Mozart Arias Part 2: Arias for Aloysia
In the fall of 1777 Mozart fell head over heels with his 16 year old student, the soprano Aloysia Weber. She came from a family of musicians and was one of four sisters who would all have important connections to the composer. At the time Wolfgang was in Mannheim with his mother. The plan was to stop there from Salzburg for the winter before heading on to Paris to find a court position. But once he met Aloysia that idea no longer interested him. Much to the horror of his father Leopold, Mozart wanted to travel to Italy with the Weber family and get Aloysia started on an operatic career! Leopold would have none of it: “Off with you to Paris! And that, soon! Find your place among great people!” The 21 year old complied, and very unhappily proceeded to Paris with his mother.
Not only was Aloysia a great singer, she could ably accompany herself on the keyboard and played the second solo part in Mozart’s Concerto for Three Pianos. “She sings from her heart and most likes singing cantabile,” Mozart wrote to his father. To celebrate the end of their lessons in February 1778, the composer wrote for her the aria Alcandro, lo confesso…Non so d’onde viene/ Quel tenero affetto. The choice of Metastasio’s text was no accident (“I have never before felt such tender affection”). The musical setting is indeed tender and intimate during the slow sections where Aloysia’s spectacular range and control is displayed. The aria became a departure point for Mozart’s vocal writing. From here on out his compositions for singers whom he liked and loved became works of distinction: to die for! Again, to his father upon completion of this work: “I like an aria to fit a singer like a well-made suit of clothes.”
The six month stay in Paris (1778) was an unhappy one. His mother died during this time and he longed for Aloysia. Leopold wanted him back in Salzburg but Wolfgang was only interested in connecting with his love. He managed a 3 month detour, tracking down Aloysia in Munich where she had been engaged by the court theater. The aria Popoli die Tessaglia was presumably written for Aloysia as an engagement present. It was not to be. Aloysia flatly rejected Wolfgang, pretending not to even know him. Mozart was devastated, but did manage to sit down at the keyboard, singing loudly “Let the wench who doesn’t want me kiss my ass!”
The aria is a showpiece, taking advantage of all Aloysia’s vocal attributes. Perhaps it is best known for the stunning two high ‘Gs’ which come toward the end. Not to be overshadowed is the delightful interplay of solo oboe and bassoon with the voice. Mozart’s boldness surrounding this aria also includes the choice of text, which is from Gluck’s sensationally successful opera Alceste. Not too many twenty-three year olds would try to compete with the established opera composer of the day, 40 years his senior!
When Mozart wrote his next aria for Aloysia in April 1782 she had been married for six months to the stage actor Joseph Lange. “I genuinely loved her,” he wrote to his father, “…and I feel that even now she is not wholly indifferent to me.” The occasion was a benefit concert for her, and the short aria was titled Nehmt meinen Dank (Accept My Gratitude) in which the singer bids farewell to her audience before embarking on a foreign tour. Like the performer herself, the aria is coquettish in nature with high to low interval drops and frequent pauses toward the end. Four months after this concert Wolfgang married Aloysia’s younger sister Constanze.
Perhaps as a return favor, Aloysia sang two arias at the mammoth benefit concert for Mozart on March 23 1783. One of them, Mia speranza adorata, Wolfgang had written for her in January. The fundraiser (his debts were mounting) included the Haffner Symphony, two of his piano concertos, solo keyboard works, part of the Posthorn Serenade, and two more arias! The text from Anfossi’s Zemira is familiar material. This time the hero (soprano) must abandon his fiancee to the emperor of Mongolia.
The next two arias for Aloysia caused a bit of political storm surrounding the production of Anfossi’s Il curioso indiscreto in June 1783. It would be her Viennese debut with the Italian Opera Company. As the arias were meant to be substitute insertions, Mozart claimed to his father that “my friends were malicious enough to spread the word beforehand that ‘Mozart wanted to improve on Anfossi’s opera.’ ” He then insisted to Count Rosenberg that he would not “hand over my arias unless the following statement was printed in the copies of the libretto, both in German and Italian.” The statement called for identifying the composer of the insertions; that they were written to oblige Mme. Lange; that Anfossi’s original arias were meant for someone else; that this is meant as no offense to the “already well known Neopolitan” [Anfossi]. What a way to make sure the audience would perk up and listen to Aloysia!
The first of these arias, Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio, is in A major, known to be a seductive key. The instrumental partner is the oboe, also known to be seductive. Combined with a simple opening text – ‘I would like to tell you, oh God/what is my desire/but fate has condemned me/to weep in silence’ – Mozart has etched into eternity his connection to Aloysia with a love duet and arguably his finest aria.
The contrasting brilliant No, che non sei capace ensured that Alfossi’s entire opera would be overshadowed by Mozart’s two contributions. At least according to him! The opera “failed completely except for my two arias…which did inexpressible honor both to my sister-in-law and to myself.”
Finally, Mozart’s last aria for Aloysia, Ah se in ciel, benigne stelle, was begun in 1778, set aside for ten years and then completed, possibly as an entr’acte in CPE Bach’s Auferstehung which Mozart conducted on March 4 1788. Lacking the heartfelt qualities of the earlier arias, this one is dazzling and the most demanding of all. The text is drawn from Metastasio again, this time from L’ero cinese in which the hero and his princess face the possibility of being separated. But who’s listening to the words!
Three and a half years later Mozart was dead at 36. Aloysia lived to the age of 79 (1760-1839). Her other major musical connection to the maestro during his lifetime was taking on the role of Donna Anna in the Viennese revival of Don Giovanni in May 1788. Her mere presence in the cast forced the rival soprano Caterina Cavalieri, who was playing Donna Elvira, to ask Mozart to write a new and demanding aria for the role. In other words, Cavalieri was not about to be shown up. He complied with an insertion aria to his own opera! It would not be the last time.
Why did Aloysia refuse Wolfgang? Late in life the visiting Mary Novello posed the question to her and gave this account: “…she could not tell…she could not love him at the time, she was not capable of appreciating his talent and his amiable character, but afterwards she much regretted it. She spoke of him with great tenderness and regret…”
Next: The Mozart concert arias with instrumental soloists.
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