Mozart Arias Part 4: Opera Inserts
by Moby Pearson – Monday, February 1st, 2021
Mozart’s insert arias for his own operas
During Mozart’s ten years in Vienna there was no shortage of great sopranos. For the production of Abduction from the Seraglio (1782) he gave the character of Constanza to Caterina Cavalieri and tailored the role to her exceptional coloratura skills. “I have sacrificed Constanza’s aria a little to the flexible throat of Mlle Cavalieri,” he wrote his father. In 1786 Mozart joined her with Aloysia Lange as dueling sopranos in the short, comedic singspiel (“sing play,” or opera with spoken dialogue) The Impressario. And as we know, at Cavalieri’s request (see part 2) he wrote an additional recitative and aria for the role of Donna Elvira in the Vienna revival of Don Giovanni (1788). In quali eccessi …Mi tradi re has remained a fixture in the opera ever since. Here it is sung by Cecilia Bartoli, perhaps the Cavalieri of our time.
Apparently there weren’t many tenors available in Vienna for the role of Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni. The sole existing tenor aria in the opera, Il mio tesoro, was highly challenging and required long breaths for sustained phrases. The tenor Francesco Morella probably was not up to this task so Mozart wrote for him Dalla sua pace, a slow and stunningly beautiful number that remains a staple in the tenor repertoire.
In early 1788 an overnight sensation by the name of Adriana Gabrieli arrived in Vienna. “She has, in addition to an unbelievably high register, a striking low register…in living memory no such voice has sounded within Vienna’s walls.” – from the Rapport von Wien. In May she became a last minute substitute for the role of Zerlina in Don Giovanni, joining Aloysia Lange (Anna) and Caterina Cavalieri (Elvira) — what a cast! As the hottest ticket in town she could ask for anything, so when The Marriage of Figaro was revived a year later Mozart provided her with two new replacement arias for the role of Susanna. It is hard to imagine that the devine aria Deh vieni, originally written for Nancy Storace, needed an alternative. Let us sidetrack then and listen to what was being replaced!
As usual, Mozart calls on all of Gabrieli’s attributes for the replacement version. Of special interest is the composer’s generous writing for the French horn, bassoon, and basset horns – providing a sparkling backdrop to the voice. Within a very short time he would be writing similar material for Gabrieli in his next opera Cosi fan tutte.
Al desio, di chi t’adora (Recitative is original. Insert aria starts at 1:20)
The other replacement piece in The Marriage of Figaro for Gabrieli, or “La Ferrarese” (as she was also known, being from Ferrara), was a short little arietta with a libretto that does not fall in line with the plot of the opera. Mozart also reduced it for piano and voice.
Un mota di gioia
Now listen to the original. This is the part in Act ll where Susanna dresses up Cherubino (a young boy, but female cast) in disguise as a woman to fool the Count. The boy is also sweet on the Countess (Madama), the third character in this scene. The instrumentation is a marvelous counterpart to Susanna’s playful directives, with the busy strings being playful themselves against the woodwinds’ own exchanges. One more indication that the original Figaro was fine just the way it was!
Emperor Joseph ll was so impressed with the Viennese remounting of The Marriage of Figaro in 1789 that he immediately commissioned Mozart to write a new opera. It would be Cosi fan tutte, a tale of love, intrigue, jealousy, and disguise all spinning around one big wager. For the role of Gugliemo Mozart chose the premier basso buffa (bass in comic role) in all of Europe, Francesco Benucci. He, along with Nancy Storace, was a member of the Italian troupe who arrived in Vienna in 1783. The man took on many roles in the Viennese opera circuit, but none as defining as the title role in Figaro and then Leporello in Don Giovanni. In 1793 a critic wrote that Benucci “combines unaffected, excellent acting with an exceptionally round, beautiful, and full bass voice. He is as much a complete singer as choice actor…he never exaggerates.”
For Cosi fan tutte Mozart wrote two arias for Benucci, one for each act. However the first one turned out to be too extensive for the plot at hand. Mozart pulled it right before the premiere and replaced it with a much shorter aria. Though occasionally staged, Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo (Turn to him your gaze) remains one of the all time favorites in the basso buffa concert aria repertoire. It is fast–Allegro, and faster–Molto allegro; good tempos for Gugliemo to list all of his and fellow “Albanian” Ferrando’s wonderful attributes for the ladies.
Next: More concert arias for bass
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