Sull'aria...che soave zeffiretto

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"Sull'aria...che soave zeffiretto" is a duettino, or a short duet, from act 3 of Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492, to a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. In the duettino, Countess Almaviva (a soprano) dictates to Susanna (also a soprano) the invitation to a tryst addressed to the countess' husband in a plot to expose his infidelity.

Music[edit]

During the first part of the duet (bars 1–37), the Contessa dictates the title and the three lines of the letter and, after a pause, Susanna repeats the lines as she writes them. In the second part, the Contessa and Susanna read alternate lines with a slight overlap (bars 38–45) until they finish in a true duet with their conclusion. The lyrics prove to be highly juxtaposed against the pastoral musical score Mozart has written for this duet, however.

The duet's time signature is 6/8, its key is B-flat major, and it is 62 bars long; the tempo indication is allegretto. Scored for oboe, bassoon, and strings, the duet has a vocal range from F4 to B5 for Susanna and from D4 to G5 for the Contessa.

Libretto[edit]

Without repetitions, the text is: "Canzonetta sull'aria"
Che soave zeffiretto
Questa sera spirerà
Sotto i pini del boschetto.
"A little song on the breeze" (the title)
What a gentle little Zephyr
This evening will sigh
Under the pines in the little grove.
and both conclude: Ei già il resto capirà. And the rest he'll understand.

The full dialogue is:

Susanna: Sull'aria... On the breeze...
Contessa: Che soave zeffiretto... What a gentle little Zephyr...
Susanna: Zeffiretto... A little Zephyr...
Contessa: Questa sera spirerà... This evening will sigh...
Susanna: Questa sera spirerà... This evening will sigh...
Contessa: Sotto i pini del boschetto. Under the pines in the little grove.
Susanna: Sotto i pini... Under the pines...
Contessa: Sotto i pini del boschetto. Under the pines in the little grove.
Susanna: Sotto i pini...del boschetto... Under the pines...in the little grove....
Contessa: Ei già il resto capirà. And the rest he'll understand.
Susanna/
Contessa:
Certo, certo il capirà. Certainly, certainly he'll understand.

In popular culture[edit]

In the film The Shawshank Redemption, prisoner Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) defies Warden Sam Norton (Bob Gunton) by playing the duettino over the prison's loudspeakers. Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding (Morgan Freeman) remarks in his voice-over narration: "I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. [...] I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can't be expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it."[1] This is ironic as the opera characters are singing about a duplicitous love letter to expose infidelity, and Dufresne's wife's affair is the event which indirectly leads to his imprisonment.

The duettino's appearance in the Shawshank Redemption soundtrack earned it a nomination as one of 400 songs in consideration for American Film Institute's list of 100 top movie songs, although it did not win a place on the list.[2]

References[edit]

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