Overture to Le nozze di Figaro

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Overture to Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), K. 492

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart      
Born January 27, 1756 in Salzburg, Austria
Died December 5, 1791 in Vienna, Austria

By Marianne Williams Tobias
The Marianne Williams Tobias Program Note Annotator Chair


In 1782, the French playwright, Beaumarchais, offered private readings to King Louis XIV of his comedy of manners, The Marriage of Figaro. Instead of being pleased, the monarch decided the story was “detestable and must never be produced.”  The irreverence was simply too much. As “forbidden fruit,” the play became the rage of the aristocracy, and it surfaced repeatedly in secret productions (one even including the King’s wife.)  Like the King, Napoleon also sniffed danger in the plot, and he declared  that the play was “the revolution already in action.”  The Austrian government  echoed the danger and banned the play from its borders.  In 1784, the play was presented publicly in Paris to great acclaim, and within a year, Germany had twelve translations on hand. The Marriage of Figaro was unquenchable.

After searching through hundreds of plays for an opera buffa, Mozart decided this was just the ticket. With the librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, the pair produced the opera Marriage of Figaro in only six weeks. The Overture was completed only two days before the opening on May 1, 1786.

The music opens with bustling notes, like whispers of gossip which gain momentum. Ultimately, these fragments gel into an energetic theme which romps happily throughout the Overture.  Moods shift like quicksilver; a comedic helter-skelter atmosphere prevails; and there is no rest. At one point, Mozart had considered a contrasting slow tune for oboe but deleted the idea.  Allowing the Overture to run with its madcap nature, uninterrupted by any structural corseting, provided the perfect introduction and preparation for the hilarious opera. It has always delighted audiences as a separate concert piece for hundreds of years. 

© Marianne Williams Tobias, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, 2016.

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