Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492

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            Mozart’s incomparable musical gifts enabled him to compose at the highest level of artistic brilliance in almost every musical genre.  We are privileged to experience his legacy in symphonies, chamber music, wind serenades, choral music, keyboard music—the list goes on and on.  But, unquestionably, his greatest contributions to musical art are his operas.  No one—not even Wagner, Verdi, Puccini, or Richard Strauss excelled the perfection of Mozart’s mature operas.  The reason, of course, is clear: his unparalleled musical gift is served and informed by a nuanced insight into human psychology that is simply stunning.  His characters represented real men and women on the stage, who moved dramatically, and who had distinctive personalities.  While Mozart composed both comic operas and serious operas, and in both German and Italian, his major body of work lies in his opera buffe--Italian comic operas. 

            Mozart’s first opera was performed when he was eleven years of age, and he composed fairly steadily in the genre thereafter, writing well over a dozen before the “big four” of his immortal Italian operas of the late 1780s.  In the first of these, The Marriage of Figaro (1786), Mozart’s librettist, Da Ponte, based the story upon the second “episode” of Beaumarchais’ famous trilogy of plays.   You may recall that the first is the basis of Rossini’s “Barber of Seville.”

            Generally, in his late operas, Mozart incorporated some thematic references to the opera proper in the overtures.  Not so here!  This sizzling curtain raiser nonpareil is unique and unequalled in setting the mood and preparing the audience for almost four hours of intrigue, betrayal, and skullduggery in general.  Almost unassumingly the unison strings plunge into the beginning—the pianissimo dynamic coupled with the breathtaking tempo giving ample warning of the intrigue and pace that lies ahead in the drama.  And it doesn’t relent in its driving tempo, right to the end.  There are loud parts and there are soft parts, inimitable themes—but the drive is relentless.  When it finally ends, no audience is as ready for an evening with a masterpiece of opera as those attending The Marriage of Figaro; the overture’s genius serves it equally well as a stand-alone composition of the highest order.

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2015 William E. Runyan