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8.550435 - MOZART: Operatic Arias and Duets

Mozart: Arias and Duets

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756, the son of a court musician who, in the year of his youngest child's birth, published an influential book on violin-playing. Leopold Mozart rose to occupy the position of Vice-Kapellmeister to the Archbishop of Salzburg, but sacrificed his own creative career to that of his son, in whom he detected early signs of precocious genius. With the indulgence of his patron, he was able to undertake extended concert tours of Europe in which his son and his eider sister Nannerl were able to astonish audiences. The boy played both the keyboard and the violin and could improvise and soon write down his own compositions.

Childhood that had brought signal success was followed by a less satisfactory period of adolescence largely in Salzburg, under the patronage of a new and less sympathetic Archbishop. Mozart, like his father, found opportunities far too limited at home, while chances of travel were now restricted. In 1777, when leave of absence was not granted, he gave up employment in Salzburg to seek a future elsewhere, but neither Mannheim nor Paris, both musical centres of some importance, had anything for him. His Mannheim connections, however, brought a commission for an opera in Munich in 1781, and after its successful staging he was summoned by his patron to Vienna. There his dissatisfaction with his position and the denial of opportunities for advancement resulted in a quarrel with the Archbishop and dismissal from his service.

The last ten years of Mozart's life were spent in Vienna in precarious independence of both patron and immediate paternal advice, a situation aggravated by an imprudent marriage. Initial success in the opera-house and as a performer was followed, as the decade went on, by increasing financial difficulties. Yet this was the period of his greatest achievement, in the theatre, in chamber music and in the series of piano concertos he wrote for his own performance and his final symphonies. In 1791 things seemed about to take a turn for the better, in spite of the lack of interest at the court of the new Emperor. Prague commissioned a coronation opera, La clemenza di Tito, and with the actor- manager Emanuel Schikaneder there was a new and successful German opera for Vienna, The Magic Flute, both works staged in the autumn. Mozart died after a short illness early in December.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) won Mozart his first operatic success in Vienna where it was staged at the Burgtheater in July, 1782, with the encouragement of the Emperor Joseph II, who wanted to establish German opera in the city. The story concerns the attempts by the hero Belmonte to rescue his beloved Constanze from the power of the Turkish Pasha Selim, a man of great magnanimity, who eventually releases her and her English maid Blondchen, in spite of the wrongs done him by Belmonte's father. The Overture finds an immediate place for what was identified in Mozart's time as Turkish music, indicated principally by triangle, cymbals and bass drum. The maid Blondchen has been entrusted to the palace overseer Osmin for whom she is more than a match. At the beginning of the second act of the opera she tells him how he ought to treat a European girl, with tenderness and coaxing.

The story of Cosi fan tutte is, in essence, an old one. The cynical Don Alfonso induces his young friends Guglielmo and Ferrando to test the fidelity of the sisters they love, Fiordiligi and Dorabella. This they do by pretending to go to war, immediately returning to woo each other's beloved in the disguise of Albanian noblemen. Their success, abetted by the clever little maid-servant Despina, leads to the start of a wedding-banquet, interrupted by the supposed return of the two lovers and a final revelation by Don Alfonso of the lesson to be learned from what has happened.

The second scene of the first act is set in the garden of the two sisters, leading down to the shore, with a view of the Bay of Naples in the distance. To the gentle murmur of the music and the soft tones of the clarinets the girls sing of their lovers, gazing at the miniatures they hold in their hands. Look, sister, where could you find a nobler face? Ah guarda, sorella, sings Fiordiligi, while Dorabella adds her own rapturous admiration of the features of her Ferrando. The duet Prendero quel brunettino comes early in the second act. The two sisters have concluded, with the assistance of Despina's reasoning, that there is no harm in a little flirtation and express their preference. I will take the dark one, sings Dorabella, while Fiordiligi prefers the fairhaired one. Don Alfonso takes Dorabella's hand as Despina takes Fiordiligi's and leads them forward (La mano a me date). The four lovers are then left alone. Fiordiligi and Ferrando walk off together, and Guglielmo protests further his love for Dorabella in a duet (Il core vidono) replacing Ferrando's miniature that she wears with a locket of his own. The duet Fra gli amplessi comes towards the end of the opera. Fiordiligi tells of her hope to join Guglielmo at war, but is joined by Ferrando who threatens to die of love if she deserts him.

