George Jackson on Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro

(photo: Maria Bachmann)

17th November 2020

Armed with insatiable artistic curiosity, a true performer’s instincts and the advantages of a rigorous central European training, George Jackson has earned critical acclaim for the authority and eloquence of his music-making. The British conductor’s career continues to gather momentum, propelled by landmark debuts with leading orchestras and opera companies and fuelled by his power to communicate compelling musical ideas.

Jackson’s interpretation of Hänsel und Gretel for Grange Park Opera, given with the Orchestra of English National Opera in summer 2019, was showered with five-star reviews and hailed as ‘magnificent’ by the Telegraph. His 2019-20 season includes returns to work with Ensemble Intercontemporain at the Philharmonie Luxembourg and Cité de la musique in Paris, and the orchestras of Opera North and Opéra de Rouen. He is also set to conduct a retrospective of music by Irish composers, comprising works by Brian Boydell, Ina Boyle and Stanford, with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra in Dublin and the world premiere of Tscho Theissing’s Genia at Theater an der Wien, a major contribution to Beethoven Year 2020.

News of the conductor’s calm assurance and dynamic musicianship spread worldwide in April 2018 when he replaced Daniel Harding at short notice in Ives’s Fourth Symphony with the Orchestre de Paris at the Philharmonie de Paris. He also conducted Les Arts Florissants and Ensemble Intercontemporain during the same concert. The range of Jackson’s work is reflected in other recent engagements, embracing everything from debut performances with Hamburg State Opera, the London Symphony Orchestra, the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Kammeroper Frankfurt and the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie to new productions with his Vienna-based Speculum Musicae Opera Company and The Magic Flute for Opera North.

Brilliant to be chatting again George, especially as The Marriage of Figaro follows on so well from our last chat on Così fan tutte.

Tim Carter wrote ‘unlike Don Giovanni (1787) and Così fan tutte (1790), Figaro has few obvious problems’ (1987:ix). Is that true for you as the conductor?

I don’t know if I agree with that, to be honest. It’s very easy (if you’re an audience member or a critic) to value judge these pieces, but I don’t think it’s useful to identify ‘problems’.

I had a music professor in Vienna that always used to say, ‘the problem with Schumann’s orchestration’ or ‘the mistake of Bruckner’. If you’re performing their music your job is to bring it to life. We have also very handily turned the Da Ponte operas into a trilogy, but they’re completely different works. The Beaumarchais plays are a trilogy, but I don’t think this is part of one. There are obvious references between the operas, but I think the most useful thing is to think of them very individually.

Absolutely. You can’t compare them.

Not really. I don’t think it helps.

So you don’t find Figaro easier in a practical way?

On a purely technical level, I don’t think the Mozart operas are ‘hard’ to conduct – not like conducting Benedict Mason, for example.  But what they ask of you in terms of developing an idea and the style is what’s hard. 

It is a very theatrical and economically tight piece. Although, more significantly, The Marriage of Figaro does have something special about it that Così fan tutte and Don Giovanni don’t. Including the playwright Beaumarchais, Figaro is a collaboration between three great artists. It’s very rare that you have a libretto written so close to an original play, it normally happens years later, such as Don Giovanni’s relationship to Tirso de Molina’s seventeenth century Don Juan story. But Beaumarchais was writing about the same eighteenth-century society that Da Ponte and Mozart were also a part of – and that’s very unique. It’s also clear that Beaumarchais, Mozart and Da Ponte share the emotions and political feelings that are in the story, so there’s more of a personal connection.

We know that Da Ponte went around sleeping with women in the way than Don Giovanni does, and in Così there are also some similarities. But I get the feeling there’s something very personal and political in the biographies of the people involved that becomes very clear in Figaro.

Have you seen the play?

