The Question of Figaro

I asked this question of my readers a long time ago in the old Blogspot incrnation of this site, and never got a satisfactory answer. So, here goes again.
Listening to Le Nozze di Figaro the other day, I was reminded that there is a serious logical inconsistency, or “plot hole” to use the modern parlance. Maybe someone out there can help explain it to me.
In Act II, Susanna, Figaro and the Countess cook up a plan to teach the Count a lesson by arranging a rendezvous for the Count and Susanna to which they plan to send Cherubino, dressed up as a girl. They prepare for it in the scene where Susanna sings “Venite, inginocchiatevi”.
However, in Act III, Susanna and the Countess, in “Canzonetta sull’aria”, devise another plan, in which the Countess attends the rendezvous, dressed up as Susanna.
Question: Why the change of plans, and why don’t they let Figaro in on their scheme? He was instrumental in conceiving the whole idea of the masquerade. Why do the women keep it a secret from Figaro, for whom this is equally just revenge? He acts surprised when he sees the Count receive the note with the pin at the wedding reception. Was there a renunciation, offstage? And why doesn’t Susanna tell him? Presumably he would have been there watching, so fear of jealousy is out as an explanation. There is no reason why he should have to find out about the meeting from Barbarina.
Leave your answers/theories in the comments. And in advance, “because if he knew, there wouldn’t be a fourth act” is not a valid answer.

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2 comments

  1. Al Maviva

    Um, it’s Opera, honey.
    In opera, the acting would be the envy of 6 year-olds in a school play, the “pretty girls” sought after by the hero are usually 310 pound sopranos who can’t walk up stairs on the set without breaking a sweat, and the plots… well, they make as much sense as a columnn by Ted Rall.
    A hole in the plot is the least of opera’s problems. As Southpark’s Chef could say of all opera, “It don’t make no sense, chirrets. It just don’t make no sense.” For example, Wagner’s Parsifal is a moron who becomes wise by being stupid and wandering around. If that made any sense at all, foreign correspondents like Robert Fisk (who is stupid and who wanders around a lot) would be widely acclaimed as wise.
    Then there’s Turandot, where princes seeking to marry the little Chinese hottie Turandot (usually played by afforementioned 310 pound soprano) have to answer riddles, and if they answer wrong, they are executed. Oh yeah, that makes lots of sense. If they really wanted to punish them, they’d make them pay for dinner, drinks, and getting into a really hot Manhattan dance club… and then ditch the prince for some drug dealing thug from Brooklyn with gold teeth.
    Then there’s La Traviata, in which courtesan Violetta (who has tuberculosis) falls in love with Alfredo, a man named for a pasta dish. Her father convinces her that it’s imperative for the family’s honor for her to leave Alfredo. Considering this is the 1700s, and she’s hacking up bloody phlegm all over Paris (how’s she singing this, by the way?) and infecting half the population, it’s hard to see how family honor is implicated. So she ditches Alfredo, who should be glad because he managed to avoid living with somebody who will probably kill him. But he’s not glad, and he disses her at a party. So then she dies. And we’re supposed to think it’s of a broken heart. But in reality we know that she just drowned in her own blood and sputum. And this is what passes for a romatic tour-de-force in the narrative of opera. Please.
    Sasha, you have just proven what my mother used to say about everyone being unique. You my dear are the first person in history to have worried about the hole in the plot in Le Nozze de Figaro.
    Congratulations, snowflake!
    Ps. I love opera. I really do. And because my love of opera is nearly unconditional, I don’t expect a lot of it in certain areas. Like plot.

  2. Henrik Mintis

    Because if he knew, there wouldn’t be a fourth act.
    P.S. You act as if Da Ponte had never watched an episode of Three’s Company. C’mon.
    P.P.S. OK, I admit it, there’s no verifiable historical evidence to suggest Da Ponte ever watched Three’s Company, but if I’m not mistaken, there are suggestions from some of his biographers that he was familiar with the Italian original.