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Who's zooming who?

Take notes in The Marriage of Figaro

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Some operas need a flowchart. Are you ready for this? Cherubino loves (or lusts, as you will) the Countess Rosina. The Countess loves the Count Almaviva. The Count loves his servant Susanna. Susanna loves Figaro, who loves her back but is engaged to be married to both Susanna and Marcellina, the latter as repayment for a debt. Marcellina, it turns out, is Figaro's mother. But it all works out in the end. Got that?

If the story seems preposterously complex, well, that's kind of the point. Though Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), opening Sept. 19 at the Fox, can be enjoyed as a pure, outrageous farce, replete with multiple mistaken identities and nested plots gone horribly awry, there is a method to the madness. Director Dejan Miladonovic says, "It's not just everything about who is hiding behind which door and is Cherubino dressed as a girl, no."

Figaro offers a comedic condemnation of the Baroque era's labyrinthine feudal formalism. Composed by Mozart to a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, the opera premiered in 1786. The United States had recently brewed Boston Harbor and sent the Redcoats sailing in search of a more subdued wardrobe. The guillotine days of the French Revolution were just a few years away.

But Figaro is not a story of smoking muskets or headless aristocrats. It is a revolution of subtler means. There is a perfect moment, halfway through the first act, when Marcellina and Susanna are brought to a standstill while exiting a room. Each hates the other, but each also insists that the other precede her out of the room, pretending respect while none-too-delicately implying that Marcellina is an old crone and Susanna is a slut.

Mozart's score makes the case in its own way. The Count sings in four-bar phrases, highly ornamented and repetitive. The music is clever and complex, but sterile. Cherubino anticipates more organic sensibilities. "His aria is 52 bars long without a repetition of any melodic idea," says conductor William Fred Scott. "That's how Mozart creates revolution: by taking musical ideas and going, 'This doesn't work anymore.'"

So that's why Washington's soldiers had those piccolos and drums.

Atlanta Opera presents The Marriage of Figaro Sept. 19-22 at the Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. Thurs. 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 7:30 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m. $21-$130. 404-881-8885. www.atlantaopera.org.

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