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Mozart Arias Part 6: Alto and Tenor

In a letter to his father dated April 1783 Wolfgang wrote: “Next time you have occasion to send me a parcel, please let the Rondeau for alto voice ride along, the one I wrote for the castrato who came to Salzburg with the Italian troupe…” –  And so we have the only concert aria Mozart wrote for the alto voice in 1776 for Francesco Fontini. The latter was a virtuoso di camera (chamber virtuoso). As castrati were not known to perform in comic opera (already being the butt of cruel jokes), Fontini likely traveled with the troupe in a concertizing capacity only, allowing Mozart to write for him Ombra felice….Io ti lascio (Happy shadows…I leave you), an opera seria aria about love, sorrow, and anger at the prospect of losing one’s beloved. The many changes of tempos reflect these feelings in one of Mozart’s more underrated and thus underperformed works.


In 1777 while in Mannheim Mozart was introduced to one of the foremost tenors of the day, Anton Raaff. At 66 the singer was in the twilight of his career. At first Mozart was skeptical of his singing but after hearing him sing some Johann Christian Bach, “for the first time I truly heard him sing—and I liked it…His voice is beautiful and very pleasing…

And then there is his precise and clear articulation—that is beautiful…” Probably what really caused Wolfgang to warm up to him was the generosity Raaff showed towards Mozart’s mother on their continental tour. He would visit and sing to her, much to Maria Anna’s delight. 

With a fast friendship developing, Mozart composed an aria for the tenor who liked it right away, but asked him to “please shorten it a little, for I am no longer able to sustain my notes.” ‘Most gladly,’ I replied, ‘as much as you like. I made it a little long on purpose, for it is always easy to cut down, but not so easy to lengthen.’ – What resulted was a rare mish mashed autograph score that had crossings-out on every other page to accommodate the singer. …”he thanked me most cordially, while I assured him I would arrange an aria in such a way that it would give him pleasure to sing it.” No doubt the aria for Raaff — a well known figure in the music world — indirectly led to Mozart’s first large successful opera Idomoneo in 1781, in which the tenor took on his last opera appearance as the king in the title role. 

Here is Se al labbro mio con credi (1778) – [text by A. Salvi] 

The words are few for this lengthy aria.

Se al labbro mio non credi,                                 My dear enemy, 
Cara nemica mia,                                                if you do not believe my lips, 
Aprimi il petto e vedi,                                          Open my breast and see
Qual sia l’amante cor.                                          just how loving is this heart.
Il cor dolente, afflitto,                                           This heart, wounded and afflicted,
ma d’ogni colpa privo                                           though free of any guilt.
se pur non e delitto                                              That is, if an innocent passion
un innocente ardor.                                              is not itself a sin.

[translation by Andrew Schneider copyright 2018]


You may remember (from part 2) when Aloysia Lange sang her highly successful insert arias for Anfossi’s opera Il curioso indiscreto in June 1783. For the same occasion Mozart wrote a beautiful tenor aria for the renowned Johann Adamberger, who ended up not singing it at all! The backstory, according to Wolfgang, is that Salieri (he of now cinematic fame) tricked Adamberger into believing that manager Count Rosenberg would not want an extra aria thrown into the opera. “Adamberger–furious at Rosenberg–and overcome by Pride at the absolutely wrong time–did not know how to properly revenge himself but said stupidly—to prove that he has already made his reputation in Viennahe will indeed just sing what’s in the opera and never again introduce a new aria.” Not pleased with the tenor’s poutiness, Mozart withdrew the aria from him. “I can use it very well in one of my own operas.” That was never to be, and Per pieta, non ricercate (For pity’s sake, do not search) survived as a concert aria about the envy and desperation of a betrothed but jilted aristocrat. And…as it turned out, according to Wolfgang, Count Rosenberg knew nothing about Salieri’s sneaky little charade! 

The falling out which occurred over the above spat did not affect the Mozart/Adamberger friendship for long. After all, Wolfgang had given the lead role of Belmonte in Abduction from the Seraglio(1782) to the tenor; and the two of them with their wives would visit each other and discuss political goings-on in the court. There would be other occasions in which Adamberger performed Mozart’s works, including the aria Misero! o Sogno…Aura, che intorno spiri which was written for him, possibly for two concerts that took place in Vienna on December 22 & 23, 1783. There is a case to be made that this aria was a sequel to a soprano aria Adamberger had sung an octave lower back in March 1783. Both are in the key of Eb, begin in slow tempo, have the same orchestration (flutes, no oboes), a middle section in ¾, a fast final section, and similar texts originally intended for a woman to sing. Perhaps Mozart was pleased with Adamberger’s March performance and that he composed an aria for him in the same vein, but masculinized. Let us hear these two similar works back to back.

Misera, dove son!…Ah! Non son io che parlo (Unhappy one! Where am I!…It is not I who speaks) – for Countess Paumgarten (Mar 1781)

Misero! o Sogno?…Aura, che intorno spiri  (Unhappy one! Is it a dream?…Air which I breathe) – for Johann Adamberger (Dec 1783)


Mozart intended to write a German opera in 1783 but it never came to pass. It would presumably have been titled Il servitore di Due Padroni (The Servant of Two Masters) from the same comic play by Carlo Goldoni. Two aria fragments remain from this endeavor, one for tenor. A look at the partially completed score gives us an idea of how Mozart went about commiting a work to paper. First he would put down the vocal and bass lines; then flesh out more orchestration, usually in the violins. This compositional sketching technique is named particella. In the aria score the first seven bars show the full orchestra, but afterwards we mostly see the particella of the voice and bass, in addition to some violin/woodwind passages and an occasional tympani bar sketched in as well. 

Now all that was needed was a Mozart scholar to finish the work and make it sound like the maestro had written it! In this case we have the noted German musicologist Franz Beyer whose credits include finishing Mozart’s Requiem in the early 1970s. It is not known why Mozart abandoned his opera project, but at least what survived from it is one of the more triumphant arias in this entire series, Musst’ich auch durch tausend Drachen (Even if I had to make my way through/battle a thousand dragons).

Enjoy following the maestro’s sketch! 

Thanks to Antje Ruppert for German translation.

Next: Something different — vocal ensembles as insertions

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