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.