Mozart Arias Part 7: vocal ensembles
For a change of pace, we examine a handful of Mozart’s vocal ensembles that were mostly additions to established operas. The first one, however, is a completion of a fragment that would never have seen the light of day but for its arrangement by Julius Andre in 1853. Originally intended to be an Act ll quintet finale for The Abduction from the Seraglio, Mozart and his librettist Gottlieb Stephanie had a change of plans and scrapped the larger ensemble. The autograph sketch only contains an introductory 151 bars of mostly particella scoring for two tenors in the roles of Belmonte and Pedrillo. After those 151 bars (approx. 3 ¾ min.), the music is Andre’s very tasteful conclusion.
Here is Welch angstliches Beben (What a fearful tremble) – 1781.
The next two ensembles were composed to be inserted into the opera Villanella rapita (The Abducted Country Girl) by Francesco Bianchi. They were both replacements for recitative sections of the opera. The date was November 1785, the same time Mozart began writing for The Marriage of Figaro. The plot of Villanella involves a count’s ‘love’ for a betrothed peasant girl (sound familiar?). In the first ensemble, a trio, the count offers the girl money and asks for her hand. She is ignorantly receptive, but when the tempo changes, her betrothed (bass) enters and unloads his suspicions.
Mandina amabile (Beloved Mandina)
In the second ensemble, a quartet, the girl is discovered in the count’s palace by her fiance and her father. It turns out the count has abducted the girl with a sleeping potion. Not knowing this, the men reproach her. When the count (tenor) enters, confusion reigns. The music reflects his entrance with a brisk tempo; and soon enough yet another tempo change, even faster. In hindsight we can see the seeds being planted for Mozart’s glorious and chaotic Act ll and lV finales of The Marriage of Figaro which premiered on May 1, 1786 – indeed a watershed event in the history of opera.
Dite almeno in che mancai (At least tell me what I missed)
The time during which Idomeneo came to life in Munich in 1780-81 could be called the happiest ever for Mozart. He had a huge orchestra and chorus, some strong singers (especially sopranos), and final say with libretto additions and cuts after lengthy consultations with father Leopold through the mail. He also had a familial connection to the plot which features a father (king) struggling to find ways to keep his son (Idamante) alive after the gods have ordered Idamante sacrificed. At a family soiree one night in Salzburg, the famous quartet from Act lll was sung. Mozart was so emotionally overcome by the father/son tension within the ensemble that he left the room in tears.
All to say that Mozart was dying for a repeat production of Idomeneo when he moved to Vienna in 1781. But Emperor Joseph ll, no fan of opera seria, put a stop to this vision. Opera buffa was the future, and that was that. So a concert production at the Ausberg Palace in March 1786 was the only other opportunity for Mozart to hear his cherished opera. With a change in singers he added two numbers: a tenor aria with violin obligato (see part 3), and a duet for Idamante and Ilia – Spiegarti non poss’io (I cannot explain).
Six months after the premiere (Oct 29 1787) of Don Giovanni in Prague, the opera was remounted in Vienna. The singers would be different, two insert arias were created (see part 4), and a duet for Zerlina and Leporello replaced the latter’s second act solo aria. Often left out of productions today, this ensemble number is relentless in its scoring (see violins) which reflects Zerlina’s fury in avenging Leporello, who aided in the mugging of her husband Masetto. Some historians see Per questa tue manine (For these hands of yours) as a comic relief addition for the audience. Not so in this compelling performance by Sunhae Im as Zerlina!