And with just one more number, we arrive to the end of this first act, purging it of a chorus we couldn’t afford and a lot of sung dialogue which this narration must replace because of rehearsal time we couldn’t budget. Like all but a few characters in Figaro, we are bereft of money, and if artists like us ever had a secure income, it would be due to a revolution as great as the one which in France would shortly follow Figaro’s premiere in 1786.
It was a revolution which the aristocracy did everything to forestall, including the censorship of this opera. Mozart and his librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, could not include anything in this play which a general named Napoleon would soon call French Revolution on the page, waiting for a bloodthirsty public to put it into action.
Clearly, nothing could be said in this opera which smacked of treason. But to whom is Figaro speaking in the next song about ensnaring an amourous butterfly within a net of war? Is it just Cherubino, newly honored by the Count with an army commission so that the Count can get him out of the castle? Is it Susanna, the amorous butterfly Figaro's about to marry? Or is it the Count him? Whose amorous exploits, like so many noblemen of his generation, may sooner than he knows lead his head to the guillotine?
That world which birthed so many revolutions is the same world as our own, only a little more exaggerated. What your imagination hopefully sees onstage is all that is most luxurious in a highly artificial age, and yet even the richest people among those you see are closer than they know to bankruptcy, the starvation, and the despair which surrounds them. In just fifteen years, a general named Napoleon will begin a quest to conquer Europe that will take the lives of ten million - noble and pauper alike. Noblemen like the Count waste entire fortunes on idle entertainment, and yet across the street from their chateaus men are having boiled lead poured on them before being torn to pieces by wild horses. The drawing rooms and supper tables of the elites are rife with all manner of scientific ideas, and yet at any moment, the hand of religious dogma may strike, and a free thinker will be fetched to the Bastille. The Age of Enlightenment wages Holy War with the Fifteenth Century. The foundations of political science, natural history, thermodynamics, and atheism are being laid, all within a society where hangmen constantly burn books, authors are hurried away to prison, unbelievers are threatened with torture.
It is 1786. The winds that blew through the French Revolution kindled a smoldering fire started in a small German city by a local organist named Bach, and tended to by Gluck and Haydn, but with Mozart, it finally erupted in a blaze of genius. All through the ages, Mozart has been compared with God himself. It is a tribute to his fertility, his vast range, the breadth and depth of his sympathy, in which he excels all other composers. Music, or what now call ‘classical music,’ was the art through which democracy spread its wings. Every illiterate only required an ear to understand it. It expressed feelings with a specificity that no written word ever could. It was a second revolution.