I haven’t, but I’ve listened to an old reading of it from the Radio 4 archive, and I have a copy of the Beaumarchais trilogy. I tend to keep the play open on my desk when I’m studying the score because it’s very interesting to see the process that they’ve gone through in adapting it. I’m also conducting Barber of Seville next year in Vienna, so I’m thinking about Beaumarchais a lot in preparation.

Are there different versions of Marriage of Figaro (as with Don Giovanni etc.)?

Figaro is interesting because they revived it in Mozart’s lifetime – they went back to the Burgtheater in Vienna a few years later (1789). Susanna, played originally by the English Soprano Nancy Storace, had changed in the cast, and so Mozart wrote two new arias for Adriana Ferrarese, the same soprano who created the role of Fiordiligi and was famous for her chicken-like bobbing head when jumping between top and bottom register. They are ‘Un moto di gioia’ (to replace ‘Venite, inginocchiatev’ in Act II) and ‘Al desio di chi t’adora’ (to replace ‘Deh vieni, non tardar’ in Act IV).

That’s interesting from a historical interest point of view, as it’s clear that Mozart felt that it was really important to write for who’s singing. So, in order to extend that tradition onwards, I’ve asked our Susanna at Opera Holland Park, Elizabeth Karani, which arias she wants to do (she has chosen Nancy Storace’s original set of arias). If the composer has written a different set of arias because the singer had changed, then we should perform the ones that the singer feels most comfortable with. That’s something that the singer can decide, because they know their own voice.

That’s brilliant.

Is it true that Figaro needs a lot of rehearsing?

Well, that implies it can be finished and ready by a certain time! I think an opera like this, with such a lot of busy action on the stage, will naturally grow over the run of however many shows it has. So it’s always going to be a work in progress. There’s so much action going on in the recitatives. For example, the recitative before the trio (No. 8) ‘Basilio, in traccia tosto di Figaro!’ – where Cherubino hides behind the chair – is where the music and the action need to meet each other quite accurately.

Apparently Glyndebourne, in its early days, really raised the bar regarding the standard of Mozart performances. In 1934 they staged Figaro with ideal rehearsal conditions. ‘It is to John Christie’s credit that he provided such conditions at Glyndebourne… The producer, Carl Ebert, and the conductor, Fritz Busch, were given unparalleled opportunities to work long and hard with their cast and the orchestra, building up the production detail by detail’ (Carter 1987:138).

That’s interesting. You can do it on not much rehearsal as well, it’s a question of how much time you have. To quote Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, it’s like ‘fashion’, because it’s ‘never finished’.

Yes! It concertinas into how much time is available.  

Exactly, yes.

Last time, when we spoke about Così fan tutte,[1] we discussed pacing in the opera. Do you think Figaro is similar in that respect?

Yes, it’s very similar in that way. Obviously Mozart writes the pacing into something like the Act II Finale, with the tempo changes and the way that the action develops over the twenty minutes. He’s written it out in quite a specific way. Like inCosì, that is usually more of a challenge for the director, but the conductor needs to make sure that the recitative paces itself in the right way, and that going into the next number feels organic and part of the action. It’s a little bit like a spring, where the tension increases so much towards the end of the recit that you have to release the spring for the next number to start.

One of the first jobs that I tend to do in a recit opera is work out where the recit ends and the number begins. You can use the last chord to sneak your way straight into the number, or you can close the recit and then start the number. You also have to think about the character of the last chord. Sometimes I find myself thinking we could put the motive of the next number into the cadence, so there’s that flow. That comes from a lot of experimentation in the rehearsal room, and a good relationship with the director (in this case, the fabulous Olly Platt). It’s as dramatic as it is musical. We can’t forget that all the singers that we work with are also actors. They’re going to come with their own concept of the character. So in a way, most of the job is helping with that process rather than telling them what to do.

Carter also suggested that Da Ponte and Mozart keep the momentum going in a number of ways. Including: avoiding long orchestral introductions; avoiding clear cadences at end of recitatives; using closely related keys; compressed formal structure; swift and economical modulations; and little redundant text repetition among others (1987:106-108). Do these suggestions have relevance to your work?

