First Performance of Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The first performance of The Marriage of Figaro, a work that reflected the ideals of the Enlightenment and of the impending French Revolution, came after years of struggle with the French court and has remained a symbol of the freedom of the human spirit. One of Beaumarchais’s crowning literary creations, the title character has sometimes been identified with the author.

Summary of Event

La Folle Journée: Ou, Le Mariage de Figaro (wr. 1775-1778, pr. 1784, pb. 1785; The Marriage of Figaro, 1784) by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais was very much a reflection of the stormy political era in France during which the drama was written. Beaumarchais began work on the play in 1775, following the success of his Le Barbier de Séville: Ou, La Précaution inutile (pr., pb. 1775; The Barber of Seville: Or, The Useless Precaution, 1776). Beaumarchais was a man of many talents, ranging from watchmaker, painter, and political activist to writer. Despite his numerous gifts, it is The Marriage of Figaro and The Barber of Seville, the first two plays in a trilogy along with the less successful L’Autre Tartuffe: Ou, La Mère coupable (pr. 1792, pb. 1797; Frailty and Hypocrisy, 1804), to which he owes a permanent place in history. [kw]First Performance of The Marriage of Figaro (Apr. 27, 1784) [kw]Figaro, First Performance of The Marriage of (Apr. 27, 1784) [kw]Marriage of Figaro, First Performance of The (Apr. 27, 1784) [kw]Performance of The Marriage of Figaro, First (Apr. 27, 1784) Marriage of Figaro, The (Beaumarchais) [g]France;Apr. 27, 1784: First Performance of The Marriage of Figaro[2550] [c]Theater;Apr. 27, 1784: First Performance of The Marriage of Figaro[2550] [c]Literature;Apr. 27, 1784: First Performance of The Marriage of Figaro[2550] Beaumarchais, Pierre-Augustin Caron de Louis XVI Vergennes, Charles Gravier de Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus Rossini, Gioacchino Ponte, Lorenzo da

The revolutionary spirit that pervaded France French Revolution (1789-1796);Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais[Beaumarchais] in the late 1700’s had a large role in Beaumarchais’s life. He was an active supporter of both the French and American Revolutions and spent time in prison for his political activity. He was twice married to wealthy women, who were also well connected politically and socially. Close to the aristocracy, he taught music lessons to the daughters of Louis XV. At times, he even had the attention of Madame de Pompadour Pompadour, Madame de and Marie-Antoinette. Marie-Antoinette Charles Gravier de Vergennes, Vergennes, Charles Gravier de the French foreign minister, engaged him in foreign spy activities. During the war, he was a major shareholder in a periodical named Le Courier de l’Europe, which not only publicized his literary works but also contained articles that he authored to help shape public political opinion. There were also articles concerning the workings of democracy and parliamentary procedure that ignited the tempers of the leaders of the French monarchy. As a result, his work was considered suspect by the crown and not easily granted stage privileges, as in the case of The Marriage of Figaro.

The Marriage of Figaro, act 4, scene 9, “It renders you chaste and pure in the hands of your husband.”

(Library of Congress)

Beaumarchais was preoccupied by the plight of the social classes Class conflict and their treatment by the court and addressed these issues in his writing. Paradoxically, he was pleading the case for the lower classes against the nobility of which he had become a member; however, his status informed him of the issues from the viewpoints of both the court and the public. In 1772, Beaumarchais wrote the first of the two dramatic works that bought him lasting literary fame. The Barber of Seville, Barber of Seville, The (Beaumarchais) which began the story continued later in The Marriage of Figaro, was rejected by the Théâtre Italien. Although in 1773 and 1774 the Comédie Française accepted the play for production, Beaumarchais’s questionable political involvements brought recriminations from the court and prohibited the openings.

In 1775, after Beaumarchais was finally granted royal permission for The Barber of Seville to be premiered, the opening was a complete failure. In three days, he cut the play from five acts to four, and it was produced the second time to great applause. The story is of a clever servant (Figaro, the barber) who impertinently spoils the marriage plans of Dr. Bartholo, Rosine’s elderly guardian, in order to advance the love affair between Rosine and a Spanish nobleman, Count Almaviva. Clear glimpses of the revolution that is beginning in the middle class in France are revealed, as the servant is cast as superior in wit and cunning to the nobility he serves.

In his sequel, Beaumarchais continued the crafty assault on the upper classes that he had begun in The Barber of Seville. In The Marriage of Figaro, the barber himself is seeking permission to marry the maidservant to the countess. The same group of characters from The Barber of Seville constitutes the cast for The Marriage of Figaro. The four central characters are the Count and Countess Almaviva, Figaro, and Susanna. At the center of the plot is the wily Figaro, the barber of Seville. Figaro, although a servant to the count, is feisty and rebellious. Unfortunately, the philandering Count also has designs on Susanna and it is up to the servants again, as in The Barber of Seville, to outwit the nobility.

