Special Sub-Topic: Mozart's Operas
|This opera ends very badly for the title gigolo, who is reputed to have seduced then dumped thousands of women (Johhny Depp acted, NOT SANG, the movie version of this Spanish rake).|
Don Giovanni. "Don Giovanni: il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni" ("Don Juan: the punished rake or Don Juan") is the translated full title of this opera, first performed in Prague in 1787. It is also sometimes called 'The Stone Guest', in reference to the Commendatore, Donna Anna's (whom Giovanni has tried to seduce in Act I) father, who is killed in a duel with the Don; he appears, as a memorial statue, at the end of the opera to accept Giovanni's dinner invitation and drag him down to hell!
|Perhaps his most performed opera, this one, based on a famous French play by Beaumarchais, is the sequel to Rossini's 'Il Barbiere di Siviglia' (that's your hint, by the way).|
Le Nozze di Figaro. This was a very controversial opera (and play in France! - 'Les Noces de Figaro') when it was first performed in Vienna in 1786. It showed Figaro (the barber in 'Barbiere', now the Count's manservant) and his fiancee Susanna (the maid) outwitting Count Almaviva (Lindoro from 'Barbiere') with the aid of the Countess (Rosina from 'Barbiere')! The mere thought of servants getting the better of their noble employers was insulting to the upper class. By the way, the whole conflict here is that the Count wants to reinstitute 'prima notte', or 'droit du seigneur', an old tradition where the lord of a household gets first dibs with his newly married maid, so to speak, before her husband (remember the movie "Braveheart"?)! Some way for Almaviva to repay Figaro for hooking him up with the Countess, don't you think?
|So what was Mozart's first opera, anyway?|
Apollo et Hyacinthus. At the age of 11, Mozart composed his only opera, which was an intermezzo, based on mythology. Some sources incorrectly list 'Bastien und Bastienne' (1768), since it was his first full opera.
|Which opera did Mozart compose last?|
La Clemenza di Tito. Mozart received a commission from Prague in the last few months of his life to compose 'La Clemenza di Tito' ('The Clemency of Titus'), AD 79-81, an opera on the coronation of the new Austro-Hungarian emperor, Leopold II, as King of Bohemia. The plot, which involved the kind-hearted Titus pardoning his friend Sextus for attempting to murder him, was very appropriate for the coronation (in Prague, 1791), since it would glorify the benevolence of the monarchy.
|I love to sing the Queen of the Night's fiery 'vengeance aria' from this fairy tale-like opera, or Singspiel, Mozart's penultimate.|
Die Zauberflote. Emanuel Schikaneder, the opera's librettist, and Mozart were both avid Freemasons, and there are apparently many symbols from this 'fraternity' to be found throughout this opera, which was first performed in Vienna in 1791. The plot centers around the conflict between Sarastro (think Zoroaster), perhaps the lowest role in opera, as the Enlightened one, and the Queen of the Night (think the late Empress Maria Theresa, or the Catholic Church, who abhorred the Freemasons), the highest role in opera as of 2000, as the old, repressive matriarch 'in the dark'. The role, famous for its high notes and rapid pace, was written for Josefa Hofer, Mozart's sister-in-law.
|This opera takes us to Persia, where Constanze (Mozart's wife's name; what a coincidence!), a Spanish noblewoman, and her maid Blondchen are being held against their will by the Pasha Selim, because he wants the senorita for himself. (Hint: another word for 'harem' is 'supposed' to appear in the title)|
Die Entfuehrung aus dem Serail. Mozart's idea of 'Persian' music is the use of cymbals in the orchestra, with kettle drums; I guess it worked back then. This opera, also with spoken dialogue like "Die Zauberfloete" and "Der Schauspieldirektor", was first performed in Vienna in 1782. Oddly enough, the role of the Pasha is a strictly spoken one, usually performed by a well-known actor. The Italian word 'Seraglio'in the title , spelled 'serraglio' nowadays, was taken from the Latin word for a door-bar, in confusion with the Turkish word for a palace (or harem).
|Speaking of Constanze, which opera is reputed to have been composed when Mozart thought his wife was being unfaithful (I will translate the titles for you)?|
Cosi Fan Tutte (That's How All Women Do [It]). Another title for this opera is 'La Scuola degli Amanti' (or 'the School of Lovers'). The ludicrous plot is about two sisters, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, who are tricked into falling for their respective lovers' best friends (Ferrando and Guglielmo), when the men test their women's loyalty by telling them they have to go off to war (aided and abetted by the 'philosopher' Don Alfonso and the girls' maid Despina), then returning in disguise as Albanians. This proves that the sisters are fickle. Maybe the plot did not seem so far-fetched when it was first performed in Vienna in 1790. But was it not Mozart who had originally wanted to marry Aloysia Weber, another sister of Constanze's? Since the one he wanted was not available, he went on to the next sister. Hmmm... Who is the fickle one here?
|This opera should have been surtitled 'The Dueling Divas', about a younger and older soprano who drive an opera producer bonkers in trying to outdo the other.|
Der Schauspieldirektor. 'The Impresario' (1786) is usually sung and spoken in English whenever it is performed in the US. The divas are translated to be Madame Warblewell, the aging one, and the up and coming Mademoiselle Silverpeal. It is lots of fun and relatively cheap to produce, since it only involves three characters and is short (about 45 minutes total) with dialogue.
|This 'old-fashioned' opera is about a king who was mentioned in the writings of Homer and Virgil.|
Idomeneo, Re di Creta. King Idomeneus, King of Crete, was in fact mentioned in Homer and Virgil. As in 'La Clemenza di Tito', Mozart has a role for a castrato (here, Idamante; Sesto in 'Clemenza') which is now usually sung by the female mezzo-soprano (known in opera as a 'trouser role') or very rarely by a tenor. Of course, when this opera was first performed in Munich in 1781, there were still castrati.
|You can find snippets of some of these operas in this movie's soundtrack about Mozart, which starred F. Murray Abraham as the historically incorrect villain Salieri.|
Amadeus. Poor Salieri, he was just a good composer born at the wrong time. As good as his music was, it was no match for the child genius's incredible output. Of course, 'Amadeus' was a play (by Peter Schaffer) before it was made into a film. There is also an opera, 'Mozart and Salieri', by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, which was first performed in Moscow in 1898, based on the poem by Pushkin (1830). By the way, the quote in the hint is the title of the pop song by the Austrian (Hans Hoelzel) Falco from the '80s.
By the way, for many years, it was rumored that Mozart's death was a result of him being poisoned by his 'rival' Antonio Salieri (I think colleague is a better term). This is highly unlikely. As a matter of fact, the sixth annual Clinical Pathological Conference dedicated to solving notorious case histories concluded, on Feb. 11, 2000, that Mozart most likely died of Rheumatic Fever, a streptococcal infection of the blood that is rare today, thanks to the existence of antibiotics.
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