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Mozart's 'The Marriage of Figaro'

The history of opera is full of brilliant efforts by standout teams of composers and writers. But a few stand out above all the rest: Falstaff by Verdi and Boito, Der Rosenkavalier by Strauss and Hofmansthal, and The Marriage of Figaro, by perhaps the greatest team of them all, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte.

Not coincidentally, those operas also have something else in common. All three are comedies that reach a level of humanity few tragedies have ever achieved.

Figaro explores territory that many found worrisome when it was written in the mid-1780s — the often contentious relationship between the classes. That's why the original play, by Beaumarchais, was banned by ruling authorities in France, and why Mozart's opera made the Austrian monarchy more than a little bit nervous. Both the play and the opera clearly illuminate the limitations of rank and privilege, showing us that common sense can readily overcome wealth and power, and that genuine humility easily upstages unwarranted arrogance.

Da Ponte's dialogue is subtle and meticulously layered — but at the same time, witty and involving. Mozart's music is well-crafted and immensely sophisticated — but also tuneful and infectious.

Their opera, with all its artistic contrasts and complexities, reveals some simple, real-life truths: That harsh economic realities are no impediment to the instinctive richness of human intellect, and that stultifying social conventions will never dampen the spontaneity of human emotions.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone brings us The Marriage of Figaro in an insightful production from the Salzburg Festival, in the composer's hometown. It stars the brilliant young soprano Anna Netrebko as Susanna, and bass Ildebrando d'Arcangelo in the title role.

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