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Overture to Le Nozze di Figaro, K. 492

About the Work

Wolfgang Mozart
Quick Look Composer: Wolfgang Mozart
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Itzhak Perlman, Conductor/Emmanuel Pahud, Flute May 15 - 17, 2003
© Richard Freed
Untitled Document

Mozart completed the score of Le nozze di Figaro in Vienna on April 29, 1786, and the opera was performed two days later at the Burg-Theater. The Overture opened the fourth concert of the National Symphony Orchestra's first season, conducted by Hans Kindler on December 3, 1931, and was last performed in these concerts on November 14, 15, 16 and 19, 1996, under Bobby McFerrin.

The score calls for flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets in pairs, with timpani and strings. Duration, 4 minutes.

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Beaumarchais's two related comedies, Le Barbier de Séville and La Folle Journée, ou Le Mariage de Figaro, had remarkable operatic consequences. Mozart might well have written operas on both of them if Giovanni Paisiello had not already produced a popular setting of Le Barbier (a circumstance that did not stop Rossini, who produced his own masterwork in 1816, after obtaining Paisiello's approval). Le Mariage de Figaro, first produced at the Comédie Française on April 27, 1784, with some of its incidental music composed by Beaumarchais himself, quickly made its way to Vienna, and Mozart's operatic version made its first appearance barely two years after the play's Paris premiere. It was his first collaboration (or, in any event, his first full-scale one) with his great librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, and it brought him the greatest success he was to enjoy in his lifetime. Michael Kelly, the Irish tenor who sang the roles of Don Basilio and Don Curzio in the first production (and with whom Mozart enjoyed playing ninepins, a pastime in which they were allegedly engaged when he composed the Clarinet Trio, K. 498), recalled in his Reminiscences:

Never was anything more complete than the triumph of Mozart and his Nozze di Figaro, to which numerous overflowing audiences bore witness. Even at the first full band rehearsal, all present were roused to enthusiasm, and when Benucci came to the fine passage, “Cherubino, alla vittoria, alla gloria militar,” which he gave with stentorian lungs, the effect was electric, for the whole of the performers on the stage, and those in the orchestra, as if actuated by one feeling of delight, vociferated, “Bravo! Bravo, Maestro! Viva, viva grande Mozart!” Those in the orchestra I thought would never have ceased applauding, by beating the bows of their violins against the music desks.

In January 1787 Mozart visited Prague to enjoy what proved to be a still grander triumph of his Figaro with that city's public. On the 15th he wrote to his father that “the one subject of conversation here is-- Figaro; nothing is played, sung or whistled but-- Figaro; nobody goes to any opera but-- Figaro; everlastingly Figaro! ” Four days later he introduced his Symphony in D major (No. 38, K. 504, known as the “Prague” Symphony), and before he left for home he received the commission for the opera that turned out to be Don Giovanni.

The effervescent Overture to Figaro does not make use of any thematic material from the opera itself, but captures the essence of the work superbly. Mozart is said to have intended to insert a slow interlude, in the old Italian tradition, just before the recapitulation, and to have omitted it only because he hadn't time to write it down; but evidently he recognized the perfection of this peerless curtain-raiser as it stands, for he never made any gesture toward amending it in any way.