The opera Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), based by the librettist Lorenzo da Ponte on a controversial French play by Beaumarchais, was first staged at the Burgtheater in Vienna on 1st May 1786 and won sufficient immediate success to allow nine performances, although public opinion was divided on the merits of the work, appreciated, as always, by the conoisseurs in the audience. Performances in Prague towards the end of the year were greeted with the greatest enthusiasm, and when Mozart arrived in the city early in 1787 he found the music whistled in the streets and serving to accompany dancing at fashionable balls.

The sparkling Overture sets the tone of the comedy that is to follow, in which the man-servant Figaro and his betrothed, Susanna, outwit Count Almaviva in his designs on the latter. In his aria Non piu andrai, farfallone amoroso (No more, adventurous lover), Figaro makes fun of the amorous page Cherubino, would-be lover of the Countess, who is to be packed off by the Count to join the army. Susanna's Deh vieni non tardar (Oh come, don't delay) comes in the fourth act of the opera, when Susanna plans her own revenge on Figaro for his unjustified jealousy, in a scene set in a garden at night, where the complexities of the plot increase, as an attempt is made to embarrass the Count. The Duet Crudel! perche finora (Cruel! Why make me suffer?) opens the third act, with the Count urging his claims on a reluctant Susanna, who now, unaccountably, seems to agree to his request. Susanna and the Countess have, in fact, resolved to trick the Count into an assignation with the disguised Countess herself.

The opera Don Giovanni, alternatively titled Il dissoluto punito (The Rake Punished) was written for Prague, a city that had always welcomed Mozart, and was first staged there at the end of October, 1787. The story, dramatised in the early 17th century by Tirso da Molina, tells of the fate of Don Juan, whose adventures in seduction lead to the murder of the father of one of his victims. The statue of the murdered man, seen at night in a graveyard, comes to life and accepts Don Juan's invitation to dinner, only to drag him down into the flames of Hell.

The canzonetta Deh vieni alla finestra, o mio tesoro, (O come to the window, my treasure) is a serenade, and a particularly heartless one, sung after Don Giovanni has just tricked his former mistress Donna Elvira into mistaking his servant Leporello for his master. An equally famous excerpt from the opera is Don Giovanni's La ci darem, la mano, as he takes the hand of the peasant-girl Zerlina, whom he intends to seduce on the day of her wedding. Don Giovanni's servant Leporello, descendant of a long line of complaining servants in European drama, opens the opera with an account of the hardships he suffers. The famous catalogue aria, in which he lists Don Giovanni's amorous conquests, recorded in the note-book he carries, is sung to console Donna Elvira, whose love Don Giovanni has enjoyed and rejected. In Vedrai, carino Zerlina soothes her injured lover, Masetto, who has been beaten by Don Giovanni, disguised as Leporello, an assault that is to have further dramatic consequences.

The German opera Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) was staged in the autumn of 1791 and was running at the time of Mozart's final illness and death.

The opera, which makes considerable use of masonic symbolism, a token of Mozart's own membership of the brotherhood, pits dark against light, the powers of darkness represented by the wicked Queen of the Night, mother of the heroine, Pamina. The Queen of the Night expresses her animosity against her former consort, the noble Sarastro and in a brilliant coloratura aria >Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen (The wrath of Hell seethes in my heart) commands her daughter to murder her foe. Comedy in the opera is provided by the bird-catcher Papageno, who announces his trade in his opening song, Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja (A bird-catcher am I), and later finds his own loving partner in a similarly feather-decked partner Papagena. In the aria Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen (Papageno wants a girl or a little wife), Papageno accompanies himself on a magic glockenspiel and his efforts are rewarded by the sudden appearance of an ugly old woman by his side, later happily revealed as the charming little Papagena that he had wanted. The two stutter their love for each other in the duet Pa-pa-papageno.

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