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Se vuol ballare

Opera details:

Opera title:

Le Nozze di Figaro


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart




Le Nozze di Figaro Synopsis


Le Nozze di Figaro Libretto



Aria details:









Previous scene: Or bene ascolta e taci
Next scene: Ed aspettaste il giorno fissato

Mozart's "Se vuol ballare": Sentence-Schema Interaction in Opera Buffa

Singer: Francesco Benucci

“Se vuol venire nella mia scuola, il partimento le insegnerò”

Here is an aria by Mozart that, in about two minutes and forty seconds, manages to include almost all the schemata for the generation of rising lines that composers of opera buffa used in the late eighteenth century.

Mozart wrote “Se vuol ballare” for the great comic bass Francesco Benucci, who created the title role in "Le nozze di Figaro." Here, in his first aria, Figaro addresses the absent count, offering to give him a dancing lesson. Mozart’s setting seems to allude to a musical analogy to a dancing lesson, namely a lesson in composition. Figaro plays the maestro, not only in the number and variety of schemata that he presents, but also in the repetitiveness and the textural simplicity with which he presents them. Beginning at m. 21 he repeatedly sings the Prinner’s characteristic bass 4-3-2-1, as if inviting a student to sing the corresponding treble 6-5-4-3. He then shows how the Prinner can be used to modulate to the dominant, again making sure, through repetition and simplicity of texture, that his student understands.

“Se vuol ballare” begins with the same combination of musical elements as a memorable passage that Paisiello wrote for Figaro in "Il barbiere di Siviglia" (in the aria “Scorsi già molti paesi”): moderate tempo, triple meter, a Do-Re-Mi extended by means of a Triadic Ascent, all within a sentence. Mozart thus identified Figaro as the character his Viennese audience was familiar with from Paisiello’s opera, just as he was later to identify his Countess with Paisiello’s Rosina. After the modulation to the dominant and a series of cadences, a Retransitional Overture (m. 42) brings the music back to the tonic—or at least we think this is where we’re going, before the dominant of F is replaced with the dominant of D (m. 51), leading to an unexpected detour to D minor, with the Prinner transformed into a Lament.

The delayed return of F major coincides with another surprise: a shift of meter and tempo that allows us to hear the opening Do-Re-Mi and Triadic Ascent in a completely new context (except that here again the schemata mark the beginning of a sentence). At m. 88 we find a rare instance of Mozart using the Ascending Parallel Thirds, a pattern more typical of Paisiello, again in association with a melody reminiscent of one sung by the same character in "Il barbiere di Siviglia" (at the words “La mia bottega è a quattro passi” in the duet “Non dubitar o Figaro”; see Daniel Heartz, "Mozart’s Operas," pp. 142–43). As if dissatisfied with this schema, Mozart quickly transforms it, at m. 96, into his favorite Ascending 7-6 Sequence, using it precisely as he used it the passage quoted in Ex. 31: as the beginning of a continuation phrase. He used Ascending 7-6 once again, almost like a signature, at the very end of the aria, this time without the rest of the sentence of which it was originally a part.

These comments are from a paper that I gave at the EuroMac Strasbourg on 30 June 2017, as part of the session “Analyzing Mozart’s Operas,” organized by Nathan Martin. In a much expanded (but not yet final) form, it is accessible online at under the title “Voice-Leading Schemata in Opera Buffa: Rising Lines in Paisiello’s Il barbiere di Siviglia and Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.” Since posting that version, I have continued to revise it for publication under the provisional title “Voice-Leading Schemata and Sentences in Opera Buffa: Rising Lines in Paisiello’s Il barbiere di Siviglia and Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.”

Music theorists have recognized the sentence as an essential element in Mozart’s instrumental music since the publication of William Caplin’s "Classical Form." Michael Cherlin’s new book "Varieties of Musical Irony: Mozart to Mahler" (Cambridge University Press, 2017) has played a similar role in calling attention to the importance of the sentence in Mozart’s operas, and in particular "Le nozze di Figaro." For more details on most of the schemata mentioned above (and others named in the annotations to the score) go to Robert Gjerdingen’s "Music in the Galant Style" and the compilation videos on this channel, with their accompanying commentaries.

Watch videos with other singers performing Se vuol ballare:


Bravo,signor padrone! Ora incomincio
a capir il mistero... e a veder schietto
tutto il vostro progetto: a Londra è vero?
Voi ministro, io corriero, e la Susanna ...
secreta ambasciatrice.
Non sarà, non sarà. Figaro il dice.

No. 3 - Cavatina

Se vuol ballare
Signor Contino,
il chitarrino
le suonerò.
Se vuol venire
nella mia scuola
la capriola
le insegnerò.
Saprò... ma piano,
meglio ogni arcano
scoprir potrò!
L'arte schermendo,
l'arte adoprando,
di qua pungendo,
di là scherzando,
tutte le macchine
Se vuol ballare
Signor Contino,
il chitarrino
le suonerò.

English Libretto or Translation:

feverishly pacing up and down the room, rubbing his hands
Well done, my noble master! Now I begin
To understand the secret ... and to see
Your whole scheme clearly: to London,
Isn't it, you go as minister, I as courier,
And Susanna ... confidential attachée ...
It shall not be: Figaro has said it.


If, my dear Count,
You feel like dancing,
It's I
Who'll call the tune.
If you'lI come
To my school,
I'll teach you
How to caper.
I'll know how... but wait,
I can uncover
His secret design
More easily by dissembling.
Acting stealthily,
Acting openly,
Here stinging,
There mocking,
All your plots
I'll overthrow.

Sheetmusic in our database with this aria

Operatic Anthology: BassCantolopera: Arias for Bass Volume 2Mozart: Arias for Baritone and BassMozart Arias: Baritone/BassMozart Opera Arias: Baritone/Bass

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