Robert Thicknesse outlines the plot of Mozart and Da Ponte’s comedy of disguises and assures us that it’s ok to be confused.
Act I: The opera of the second instalment of Beaumarchais’s Figaro plays (sequel to The Barber of Seville) finds us at the Almaviva country estate, a couple of years after The Barber has introduced the gang. It’s the morning of the servants Figaro and Susanna’s wedding day. She tells him their boss Count Almaviva’s great idea for a wedding present is to revive the practice of droit de seigneur specially for her. Figaro is quite upset about this and plans to thwart it…
Act II: … to which end, he sends an anonymous letter to the Count with news that the Countess is planning to get together with her lover in the garden that night. Figaro persuades Susanna to arrange a tryst with the Count at the same venue, but plans to send Cherubino (a lusty page whom the Count suspects of consorting with his wife) along in drag, instead of Susanna. It’s OK to be confused. So is everyone else.
Act III: Susanna fixes her assignation with the Count, who then realises he’s being taken for a ride; to get his own back he orders Figaro to marry the old bag Marcellina (to whom Figaro owes money). Luckily, Marcellina is instantly revealed to be Figaro’s long-lost mum, so that wedding is swiftly scratched, and Figaro and Susanna’s goes ahead.
Act IV: Susanna and the Countess hide in the garden, having swapped clothes. The Count appears on cue and starts groping his wife, thinking it’s Susanna. Figaro begins to make noisy advances to Susanna, and the Count – thinking Susanna’s the Countess, of course – does his nut. Finally everyone is revealed as themselves and the Count, realising he looks a bit stupid, begs his wife’s forgiveness. She says ok and everybody heads off to celebrate.
Fancy that: Count Almaviva was dead right about his wife: in Beaumarchais’ Part III of the saga, La mère coupable, she gives birth to Cherubino’s child. But Mozart didn’t know that – its first performance was after his death.