Well, again it’s interesting as I half agree and half disagree with these! Carter includes how Mozart avoids long orchestral introductions, but the Countess’s first aria ‘Porgi amor qualche ristoro’ (No. 10) has quite a long introduction.

Oh yes, that is a long introduction, and it’s marked Larghetto too.

Yes, it’s slow and it’s in four. It’s at least a minute of music. We haven’t met the Countess yet, and I think Mozart knows exactly how to present this new character. We’ve heard about her and have sympathy for her, because it’s clear that the Count’s doesn’t treat her well. We’ve just listened to Figaro’s quite upbeat aria ‘Non più andrai farfallone!’ but now he needs to change the temperature. The only way to get a sense of the Countess before we meet her is to have a long orchestral introduction.

In relation to the next point, Mozart does seem to avoid clear cadences at the end of the recits. He often goes straight into the aria to keep the drama moving.

Exactly. There is a lot of that, and I think they’re there for a reason.

The point about closely related keys is also true. There’s definitely a good tonal journey throughout each act, and the recits have the harmonic function of moving into the next key.

In the late Eighteenth Century there were a lot of theories about the meaning behind a key. That’s important. Although we’re in an opera that starts in D major and ends in D major, we meet Figaro and Susanna in G major, the same key we often meet the countrified/rustic Papageno in in The Magic Flute, and Zerlina in Don Giovanni. Clearly there’s an association with the lower class/more humble characters and G major.

Mozart spent the early 1780s in Vienna studying a lot of Bach and Handel, and had a close association with that music from the beginning of the Eighteenth Century. That whole century was a massive period of experimentation in opera. I love Handel, but when you go to a Handel opera you can be listening to the nineteenth Da Capo aria of the evening and suddenly realise you’ve got to listen to the A section all over again! I don’t think there’s any moment in Figaro where you think that, it is such a departure from the more rigid structure of a traditional aria. The form is dictated by the drama, rather than vice versa.

What about ‘little redundant text repetition’?

Well, a good example is ‘Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio’ (No. 6) in Act I – Cherubino’s first aria. At bar 37[2] we go straight back to repeating the A section (with the same text), but it has a dramatic function. The title roughly translates as ‘I don’t know what I feel or what I’m doing’ – he’s obsessed with flirting and sleeping with lots of women. So the answer to ‘I don’t know what to do’ is to sing the A section again… he still doesn’t know what to do.

Ah yes, he’s going round in circles!

Yes. Mozart was such a genius – he was applying the rules of the ABA form to dramatic ends in his own way (which is surely how you move forward an art form).

I saw one performance where in an Act II recit, the harpsichordist started playing part of the overture again, just to allow more time for the action on stage. Do you think that’s more commonly needed/used in this opera?

I think it’s just linked to the tradition. For the 1786 premiere Mozart was conducting from the keyboard. There’s a tradition of improvisation in the Eighteenth Century, which extends to this sort of situation. That’s why he doesn’t write out exactly what to play in the recits because a well trained eighteenth-century harpsichordist would have known what to do with each of these chords and how to accompany the singer. Of course, we don’t have a detailed idea of what they would have done, as with the ornamentation and appoggiaturas for the singers. With a twentieth-century composer like Benjamin Britten, everything he wants is in the score – every tiny little tenuto mark and staccato, dotted Is and crossed Ts. Even if there’s a word that has a shorter vowel he might make it a semiquaver and then put a rest to emphasis that it’s shorter than everything else. But the expectation of eighteenth-century musicians was very different, and we need to get a sense of how they thought and approached music. There are treatises we can read in order to understand that. So… if you need a bit of extra time to get somewhere on the stage, why not have a small improvisation on a theme of the overture, or a quote from a previous (or future!) work by the same composer? That’s part of the drama.

Are there any particular treatise that you recommend?

