If you attended the opera in the 18th century, you could buy a program booklet with side-by-side translations of the text and a list of the participants. Think of “The Murder of Figaro” as one such souvenir booklet. Just add music—and imagination:
It's 1786, and “The Marriage of Figaro,” a new comic opera by Amadé Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte, has just begun its first onstage rehearsal when a corpse is discovered in the wings: it’s the universally-loathed Imperial Censor. Despite a verdict of suicide, Da Ponte is arrested, and singers accuse each other of murder. In a desperate scramble to save “Figaro,” Da Ponte, and their lives, Mozart and his clever wife Constanze set out to solve this deadly mystery. If they fail, “Figaro” will never play in Vienna!
Boston diva Susan Larson was a professional concert and operatic soprano for thirty years. She not only sang a string of Mozart's most iconic soprano roles (Cherubino, Donna Anna, Papagena, Fiordiligi, etc.), she has read his collected letters and researched the lives of his contemporaries to create this antic vision of what might have been: Mozart plays Sherlock Holmes
“The Marriage of Figaro” started life as a scandalous stage play by Beaumarchais, and became a scandalous opera by Mozart and Da Ponte. The unusual opera libretto format is divided into the classical five acts. Monologues become arias, and dialogs become duets. Since operas of the time often started with multiple overtures, “The Murder of Figaro” has three. The plot follows that of the opera in an extremely loose fashion, with lots of coffee breaks and detours into Shakespeare, other Mozart operas, hot news and scandals of the day, and the American Revolution.
Says Larson about her approach to the book: “The original singers in “Figaro” have always fascinated me. They are largely forgotten, but were hard-working international stars in their day. Did they love the music written for them by the brash young upstart Mozart? Did they squabble and throw prima-donna fits? I invented rather messy lives for them, based on the lives of the many opera singers I have known in my life; sometimes behaving nobly sometimes abominably.” Regarding Mozart himself, she adds: “I was a professional concert and operatic soprano for thirty years. Mozart was my hero and idol. We were teacher and pupil. I believe we were friends.”