Count Almaviva, though married to Rosina and loving her ardently, cannot bring himself to cease playing the role of a gallant cavalier; he likes pretty women wherever he finds them, and notwithstanding his high moral principles, is carrying on a flirtation with Rosina’s maid, the charming Susanna. This does not hinder him from being jealous of his wife, who is here represented as a character both sweet and passive. He suspects her of being overfond of her page, Cherubino. From the bystanders. Doctor Bartolo and Marcellina, we hear that their old hearts have not yet ceased to glow at the touch of youth and love; Bartolo would fain give his affections to Susanna, while Marcellina pretends to have claims on Figaro. These are the materials which are so dexterously woven into the complicated plot and furnish so many funny passages.
In the second act we find Cherubino in the rooms of the Countess, who, innocent and pure herself, sees in him only a child; but this youth has a passionate heart and he loves his mistress ardently. Mistress and maid have amused themselves with Cherubino, putting him into women’s dresses. The Count, rendered suspicious by a letter, given to him by Basilio. bids his wife open her door. The women, afraid of his jealousy, detain him a while, and only open the door when Cherubino has got safely through the window and away over the flower-beds. The Count, entering full of wrath, finds only Susanna with his wife. Ashamed of his suspicions, he asks her pardon and swears never to be jealous again. All blame in the matter of the letter is put on Figaro’s shoulders, but this cunning fellow lies boldly, and the Count cannot get the clue to the mystery. Figaro and Susanna, profiting by the occasion, entreat the Count at last to consent to their wedding, which he has always put off. At this moment the gardener Antonio enters, complaining of the spoiled flower-beds. Figaro, taking all upon himself, owns that he sprang out of the window, having had an interview with Susanna and fearing the Count’s anger. All deem themselves saved, when Antonio presents a document which the fugitive has lost. The Count, not quite convinced, asks Figaro to tell him the contents; but the latter, never at a loss, and discovering that it is the page’s patent, says that the document was given to him by the page, the seal having been forgotten. The Count is about to let him off, when Bartolo appears with Marcellina, who claims a matrimonial engagement with Figaro. Her claim is favored by the Count, who wishes to see Susanna unmarried. Out of this strait, however, they are delivered by finding that Figaro is the son of the old couple, the child of their early love; and all again promises well. But the Countess and Susanna have prepared a little punishment for the jealous husband as well as for the flighty lover.
They have both written letters in which they ask the men to an interview in the garden. Susanna’s letter goes to the Count, Rosina’s to Figaro. Under cover of night each of the two women meets her own lover, but Susanna wears the Countess’s dress, while Rosina has arrayed herself in Susanna’s clothes.
The Countess, not usually given to such tricks, is very anxious. While she awaits her husband. Cherubino approaches, and taking her for Susanna he, like a little Don Juan as he is, makes love to her. Hearing the Count’s steps, he disappears. Almaviva caresses the seeming Susanna, telling her nice things and giving her a ring, which she accepts. They are observed by the other couple, and the sly Figaro, who has recognized Susanna notwithstanding her disguise, denounces the Count to her, vows eternal love, and generally makes his bride burn with wrath. In her anger she boxes his ears, upon which he confesses to having known her from the first, and at once restores her good humor.
Seeing the Count approach, they continue to play their former roles, and the false Countess makes love to Figaro, till the Count accosts her as “traitress.” For a while she lets him suffer all the tortures of jealousy, then the lights appear and the Count stands ashamed before his lovely wife, recognizing his mistake. The gentle Countess forgives him, and the repenting husband swears eternal fidelity. He speedily unites the lovers Figaro and Susanna, and forgives even the little page Cherubino.