Hiller is interesting,[3] because he very nicely describes the kinds of things that singers should do. For example, he writes that cadenzas should always be in one breath (i.e. they were probably quite short and not too embellished and within the phrase). I think he even writes that they should ‘never sing twice the same way’. He had an idea that legato is something that happens in slow music, and fast music is detached. Of course that’s a huge generalisation, but it gives us an idea of how they thought at the time. Then there are others by Mancini[4] and Agricola[5] – you can pick up little rules of performance from some of the things they write, like how to fill in melodic gaps or work with harmony. Mancini says any word that has a harsh meaning should not be embellished, which is interesting.

Post-Marriage of Figaro, there are lots of sources of other composers or theorists writing about what we’ve done with ornamentation. For example there’s Domenci Corri’s ornamentation for ‘Voi che sapete’ that Charles Mackerras used in his landmark recording. It’s incredible how florid the whole thing is, and so it gives you a little bit of license to experiment. I’m not an Early Music specialist/conductor, but I think the important thing is to inform your work from that period anyway.  More like the a ‘social smoker’, than ‘50-a-day’.

The story is very complex. How do you ensure it comes across clearly?

Yes, Figaro’s very hard. It is an issue for the director but it’s also a collaboration. There are certainly lines that I think are significant. There are these moments where you get a moral message, which is often sung by all of the cast.

For example, in the Act II Finale bar 267, you have the phrase ‘perdono non merta chi agli altri nol da’ which basically translates as ‘forgiveness is not given to those who don’t give it’. It’s sung quite quickly, twice, by Susanna and the Countess. But ‘perdono’ is an important message of the time and of the opera, and arguably somewhat related to the issue of clemency in ‘La Clemenza di Tito’ a few years later. It’s for the director to decide whether there’s a fourth wall, but that’s a moment where I’d want to shout that to the audience.

There’s one in The Magic Flute that is also very good. I’ve always remembered it as a moment that I thought was really important that it’s heard. It appears suddenly in the quintet, in the middle of an important dramatic moment. The text is:

Bekämen doch die Lügner alle,

Ein solches Schloss vor ihren Mund;

Statt Hass, Verleumdung, schwarzer Galle,

Bestünde Lieb und Bruderbund.

Translation: For if all liars received

a lock like this on their mouths,

instead of hatred, calumny, and black gall,

love and brotherhood would flourish.

It’s amazing. We are doing these pieces in the age of Trumpism and the normalization of lying, so Mozart’s message is as relevant now as it could be then.

That’s so good, I really like that.

It’s a good one, isn’t it? That’s why we should watch an eighteenth-century opera now. Those guys had the same problems that we have.

Do you work with Da Ponte’s word play at all?

The word play is interesting, it’s full of that. It is an interesting time to do this interview because the director and I haven’t started our collaboration yet (we’re three or four months away from the start of rehearsals). Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier are a directing team, and I remember watching them do an interview about opera. They made a brilliant point that I’ve never forgotten: the conductor needs to work like a director, and the director needs to work like conductor/musician. I find myself investigating aspects of the story that are interesting (including the wordplay). My job is to then adjust the ideas I’ve developed to help bring out the vision of the director. I need to have a very strong opinion of what I think about this piece, but not so strong that it can’t be changed and adapted. I think it’s quite a healthy process, you grow on your own first and then you meet up with the person you’re working with and combine ideas. Luckily, Olly Platt (our Director) was originally a musician, so I’d like to think we can be an embodiment of what Leiser and Caurier were talking about.

It’s about empathy for other people. It’s the same as working with an orchestra. I can’t play all of those instruments but if I respect that that’s what the musicians do very well, I also have something to offer. That’s basically what opera is all about – knowing that everyone has their own concerns and how they come together.

So do you have to think about comic timing, especially in the recitative sections?

