidence, this score was copied by a German speaker, probably Austrian – Venice was under Austrian occupation at this time. He was also either less experienced or simply somewhat careless. The Paris copy, on the other hand, is much more accurate and was clearly copied by an Italian, but it is incomplete. It lacks the overture, comes to an abrupt halt near the end of the Act I finale and resumes only at the recitative preceding Figaro’s Act II aria. It has been used, therefore, for the clarification of dubious reading in the Florence copy and the correction of errors. It is fortunate too that it resumes where it does in Act II, since the recitative preceding Figaro’s Act II aria is missing at Florence. It has therefore been supplied from the Paris copy. The printed libretto has been used to clarify readings of the word text and to supply all the stage directions, which, as was the custom, are not to be found in the scores.

The opera was transcribed by a group of young Portuguese and Brazilian musicians and musicologists, coordinated by the present writer, working to the editing norms of the Marcos Portugal project. This is one of the projects of the Centro de Estudos da Sociologia e Estética Musical (CESEM) at the Universidade Nova, Lisbon, Portugal, and is funded by the Portuguese Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT).

David Cranmer