A Close Look at Susanna’s Aria from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro

Giunse alfin… Deh vieni” is distinguished by a fascinating ambiguity. Is Susanna singing of her feigned lust for the Count in order to torment Figaro for doubting her fidelity? (This is the intention she expresses immediately before “Giunse alfin”.) Or, is she singing of her genuine love for Figaro under the guise of singing of her feigned lust for the Count? Does her intention change within the scene, or are both intentions present simultaneously? I will not presume to resolve this issue, for I am not even certain that the individual Susanna must resolve it for herself. Rather, as she sings, she may simply be remaining open to the wealth of possibilities. Here, we are dealing not with ‘subtext’, but with a range of ‘subtexts’.

The recitative contains three distinct moods. While the first phrase expresses eagerness, the second expresses impatience— Susanna tells her scruples to get lost. Don’t sing it beautifully! “Oh come par… ” is a new thought: nature itself is conspiring with the lovers. The preceding orchestral phrase is still in the mood (and key) of the “timide cure” idea. Therefore, I believe that Susanna ought to become aware of the seductive aspects of the night after the interlude, rather than during it, and consequently may delay the beginning of the phrase “Oh come par… ”. This last line introduces the idea that inspires the aria. This is why I recommend using it as a transition to the aria, singing it more cantabile than the preceding lines of recitative.

Tempo is an individual choice, so I never impose my preferences. Well, hardly ever! I do understand the peculiar temptation this aria presents: other than “Deh vieni,” the singularly long and difficult role of Susanna offers no extended opportunity for legato singing or for the expression of eros. Naturally, the singer wants to make the most of it. But since Susanna is urging her lover to “Come on— don’t wait” [to join me and make love], I believe the tempo should not be too slow. While German composers have misunderstood ‘andante’ as being indicative of slowness, Mozart, whose operas show a deep understanding of the Italian language, understood the term as meaning ‘going.’ (In the finale of Entführung, Mozart clearly uses ‘più andante’ to mean, correctly, faster.)

Most of the aria is in three-bar phrases, but within these, there is great variety of shape. For instance, the initial phrase of the aria, “Deh vieni non tardar, oh gioia bella” consists of three parts: two commands and an apostrophe. By contrast, the second phrase, “vieni ove amore per goder t’appella,” is a single clause. The singer may consider singing the unbroken thoughts with more sweep—with a more pronounced crescendo-diminuendo arch—than the more articulated phrases. Many find the coordination of text and notes confusing at the phrase, “Finchè l’aria è ancor bruna e il mondo tace”. We know that the second syllable of ‘l’aria’ should not be sung on the E, otherwise Mozart would have had to write this pitch with two sixteenth notes. (The combination “… ria è an…” all goes on the G.) We also know that the second syllable of “bruna” ought not be sung on the D, otherwise Mozart would have notated the D with a separate flag, rather than beaming it with the A. I hope that the singer will find that, when sung as notated, the phrase sounds more smoothly lilting than otherwise. Despite the literary spelling of “susurro” (with a single internal ‘s’), the middle ‘s’ is unvoiced (hissed), as in the familiar spelling, “sussurro”.

While “Ti vo’ la fronte incoronar di rose” is a single phrase grammatically, it will of course be necessary to breathe between “fronte” and “incoronar”. If the singer avoids tapering the end of the word “fronte”, it will help convey that the meaning continues past this word despite the breath.

In the coda, we find repetitions of text (“vieni, vieni”) and of music (“ti vo’ la fronte …it vo’ la fronte”). Since, up to this point, the aria is singularly free from repetitions, the coda represents a point of departure: Susanna is less concerned with what she is saying than the tender way she is saying it. The emphasis is no longer on urging the lover to hurry, but on the love that awaits. Here, the series of fermatas is an invitation to drag—an invitation we may accept with pleasure.

Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith is a highly respected New York coach, particularly known for helping singers with difficult and unfamiliar scores.