Yeah the recits – that’s where it would be true to say that Figaro needs a lot of rehearsal. The drama and the momentum (as we’ve talked about) is written into the musical numbers, but you need to work hard in the rehearsals to get the recits to work. I’m firmly of the opinion that even if you don’t speak Italian and you’re ignoring the surtitles you’re still able to know the meaning of what’s happening on the stage. I don’t mean overact or overemphasise everything in the delivery of the text, but it’s our job is to make it obvious what is going on. I’ve known people that have seen and understood what’s happening in a very developed Italian recit just because it has been acted and timed so well. That’s where the director’s sense of comedy combines with the conductor’s.

And you’re from a family of actors, aren’t you?

I am. Both parents, and my sister is a Casting Director for Film and TV.  More and more I think I’m doing that kind of job. You’re making dramatic sense of what’s written down, and that’s what actors do – they work out how to deliver their lines in the right way. It’s a bit like Shakespeare – if all you’ve got is the soliloquy, the actor needs to work out how to time it. That is where the recitative interest lies.

In a way I’m more interested in spending six weeks just working on recits, because we all know that they can sing. The conductor or the director doesn’t simply say ‘do this line a bit faster’, or ‘wait before this line’. The singers have to know their character well enough to know how they would deliver that line. The way that the recits develop and the timing is the hardest part of the job, I think.

Mozart wasn’t necessarily interested in following the words and composing from them (we know this from the letters). He was much more interested in writing music in a way that depicted character and then slotted the words into what he’d written. I think the quote from the letters he wrote to Da Ponte is; ‘words are the obedient daughter of the music’.

I think that relates to the idea that ‘points of dramatic stability are matched by areas of tonal stability… while dramatic instability is reinforced by tonal instability, whether by way of sudden modulations or, more frequently, dominant pedals’ (Carter 1987:98). The key displacement when Figaro enters in the Finale (bar 328) is so effective.

Yes. It goes back to G major, which is how we first met Figaro.

Are the key changes important for you?

Yes, I think they are. There’s a nice example in ‘Voi che sapete che cosa è amor’, the Cherubino aria (No. 11) in Act II. It has a really interesting modulation, which I think is quite unusual for the time. If you go to bar 37: ‘Gelo, e poi sento l’alma avvampar’: ‘I freeze and then my soul is on fire’. On ‘gelo’ (freeze) we’re in B flat major. We’ve gone towards F minor a little bit but then we have a C major chord in bar 36. Suddenly, without any preparation, he drops down to A flat major. That’s something that you find in a lot of Schubert songs – a note that stays the same and the harmony shifts around it. In this case the flute plays a C and it’s C major. The C stays the same but with the E flat and A flat you’re suddenly in A flat major. That’s quite a Romantic, almost early nineteenth-century thing to do with harmony. But what’s interesting is the reason for that: it’s there because suddenly Cherubino is ‘freezing’. You don’t have a nice modulation into the A flat major chord, you just ‘freeze’. Moments like that are really, really important because there’s a reason to back up the marriage between this crazy harmony and the libretto. In this case he’s responding to what the text is saying.

It’s amazing. It’s easy to dismiss that in Mozart, but if you really look at it and ask ‘why the hell has he done that?’ you realise. Like all of the best composers, the simplicity of it is what makes it so genius.

photo: Maria Bachmann

Right. Act II Finale!

Yes! What’s important about this Finale (No. 15), from a formal perspective, as that we go from a duet, to a trio, to a quartet, and it just builds. On a larger macro/long range scale you’re just bringing everybody on the stage over the time. It’s a brilliant way of seeing how he writes for both the orchestra and the accompaniment, preparing the characters for how they’re going to act. For example, right at the beginning we have this big E flat major chord and then this very aggressive fortepiano in the first and second violins. They’re portraying the rage of the Count ‘esci o mai, garzon malnato’ (‘come out you little bastard’). What’s important is he says ‘malnato’ which means ‘lowly born’. So we see the Count show his true colours. He’s insulting Cherubino not just because he thinks he’s sleeping with his wife – it’s the fact that someone from a lower class is doing it.

