Figaro Gets a Divorce | Welsh National Opera

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SummaryBack to top

Sunday, February 21, 2016 - Thursday, April 7, 2016

New Production

World première

Spring 2016

★★★★ The Times

Music by Elena Langer
Libretto by David Pountney

So, was it really happy ever after for the Almaviva household? Has the distant thunder of revolution turned into a storm from which they cannot escape? What does the world of Figaro sound like in the hands of a contemporary composer?

These questions have intrigued David Pountney. So much so that he decided to provide some answers. He’s done this by commissioning a new opera by Elena Langer for which he has written the libretto. Comic moments collide with touching ones in an opera which is part comedy, part political thriller. Langer and Pountney have created an affectionate sequel to Mozart’s classic, a testimony to human courage and resilience.

The characters of The Marriage of Figaro are some of the best-loved in opera. For those of us who have seen the opera before, they can feel like people we know, even friends. Figaro Gets a Divorce, therefore, is a one-off reunion, a chance to catch-up with these old friends.

• Performances start at 7.15pm, except Cardiff on Sunday 21 February at 4pm

• Running time approximately two hours including one interval

• Sung in English with surtitles in English, except recitatives (and Welsh in Cardiff and Llandudno)

Co-production with Grand Théâtre de Genève.
Supported by The Boltini Trust, WNO Commissions Group and WNO Partners.

Cast & CreativeBack to top

Conductor Justin Brown (TBA 24 March)
Director David Pountney
Set Designer Ralph Koltai
Costume Designer Sue Blane
Lighting Designer Linus Fellbom
Assistant Set Designer Robin Don

Figaro David Stout
Susanna Marie Arnet
Count Mark Stone
Countess Elizabeth Watts
Serafin Naomi O’Connell
The Cherub Andrew Watts
The Major Alan Oke
Angelika Rhian Lois
Additional performers Amanda Baldwin*, Helen Jarmany*
*Members of the WNO Chorus

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Plot summaryBack to top

The Almaviva family and their servants, married couple Figaro and Susanna, are on the run from revolution, when they are stopped by a secret agent, The Major. The Major is intent on destroying the family, and reveals to Count Almaviva that his son, Serafin Almaviva, is the love child of an affair between the Countess Almaviva and Cherubino, their former page, reportedly killed in action. Separately, the Major reveals to the Count’s ward, Angelika, that she is the love child from an affair between the Count and a former servant, Barbarina. Angelika, believing her fiancé, Serafin, is in fact her brother, is forced to accept The Major’s proposal to take him as a husband instead.

Figaro and Susanna’s marriage is in trouble. Susanna is scornful of Figaro, who refuses to give her a child, and has returned to his former trade as a barber to survive. She has an affair with The Cherub – a night club owner who turns out to be Cherubino, who did not die in battle after all. The Countess uncovers the Major’s plot to destroy the family, and Serafin and Angelika realise they are not siblings after all, and can marry. The family flees from the Major and end up back at the Almaviva castle, which has been turned into a mental asylum. Cherubino is shot and killed in the darkness. Susanna is pregnant with Cherubino’s child, but is reconciled with Figaro. The family tries to outwit the Major by feigning madness, but when they try to escape, they realise they are trapped, as revolutionary forces approach. The Count shows the young people an escape route, but he and the Countess stay and await their fate.

StoryBack to top

Act One

Some years have passed since the wedding of servants Susanna and Figaro, and the reconciliation of the Count and Countess Almaviva. The Count and Countess have a son, Serafin, and the Count has adopted and raised a ward, Angelika.

The six members of the Almaviva household are on the run, fleeing from revolution. They are captured and interrogated by a secret service agent, known as the Major. The Major possesses powerful information about the Countess’s past, and was a comrade-in-arms of the Count.

The Almaviva family is staying in a luxurious resort. With the Major’s encouragement, the Count orders his son, Serafin, to go and join the army. Figaro and Susanna are arguing: Susanna wants a child, but Figaro  is preoccupied with his suspicion of the Major. Figaro decides to leave before the Major can denounce him. Young lovers Serafin and Angelika fear that the Count will oppose their marriage.

Owing to financial pressures, the Almaviva family is forced to leave their hotel. The Major ‘accidentally’ allows the Count to discover a letter, which reveals three things: the Countess had an affair with Cherubino, the former page to the Almavivas; Cherubino, not the Count, is Serafin’s father; and Cherubino, who was sent to join the army by the Count, was killed in action. Figaro observes the proceedings with interest. Fuelled by resentment, the Count orders Serafin to go to battle immediately, despite the protests of the Countess and Angelika.

Figaro, a former barber, has opened a hair salon, but business is slow. Susanna mocks him for selling out, but insists they should have a child. When Figaro refuses, Susanna leaves him.

The Major tells Angelika that she is the love child of an affair between the Count and a former servant, Barbarina, and therefore, her marriage to Serafin can never take place because they are brother and sister. Instead, the Count has promised that Angelika should marry The Major, who swears Angelika to secrecy. Serafin challenges the Major about Angelika’s sudden change of heart. The Major tells him that Angelika is his sister, so he should forget his dreams of marriage. Serafin accepts that he must join the army, but he is suspicious of the Major.

The Major informs Susanna that the family can no longer afford to keep her in employment. Susanna bids farewell to the Countess. Angelika is distraught.

Susanna goes to a nightclub owned by ‘The Cherub’, in fact an alter ego of Cherubino, the Countess’s former lover. He explains that he lied about his heroic death on the battlefield. Susanna leaves with Cherubino, observed by the Major.

The Major visits Figaro’s salon for a shave. He updates Figaro on the changing fortunes of the Almaviva household, and informs him that Susanna can be found at The Cherub’s night club.

At the night club, Susanna performs a cabaret act with The Cherub. Figaro arrives drunk. The Count is arrested for debts. Susanna publicly admits that she has been unfaithful to Figaro.

Act Two

The Countess confronts the Major. She is willing to reveal the truth about her affair to free herself from the Major’s power.

The Count returns from prison, and the Countess unravels the Major’s plot. Serafin and Angelika discover that they are not brother and sister, and that they can marry after all. The Cherub meets Serafin, his son, for the first time. The Cherub reveals the news that the Major has denounced the family to the authorities, and they must flee at once. Figaro facilitates their escape from a distance.

The runaways approach the Almaviva castle. Cherubino is shot and killed in the darkness. 

The Major is a double agent, working for both sides of the revolutionary conflict.

The Almaviva castle has been turned into a mental asylum. Susanna reveals that she is pregnant with Cherubino’s child, and she and Figaro attempt a difficult reconciliation. The three couples pretend to be asylum inmates to save themselves from being identified by the authorities. The Major, disguised as ‘The Revolutionary Inspector’, carries out ward rounds, and leaves.

The family realise they are in danger, but they are trapped in the castle. The Count reveals a secret passageway to the castle grounds, which he used to visit Angelika’s mother, Barbarina. Susanna, Figaro, Serafin and Angelika make their escape, but the Count and Countess decide to stay and ‘face the music’.