Le Mariage de Figaro, by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais

Third act, scenes 1 and 2:


Le théâtre représente une salle du château appelée salle du trône, et servant de salle d’audience, ayant sur le côté une impériale en dais, et, dessous, le portrait du Roi.

Scène I
LE COMTE; PÉDRILLE, en veste, botté, tenant un paquet cacheté.

LE COMTE, vite: M’as-tu bien entendu ?

PÉDRILLE: Excellence, oui.
(Il sort.)

Scène II
LE COMTE, seul, criant: Pédrille ?


A room in the castle known as the Throne Room which serves as an audience chamber. On one side there is a dais surmounted by a throne. Above it there is a picture of the King.

Scene I
Enter the COUNT and PEDRILLO, dressed for riding and holding a sealed package.

THE COUNT [sharply]: Did you hear what I said?

PEDRILLO: Yes, Your Excellency.
(He exits)

Scene II
THE COUNT (alone, shouting): Pedrillo?

I confess I have never got further into Mozart’s opera than playing the overture with the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra, and Voi che sapete as a clarinet exam piece, so came to the original Beaumarchais play without any particular expectations. I discovered fairly rapidly that my French wasn’t really up to the original and found a couple of helpful English translations, as well as this 2010 BBC Radio Three adaptation from 2010 starring Rupert Degas and Joannah Tincey.

It shows I guess how times change. This was a huge hit in 1778, and it depends on the humour of improbable deceptions and misunderstandings. Two different characters hide behind the same chair in Act I. In Act II, the Count breaks into his wife’s dressing room while his page jumps out the window and Figaro pretends it was him. In Act III, Figaro is about to be forcibly married to an older woman when it dramatically turns out that she is his long-lost mother. I really got lost in Act IV. In Act V the Countess and Figaro’s girlfriend Suzanne pretend to be each other, with hilarious consequences (at one point the Count aims to hit the Countess, who he thinks is Suzanne, but accidentally hits Figaro instead without noticing). It would require some very ingenious staging to make the various antics of the cast appear in any way realistic, and even then the humour depends a lot on swallowing and digesting eighteenth-century norms of the regulation of sex. Still, I’ve always liked Mozart and maybe I’ll give the opera a go some time. The better English translation is this one.

This was my top unread book acquired in 2014. Next on that pile is Kim Newman’s Dracula Cha Cha Cha.