From a musical point of view, first of all we have a chord on the first beat and then he sings. We’re getting all the energy and aggression of the Count on the first beat. Then we go to the Countess, who is pleading ‘Ah! Signore, quell furore, per lui fammi il cor tremar’ trying to get him to calm down. But interestingly, in bar 5 (just before she starts singing) the orchestra is suddenly piano and the first violins play these octaves. It’s a pleading figure, happening underneath what the Countess is doing. Again the music is slightly in advance, predicting or setting up what they’re about to say. When Susanna arrives later on in B flat major – the Molto Andante at bar 126 – there are two/three bars of introduction before she sings. Mozart sets up the character beforehand. It may not seem like a revolutionary idea but a hundred years later the orchestra was often like another character in the music of Wagner and the late Nineteenth Century. This is the revolution, particularly in this Finale.

Another good example is at bar 55 when the Count sings ‘Quà la chiave’ (‘get the key’). Before that there are two bars of very loud repeated semiquavers (first and second violins). So again, the rage that the Count needs to sing that line comes from the orchestra. When we finally get to rehearsing with the singers, you realise how important the orchestra is. It isn’t commenting on the drama, but making it happen.

Fantastic. There are lots of shifts in tempo. Are there any particularly tricky ones for the conductor?

There are, but in a way it’s quite organic, all the tempos run into one another quite nicely. Mozart is writing in the momentum for you, and they all link in a certain way.

I see. So are there any moments where synchronizing with the action on stage is especially difficult?

Yes. The music at bar 328, when Figaro comes in and says the wedding party’s going to start, comes from nowhere. There’s a fermata and suddenly it starts in G major. I imagine there must be something, a door opening or a glass smashing, that gives the motivation for that music to start. That’s our job – to fill in the blanks dramatically.

There’s quite an interesting moment at bar 308, just before that. Mozart writes sotto voce for the three characters (Susanna, Countess and the Count). You don’t see that a huge amount in this opera in ensembles, although in Così almost every ensemble has a sotto voce (maybe it’s something that Mozart was starting to experiment with and adds in more as he gets more comfortable in the later operas). Suddenly the drama stops, the Count has stopped asking for forgiveness. ‘Da questo momento quest’alma a conoscervi apprender potrà’ – they’re commenting on what’s going on, but not to each other (as in the Greek chorus tradition). It’s amazing how that just fits in with the way things develop on the stage.

There’s also a nice moment at bar 441 later on where Figaro says ‘per finirla lietamente, e all’usanza teatrale’ (‘to end happily and in a theatrical manner’). I checked, and there’s nothing like that in the Beaumarchais play. Da Ponte has written that specifically for Figaro. There’s definitely a strong sense that there shouldn’t be a fourth wall – you have know the play to realise that Da Ponte has prioritized this. In this Viennese tradition, where the fourth wall doesn’t really exist, this direct talking to the audience is a priority (even if it doesn’t seem so clear).

You also wanted to mention the recitative and the aria just before that.

Yes, No. 12. I think this aria gets overlooked. In a Handel opera lots will happen in the recitatives, and then the aria gives an insight into the character. It’s either emotional, or a commentary on what’s going on. Theoretically, you could run a whole Handel opera with none of the arias and make sense of the story just from the recitatives. In Mozart you can’t because the dramatic function of the recitative and aria become equalised. The recit before the Susanna aria (‘Bravo! Che bella voce!’) is when they start dressing Cherubino up. When the aria starts, they’re still doing that. People overlook this, but I think it’s a revolution. It’s not a showy aria (you wouldn’t do it in an audition) but the other two characters on stage are just as important. It really challenges the tradition and is unusual because he’s using the recit and the aria in opposite ways. The idea of a big Da Capo aria where the singer shows off their amazing voice has completely disappeared.

