The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Born: January 27, 1756, Salzburg, Austria
Died: December 5, 1791, Vienna, Austria
Original Instrumentation: Opera Pit Orchestra
Instrumentation: Wind Octet (Harmonie)
Arranged: 1791, Johann Nepomuk Wendt; 2017, Anthony Rivera
Duration: 10 minutes
Mozart’s opera, The Marriage of Figaro has been a cornerstone of the operatic repertoire since its 1786 premiere in Vienna, Austria. Continuing the story of The Barber of Seville, it recounts a single "day of madness" (la folle journée) in the palace of Count Almaviva, as the Count attempts to utilize his “lord’s right” to bed a servant’s wife prior to her wedding night. In this case, the servant in question is Figaro, and his bride-to-be is Susanna, the Countess’ maid. Figaro and Susanna foil this plan, and the Count’s love for the Countess is successfully restored.
Arrangements of operatic works for small wind ensembles were quite popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, used to both drum up interest in upcoming productions and to entertain crowds at beer halls and social gatherings. These small groups of musicians would travel from location to location, often stopping to “serenade” persons of interest in their homes from the streets outside. Up until the twentieth century, these Harmonie (wind octet) arrangements would have been the only way for most people to interact with the operatic music of Mozart, Donizetti, Lully, and the like.
Johann Nepomuk Wendt, a contemporary of Mozart, arranged much of The Marriage of Figaro, The Abduction from the Seraglio, Così fan tutte, The Magic Flute and Don Giovanni. However, these early transcriptions had to conform to the limitations of the wind instruments of the era, which, while better-suited for outdoor concerts than the orchestra, still had restricted ranges and keys in which they could play. This led to many of Wendt’s arrangements being written in the keys of B-flat and E-flat, rather than their original keys. Anthony Rivera’s modern Harmonie transcriptions of Mozart operas attempt to solve this problem, a process that began with his dissertation transcription of The Magic Flute in 2016.