Innovation, The Operas of Mozart

5 Jul

Mozart was an innovative operatic composer, in that his operas span every genre available at the time, and for one or two he created new genres. He wrote music for high drama, broad comedy, fantasy adventures, musical theater (Singspiel), religious pieces, intermezzos, one act-ers, festival theatricals (lots of ballet and chorus), private allegorically performances, cantatas and even oratorio.

Mozart wrote his first operatic work at ten years of age. It is interesting to note that he wrote many pieces that are operatic, but which he did not consider opera when tallying how many operas he had completed. This is most likely to do their length, subject matter and his maturity.

Some people may not know how operas are written, so I would like to clarify that Mozart composed music for “libretti” (which are little books of words and lyrics) written by different authors. He set someone else’s words to music and did not write the words himself. He collaborated with two notable authors in his lifetime: Varesco who wrote the book to his first mature work, “Idomeneo”, and the poet Da Ponte, whom he collaborated with on three of his most famous works, “Don Giovanni”, “Le Nozze di Figaro” and “Cosi Fan Tutte”. He also set quite a few of the texts written by the Shakespeare-of-Opera, Metastasio, an author whose plays were set by the most popular and influential composers of the 18th century, including Handel, Gluck, Haydn and Vivaldi. Metastasio did not hold what is known commonly today as a “copyright”, and therefore any work which he had written could be set and adapted by anyone who had access to his plays. This means that while Mozart set more works of Metastasio to music than any other librettist that he worked with, the two men never actually collaborated to create a new work together, except peripherally on “Lucio Silla”, on which Metastasio generously wrote the Act finales for the play’s struggling author.

Title Page Illustration from the First Edition of Don Giovanni. Engraving by P. Bolt after Vincenz Georg Kinninger.

Mozart often had a say in how the story was put together for an opera he was going to set, and he consistently chose texts about — or had the endings of texts altered to be about — “forgiveness”. Brotherhood and Forgiveness seemed to be Mozart’s inspiration from the start, and thematically link all of his plays (Though Don Giovanni inverts these ideas, and shows us what happens if we don’t treasure Brotherhood and what happens if Forgiveness is ignored and denied).

He was always inspired by his loving wife, as well, often writing music that would please her. Mozart also had a knack for finding inspiration in, and utilizing the talents of particular instrumentalists and singers, often linking them together in song. His most notable soprano music was inspired by and written for his sister-in-law, Aloysia Weber. Aloysia Weber was actually his teenage crush, as well, and pursuing her is how he met his wife!

The Queen of the Night from the Shinkel Magic Flute production of 1816 drawn by Carl Friedrich Thiele after designs by Sturmer

The most important operas of Mozart are: “Don Giovanni”, “The Marriage of Figaro” and “The Magic Flute”.  Don Giovanni is the most unique of all of his operas, belonging to an almost indefinable genre which encompasses intense psychological drama, broad comedy, romance, and most alarmingly of all, the supernatural thriller. Included in a full list of his mature works, you will also find, “Cosi Fan Tutte”, “La Clemenza di Tito”, “Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail” and “Idomeneo”.

All of these pieces are wonderful! However, for a novice who has just started to listen to the operas of Mozart, “Cosi Fan Tutte” is psychologically unsettling, “Idomeneo” is set in an older style (but has monsters), and “Don Giovanni” can be overwhelmingly intense, both musically and dramatically. I would recommend starting with “The Marriage of Figaro” and “Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail” (Which is more like a modern musical), or if you are a fan of fantasy, I would certainly recommend “The Magic Flute” as your starting point (It was mine).

Papageno from the Shinkel Magic Flute production of 1816 drawn by Carl Friedrich Thiele after designs by Sturmer

Mozart also wrote music to be inserted into other plays and operas, but these are generally singular arias or ensembles. Only recently was it discovered how much he contributed to the fantastical “Der Stein Der Weisen”. Not all of his contribution to this work is entirely documented, but a general rule to go by is, “If there’s a cat meowing in the scene, he wrote it.”

In this list I have included every theatrical work for which Mozart composed a significant amount of music. You will also find this list over on the right. It is how the blog is organized, and you can read posts about both each specific opera, and my photography and costume work on the photos of that opera. I hope to be organizing the blog better soon, where there will be posts about the making of one set of photos from beggining to end, giving away all of the secret details of the history, art, inspiration, and production of the operas and my photos.

LIST OF MOZART’S OPERAS

Die Schuldigkeit des Ersten Gebots (Composed Act I of III)

Apollo et Hyacinthus

Bastien und Bastienne

La Finta Semplice

Mitridate

Ascanio in Alba

La Betulia Liberata (Oratorio)

Il Sogno di Scipione

Lucio Silla

La Finta Giardiniera

Il Re Pastore

Zaide (Abandoned)

Thamos (Incidental Music)

Idomeneo

Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail

L’oca del Cairo (Abandoned, Composed Act I)

Lo Sposo Deluso (Abandoned)

Der Schauspieldirektor

Le Nozze di Figaro

Don Giovanni

Cosi Fan Tutte

La Clemenza di Tito

Die Zauberflote

Der Stein der Weisen (Collaboration)

And Two Lengthy Cantatas

Grabmusik

Davidde Penitente

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2 Responses to “Innovation, The Operas of Mozart”

  1. Elisabeth July 12, 2015 at 2:32 am #

    I’m sorry, did I read that Aloysia Weber sang the Queen of the Night on the premiere night? As a fervent fan of all Mozart operas, and especially the Magic Flute, I have to say this was Josepha Hofer (née Weber). Also a sister of Constanze, but not Mozart’s teenage love. Although Mozart wrote several arias for Aloysia, please look up Popoli-di-Tessaglia, and she has sung the Queen of the Night as well as her sister, she definitely wasn’t the first Queen. (Note: this is my family history, for Aloysia Weber is an ancestor of mine, so I have primary sources)

    • tysonvick July 12, 2015 at 3:19 pm #

      Thank you for catching that, Elisabeth. This post is nearly five years old, and the facts about Aloysia and Josepha are now clear in my head, but I did not remember writing this post with the wrong info. I have corrected it above.

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