What’s the most challenging aspect of this opera for you, as the conductor?

Probably getting the recits right – that’s a big thing. And also No. 7 ‘Cosa sento! Tosto andate!’ – it’s a trio. You have one (quite fast) tempo in 2 – Allegro Assai. There’s the introduction of three different character’s music, all happening within the same tempo. As a conductor you have to find the tempo that accommodates all three of these ideas. The Count is starting to get annoyed (‘Cosa sento!’ bar 4) so you have to find that tempo. Then in that tempo you have to find Basilio’s line ‘In mal punto son qui giunto’ (bar 16). Within that Susanna is getting agitated – bar 23 ‘che ruina, me meschina’. There is a tradition of changing tempo for the entrance of each character but actually the challenge is to find one that fits all of them comfortably. It’s a hairline between too fast and too slow, and you have to get it right. Sometimes I think you have to imagine all the characters’ music at once in order to be in the right tempo from the beginning. It’s about finding the unity between three different thoughts expressed in the same way. That’s very hard with a lot of Mozart.

If I was teaching a student, that would be a classic extract to work on. It’s the sort of thing you wouldn’t think you’d have to think about, but you do. I suspect that Mozart, unlike Beethoven or Wagner, wasn’t particularly philosophical. He just wrote the music down and it was amazing. But because we’re not as intelligent as Mozart, it just takes us longer to get it. I find myself asking the questions: what’s going on in the orchestra? Who is this representing? What can we learn about that character from the music? It opens up the opera in a very different way. Opera overtures are usually dramatic. You have this ‘ba baaa!’ that begins Barber of Seville or those dramatic chords in Don Giovanni. But this is quite funny [sings opening]. It’s very pianissimo, that in itself is a bit of a joke. I’m sure that the Viennese audience would have thought that.

We know in the story that Cherubino has been sleeping with Barbarina – it has already happened when the opera starts. So my conclusion is the Overture is Cherubino – this young, very randy adolescent running round this house trying to sleep with everyone. To further the argument (I have thought about this for quite a few years) he quotes the ‘Aprite presto, aprite!’ (No. 14) in the overture. In bar 252, the crotchets in the woodwinds are also in the duet in Act II when Cherubino comes out of the wardrobe and runs off (before the Finale). Although we see this opera through the eyes of Figaro, I also think that in a way Cherubino is an even more important figure, and there is a lot more to him in the opera. That’s the only way I can make sense of the overture.

Interesting. It does feel like him, doesn’t it?

I can’t think of it being any of the other characters.

And it doesn’t seem to change character that much. It’s strange we don’t know more about it, seeing as it’s so ridiculously famous.

Exactly. For me the overture is Cherubino (or even Da Ponte) running around Europe sleeping with everyone. Maybe I’m being too analytical and it’s just a nice bit of music before the opera starts, but Cherubino running around being randy is central to the whole story. Him and the Count are quite similar figures, despite not being from the same noble background. In The Barber of Seville, the Count comes all the way down from Madrid to Seville, in order to try and hook up with some chick he saw on the street in Madrid. That’s the sort of thing I imagine Cherubino might have done.

(laughs) That suddenly makes it feel very different.

That’s my idea. Whether it’s a revelation or not, I don’t know.

Gosh we’ve been talking for ages. This has been really great, thank you!

Yes I want to carry on! We should do this once a week…


Carter, T. W.A. Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1987)

[1] Click here for George’s interview on Così fan tutte.

[2] All aria numbers and bar numbers refer to the Eulenberg edition Mozart Le Nozze di Figaro Opera K492 (Eulenberg, London 1983).

[3] Hiller, J. A. Treatise on Vocal Performance and Ornamentation (Cambridge University Press 2001). Originally published in 1780.

[4] Mancini, G. Practical Reflections on the Figurative Art of Singing (Kessinger Publishing 2009)

[5] Agricola, J.F. Anleitung zur musikalisch-zierlichen Gesang