Mozart Arias Part 8: Finale
Three more high flying sopranos!
Perhaps the most interesting backstory to all Mozart’s concert arias is the one told by his son Karl about the very unique number composed for soprano Josepha Duschek in Prague in November 1787. Karl spent his early years in the Czech city after his father died in 1791, so naturally he would have some good first hand information about his family while living there.
The story goes that Mozart’s good friend Duschek requested an unfinished aria which Wolfgang had intended for his amateur bass friend Gottfried von Jaquin. Busy as he always was (Don Giovanni just having premiered), it seemed the only way to get the maestro to comply was to lock him up in a pavilion on her country estate and provide him with pen and paper. Mozart agreed to this plan but stipulated that what he wrote would be difficult and that Duschek would have to sight read the aria perfectly or he would destroy it!
Apparently she did quite well; Bella mia fiamma, addio! (Light of my life, farewell!) is the second aria he wrote for her (see part 1). One can hear that Mozart was still in Don Giovanni mode, as the work is filled with chromatic angst, sorrow, and desperation. What had started out in a simpler form became quite an adventurous aria in three substantial sections. His singer friends tended to bring that out in him! It is only appropriate that we have another wonderful Czech soprano to carry the torch for this magnificent work.
Mozart met the very musical Wendling family when he arrived with his mother in Mannheim in 1777. The two brothers, Franz and Johann (violinist and flautist) became fast friends with the maestro. It so happened they both had wives who were wonderful sopranos as well. Elisabeth (see part 1) became Electra in Idomeneo; and Dorothea, 46 at the time, took on the role of the young Ilia in the same opera. Both had appeared together in JC Bach’s Temistocle in 1772. In early 1778 Dorothea asked for an aria based on Metastasio’s Didone abbandonata. Naturally, Mozart complied with a poignantly understated setting in which Dido begs the jealous Aeneas not to leave her. Dorothea’s singing of Basta vincesti…Ah, non lasciarmi (Enough, you have won…Ah, do not leave me) left no doubt who would best fit the central role of Ilia three years later when Idomeneo opened in Munich.
As mentioned in part 2, every sister in the Weber family had an important connection to Mozart. We already know of Aloysia and Constanze. The youngest, Sophie, held the dying Wolfgang in her arms while Constanze desperately went for help that fateful night of December 5, 1791. That leaves Josepha Hofer, the oldest, whose claim to fame is being the first Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Magic Flute, also 1791. It is a role she continued to take on for ten more years. Contemporary reporting back then was not kind to her acting ability. More to the point is that not much stage presence was required to sing two fiendishly difficult arias featuring dazzling staccato coloratura. Again, the maestro knew who he was writing for.
In September 1789 Mozart began writing an aria for Josepha to be inserted into Paisiello’s Il barbiere di Siviglia. For whatever reason, the project was shelved and the opera was never performed in his lifetime. What remains is an aria fragment of 195 bars, the vocal part complete but the remainder of the score in particella. Josepha was to sing the role of Rosina, and presumably the aria would have been Rosina’s singing lesson in the second act. It is a bright, uplifting work with a melancholy slow middle section. Here is Schon kehrt der Fruhling wieder (Now blessed spring returns), completed and arranged by Franz Beyer.
In 1789 yet another young soprano arrived on the Viennese scene. Not much is known about the career of Louise Villeneuve. The Wiener Zeitung noted her “charismatic appearance, her sensitive and expressive acting, and her artful, beautiful singing.” We can glean quite a bit, however, from what and how Mozart wrote for her in the fall of 1789. First there were three insert arias for two other operas, then the role of Dorabella in his own Cosi fan tutte. In this music her tessitura (vocal texture) lies slightly lower than that of the other sopranos discussed here. Mozart refrained from giving her acrobatic coloratura passages, instead choosing to feature her strengths mentioned in the above quote.
The first of the three arias, Alma grande e nobil core (A great soul and noble heart), was written as an insert aria for the opera I due baroni by Cimarosa. In mock outrage, the wealthy bride Donna Laura is defending her reputation and venting her rage at a disrespectful count!
The final two arias for Villeneuve are heartfelt gems. It is hard to fathom how Mozart continued to raise the bar during this time in his life when he was destitute and his wife was ill. Vado, ma dove? (I am going, but where?) was inserted into Il barbero di buon cuore by Martin Y Soler, a contemporary Spanish opera composer whose music was more popular than Mozart’s at the time. The second section of the aria, slow and sustained, is Mozart at his tenderest with this text by Lorenzo Da Ponte.
You who speak to my heart,
Guide my steps, o love!
You, lessen his reserve
Which causes me to doubt.
It comes as no surprise that this powerful aria has also been used as an insert sung by Dorabella for 20th century productions of Cosi fan tutte.
Also inserted into the same Soler opera for Villaneuve, Chi sa qual sia l’affano del mia bene (Who knows what may be the anguish of my beloved) tells of the heroine being confused by her suitor’s strange behavior (Not known to her, he is in debt). Again, the text is by Da Ponte; the poet and composer would soon be creating their third blockbuster opera buffa in four years, Cosi fan tutte, within the month.
No matter how mundane the subject matter or how well the libretto written, Mozart declared “that in an opera the Poesie must always be the obedient daughter of the Music…the Music reigns supreme–which makes one forget about everything else.” So in the closing moments of our closing aria, we once again have a heavenly Mozart moment: an earlier lyrical theme is this time fleshed out by the French horns and violas, inspiring a reaction of “whoa, where did that come from!” Only from heaven…
~ Fine ~
Thanks to Alice Charkes for translation.
N.B. – For this project I have put together a highlights CD with downloadable liner notes. If you would like a copy please let me know and I can leave it with the BMC.
I am grateful to have so many thoroughly researched books about the man who left us quite a life-time paper trail of information. Here are the ones I went to the most.
Mozart – His Character, His Work by Alfred Einstein. Published in 1945, it remains the standard bearer for all books that follow.
Mozart’s Letters, Mozart’s Life by Robert Spaethling. A fresh examination covering 20 years of correspondence, with no holds barred translations that capture the spirit of the maestro’s spontaneous personality.
Mozart’s Women by Jane Glover. A wonderful read about the ladies who were most important and influential in his life.
Mozart in Prague by Daniel E. Freeman. Among its many accomplishments, this book paints a vivid picture of Bohemian cultural history that helps to explain the sophisticated understanding and wildly enthusiastic reception of Mozart’s music by the citizens of Prague.
The Mozart Compendium edited by H.C. Robbins Landon. Everything you need to know about the composer, including a categorized work list of all his compositions: completed, fragmented, or spurious.
The Compleat Mozart edited by Neal Zaslaw. A nice complement to the Compendium: everything Mozart ever composed with backstories to boot!
According to Constanze Mozart, here is the “best likeness” of all the portraits of her husband; this one painted by brother-in-law Joseph Lange.