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The overture to the opera Le nozze di Figaro, the first of Mozart's three collaborations with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte (the other two are Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte), begins with a busy whispering and buzzing that develops quickly into a short-breathed little theme that might just slip by the less than alert listener. Then, bang!, comes a tutti with trumpets and drums, the music subsequently driven by scampering violins, flutes, and oboes in a succession of hectically upbeat figurations, the whole accomplished in four minutes. The piece is self-contained, which is to say that it does not quote themes from the opera proper nor does its ending fade into the opening measures of the opera, both also characteristic of the overtures to Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio, Così fan tutte, and The Magic Flute. The Figaro overture does, however, give us a delectable foretaste of the mood of its opera: fleet, witty, often acerbic in its humor.

The overture, it might be noted, originally contained a slow middle section with a melancholy oboe solo. But contrast be damned, Mozart wisely decided, and maintained the swirling, manically jolly mood throughout. Figaro was first presented on the stage of Vienna's Burgtheater in May of 1786. The composer conducted from the keyboard.

- Herbert Glass, after many years as a columnist-critic for the Los Angeles Times, has for the past decade been the English-language annotator and editor for the Salzburg Festival.