MOZART: Operatic Arias and Duets
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Mozart: Arias and Duets
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born inSalzburg in 1756, the son of a court musician who, in the year of his youngest child'sbirth, published an influential book on violin-playing. Leopold Mozart rose to occupy theposition of Vice-Kapellmeister to the Archbishop of Salzburg, but sacrificed his owncreative 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 ofEurope in which his son and his eider sister Nannerl were able to astonish audiences. Theboy played both the keyboard and the violin and could improvise and soon write down hisown compositions.
Childhood that had brought signalsuccess 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 seeka future elsewhere, but neither Mannheim nor Paris, both musical centres of someimportance, had anything for him. His Mannheim connections, however, brought a commissionfor an opera in Munich in 1781, and after its successful staging he was summoned by hispatron to Vienna. There his dissatisfaction with his position and the denial ofopportunities for advancement resulted in a quarrel with the Archbishop and dismissal fromhis service.
The last ten years of Mozart's lifewere spent in Vienna in precarious independence of both patron and immediate paternaladvice, a situation aggravated by an imprudent marriage. Initial success in theopera-house and as a performer was followed, as the decade went on, by increasingfinancial difficulties. Yet this was the period of his greatest achievement, in thetheatre, in chamber music and in the series of piano concertos he wrote for his ownperformance and his final symphonies. In 1791 things seemed about to take a turn for thebetter, in spite of the lack of interest at the court of the new Emperor. Praguecommissioned a coronation opera, La clemenza di Tito, and with the actor- manager EmanuelSchikaneder there was a new and successful German opera for Vienna, The Magic Flute, bothworks staged in the autumn. Mozart died after a short illness early in December.
Die Entf??hrung aus dem Serail (The Abduction fromthe Seraglio) won Mozart his first operatic success in Vienna where it was staged at theBurgtheater in July, 1782, with the encouragement of the Emperor Joseph II, who wanted toestablish German opera in the city. The story concerns the attempts by the hero Belmonteto rescue his beloved Constanze from the power of the Turkish Pasha Selim, a man of greatmagnanimity, who eventually releases her and her English maid Blondchen, in spite of thewrongs done him by Belmonte's father. The Overture finds an immediate place for what wasidentified in Mozart's time as Turkish music, indicated principally by triangle, cymbalsand bass drum. The maid Blondchen has been entrusted to the palace overseer Osmin for whomshe is more than a match. At the beginning of the second act of the opera she tells himhow he ought to treat a European girl, with tenderness and coaxing.
The story of Cosi fan tutte is, in essence, an old one. Thecynical Don Alfonso induces his young friends Guglielmo and Ferrando to test the fidelityof the sisters they love, Fiordiligi and Dorabella. This they do by pretending to go towar, immediately returning to woo each other's beloved in the disguise of Albaniannoblemen. Their success, abetted by the clever little maid-servant Despina, leads to thestart of a wedding-banquet, interrupted by the supposed return of the two lovers and afinal revelation by Don Alfonso of the lesson to be learned from what has happened.
The second scene of the first act isset in the garden of the two sisters, leading down to the shore, with a view of the Bay ofNaples in the distance. To the gentle murmur of the music and the soft tones of theclarinets the girls sing of their lovers, gazing at the miniatures they hold in theirhands. Look, sister, where could you find a nobler face? Ah guarda, sorella, singsFiordiligi, while Dorabella adds her own rapturous admiration of the features of herFerrando. The duet Prendero quel brunettino comes early in the second act. The two sistershave concluded, with the assistance of Despina's reasoning, that there is no harm in alittle 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 Despinatakes Fiordiligi's and leads them forward (La mano a me date). The four lovers are thenleft alone. Fiordiligi and Ferrando walk off together, and Guglielmo protests further hislove for Dorabella in a duet (Il core vidono) replacing Ferrando's miniature that shewears with a locket of his own. The duet Fra gli amplessi comes towards the end of theopera. Fiordiligi tells of her hope to join Guglielmo at war, but is joined by Ferrandowho threatens to die of love if she deserts him.
The opera Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), based bythe librettist Lorenzo da Ponte on a controversial French play by Beaumarchais, was firststaged at the Burgtheater in Vienna on 1st May 1786 and won sufficient immediate successto 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 towardsthe end of the year were greeted with the greatest enthusiasm, and when Mozart arrived inthe city early in 1787 he found the music whistled in the streets and serving to accompanydancing at fashionable balls.
The sparkling Overture sets the toneof 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 pageCherubino, would-be lover of the Countess, who is to be packed off by the Count to jointhe army. Susanna's Deh vieni non tardar (Oh come, don't delay) comes in the fourth act ofthe opera, when Susanna plans her own revenge on Figaro for his unjustified jealousy, in ascene set in a garden at night, where the complexities of the plot increase, as an attemptis made to embarrass the Count. The Duet Crudel! perche finora (Cruel! Why make mesuffer?) opens the third act, with the Count urging his claims on a reluctant Susanna, whonow, 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 writtenfor Prague, a city that had always welcomed Mozart, and was first staged there at the endof 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 thefather of one of his victims. The statue of the murdered man, seen at night in agraveyard, comes to life and accepts Don Juan's invitation to dinner, only to drag himdown into the flames of Hell.
The canzonetta Deh vieni allafinestra, o mio tesoro, (O come to the window, my treasure) is a serenade, and aparticularly heartless one, sung after Don Giovanni has just tricked his former mistressDonna Elvira into mistaking his servant Leporello for his master. An equally famousexcerpt from