The count’s admiration of Susanna enrages the young, hot-blooded Figaro, who puts his own ruses into motion to defend his honor and that of Susanna. His cunning is responsible for thwarting the desires of the count in order to fulfill his own wishes, and the play is not subtle in its ridicule of the aristocracy, including the royalty. After much intrigue by all concerned to bring the count to justice, in the end the countess forgives the count and all couples are happily reunited.

In spite of the fairy-tale ending, the overall attitude of the play is reflective of the rise of the middle class Middle class;in drama[drama] that was at the heart of the French Revolution. The not-so-subtle attacks on French nobility did not escape the notice of King Louis XVI, and the play was banned for six years. Despite the king’s objections, once the French censors finally approved the play, Marie-Antoinette requested that it be performed at Versailles. The premiere was set for June 13, 1783, but the king again prohibited the performance until Beaumarchais had more some alterations to the script. The Marriage of Figaro finally opened on April 27, 1784, and received tremendous acclaim from the public. The number of performances given rarely had been surpassed by even the most successful eighteenth century plays: With sixty-eight consecutive performances, it broke previous records at the Comédie Française.

Significance

The drama of the eighteenth century played an important role in the perpetuation of the ideals of the Enlightenment. Although the importance that The Marriage of Figaro itself had in the encouragement of the French Revolution has been sometimes exaggerated, it must be recognized for the sense of equality and liberty that it promoted in the society in which it was created. It is even said that Napoleon considered it to be “the revolution in action.” Its acclaim by the general public and even by the aristocracy was tremendous, despite the ridicule of the upper classes.

Beaumarchais’s mastery of the comedic drama made him able to use his writing to further his political agendas, carefully working his points into the plot in a humorous way. In these works, he freely expressed his love of independence and passion for the liberated human soul. The character of Figaro in some ways represents many aspects of Beaumarchais’s own personality. His plays were influential beyond France and became the basis for opera Opera librettos for several famous composers. Giovanni Paisiello Paisiello, Giovanni (1740-1816) had already written an opera based on The Barber of Seville prior to Beaumarchais’s writing of The Marriage of Figaro. In 1816, Gioacchino Rossini Rossini, Gioacchino (1792-1868) wrote his operatic version of The Barber of Seville, which was produced in Rome and eventually eclipsed Paisiello’s earlier opera.

In 1786, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus used the The Marriage of Figaro as the basis for his opera Le Nozze di Figaro, Nozze di Figaro, Le (Mozart) produced in Vienna. The librettist for the opera was Lorenzo da Ponte, with whom Mozart later collaborated on two more operas, Don Giovanni (1787) and Così fan tutte (1790). The opera was immediately successful and gained a huge following, much to Mozart’s delight. Le Nozze di Figaro has remained one of the best known and most beloved operas in the repertory worldwide. The operatic stories borrowed from both The Marriage of Figaro and The Barber of Seville are somewhat altered from their source material, and they have lives of their own, but they have been largely responsible for keeping the spirit of Beaumarchais’s life and writing alive.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Beaumarchais, Pierre-Augustin Caron de. The Figaro Trilogy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Includes all three plays in a new English translation by David Coward, whose introduction gives helpful historical context and chronology of Beaumarchais’s life and work
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Howarth, W. D. Beaumarchais and the Theatre. New York: Routledge, 1995. Provides excellent information about prevailing scholarship on Beaumarchais and French theater, some of which was not previously available in English translation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jacobs, Arthur, and Stanley Sadie, eds. The Limelight Book of Opera. 4th ed. New York: Limelight Editions, 1996. Provides a comprehensive, easy-to-understand plot synopsis and commentary on Mozart’s opera Le Nozze di Figaro.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Morton, Brian N., and Donald C. Spinelli. Beaumarchais and the American Revolution. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2003. Detailed historical account of Beaumarchais’s revolutionary activities in France and America.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ratermanis, J. B., and W. R. Irwin. The Comic Style of Beaumarchais. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1961. Analyzes Beaumarchais’s style in the context of eighteenth century French theater and his use of literary comic conventions to make aesthetic points. Beaumarchais’s works are discussed in detail, but introduction and conclusion chapters provide succinct point summaries.

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Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais; Louis XV; Louis XVI; Marie-Antoinette; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Madame de Pompadour; Charles Gravier de Vergennes. Marriage of Figaro, The (Beaumarchais)

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