Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
The Complete Operas
Full cast details at end of review
Limited edition, one time only pressing
DECCA 4781600 [44 CDs]
Reviewer’s introductory note.
The advertisement blurb for this issue postulates it as a unique collection of the complete operatic works of Mozart, from the fascinating teenage works to the profound late masterpieces. As such it contains not only the great and famous operatic works, known and loved by every opera buff, but also his early operas and orchestration of fragments including L'oca del Cairo and Die garterin aus liebe.
Many of the early, lesser-known works included in this collection were recorded by DG, often in association with German radio stations. Other recordings, particularly of the later works, are drawn from the Philips catalogue that owes so much to the late Erik Smith, sometime producer for that label and Decca, and later head of Artists and Repertoire at Philips. As an accomplished musician, he was responsible for the orchestration of the fragments (CD 22) as explained in his biography Mostly Mozart (Porcellini Publications, 2005). He also sought to cast the original Philips label recordings of Mozart’s later works, here revived in Part 2, with the most distinguished international singers of the day, as is evidenced by those listed for each of the works concerned. Sometimes, when these singers were not Mozart specialists, this is a mixed blessing.
Although deriving from the Philips label’s The Complete Works of Mozart, issued in 1991, an issue owing much to Erik Smith, this collection appears on the Decca label which, together with DG is now part of the Universal stable. The collection is presented in two distinct parts, each being related to notes by a distinguished scholar. The eminent Mozart scholar Stanley Sadie is the author of the notes for the first part which deals with those operas written to Italian libretti and is titled the Italian Operas (CDs 1-33). The remaining works were written to German libretti; the liner-notes author in respect of these German operas is Richard Wigmore (CDs 34 to 44). Rather than commenting on each opera in this manner, I have decided to treat them in the order of composition, or, in the case of his last two operas, of their staging. In this way I can more easily incorporate linking comments on the influence of his father and librettists as well as the relevant social and musical milieu surrounding the composition.
Note: For ease of reference I have divided the review into two parts. This introduction and the early operas are dealt with in Part 1 and the mature work in Part 2. The cast for each, in sequence of composition or staging, is given at the end of the review. No recording dates or venues are provided with this collection.
The genius of the child Mozart.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as he became known, was born on 27 January 1756. He was the seventh and last child of Leopold Mozart and his wife. Only Wolfgang and his musically gifted sister, Maria Anna, the fourth child, survived into childhood. Leopold Mozart studied jurisprudence before turning to music, taking a post as violinist in the Kapelle (orchestra) of the prince-archbishop of Salzburg. He became deputy Kapellmeister in 1763 and by then being aware of his responsibilities as the father of a remarkable genius he withdrew from composing to foster the talents of his son.
Wolfgang showed his musical gifts at an early age, learning some of the pieces from his elder sister’s music book at the age of four. His earliest compositions date from a year later when, aged five, he also appeared performing in public for the first time. Leopold took both his children to Munich and Vienna in 1762 where they performed before the nobility and the Empress Maria Theresa. In 1763 Wolfgang played the violin as well as the harpsichord in a concert at the Salzburg court in which contemporary reports describe his playing as adult in manner and being able to improvise in several styles, add bass to a given theme and name any note that was sounded.
The road to opera composition.
In the manner of the day Leopold took his child prodigies on an extended tour to Paris and London, in his case via every significant musical centre along the way where Wolfgang gave public concerts. They reached Paris in November 1763 with the young genius playing before Louis XV at Versailles in January 1764. The family spent fifteen months in England during which the philosopher Daines Barrington put Wolfgang’s precocity to the test. Those tests were the subject of his treatise on his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1769 and are documented in detail. By the time he was in London Wolfgang’s improvisations, often with J.C. Bach, included songs of love. It is thought that it was in London that he composed his first symphonies. On their way home the young boy suffered a bout of intestinal typhoid, perhaps relevant to his later problems and early death. The family arrived back in Salzburg in November 1766 with many gifts and a very obvious musical genius. Any lingering doubts about the veracity of that genius were put to rest after the Archbishop put him in a locked room alone, setting him a complex compositional task which the young boy realised with ease.
Later in 1767 the Mozart family set out for Vienna to solicit work during the preparations for the marriage of an archduchess who, however, died during an outbreak of smallpox. After a hasty retreat from the city they returned in January 1768 where they performed in court. It was here that Leopold over-played his hand in planning for his son to compose an opera buffa for presentation in Vienna and for which he gained the emperor’s consent. Intrigue by older composers in the city, offended that one so young should have precedence over them in presentation of his opera, led to Wolfgang’s first staged composition being suppressed and being replaced by a singspiel, in German, to a private audience. The lengthier opera buffa was performed in May the following year when the family were back in Salzburg.
Part 1. The operas of the young Mozart.
For Mozart’s first staged opera, the singspiel Bastien und Bastienne, this collection re-issues the performance included in the Philips Complete Mozart Edition. Instead of the soprano, tenor and bass originally intended, boy trebles of the Vienna Boys Choir sing the parts with style and also the naturalness of their own language. The latter is important as the genre is intended to incorporate spoken dialogue as well as arias, duets and ensembles and with topical comments included. It was a form that Mozart brought to near perfection in Die Entführung aus dem Serail (CDs 40-41) fourteen years later and to absolute perfection in Die Zauberflöte (CDs 42-44), his last composed opera (1791).
As with its previous incarnation there is a fill-up of two mandolin-accompanied lieder, K349/367a and k351. In the opera itself Uwe Christian Harrer conducts sensitively. There have been alternative performances available in the past with traditional casting, particularly that from Sony, while the idiosyncrasy here should be no deterrent, being enjoyable in itself.
The more extensive La Finta Semplice (CDs 1-2) is a light frothy, even insubstantial work. Nonetheless Mozart handles the complexities of emotions he could have scarcely understood with élan. The simple forms of the arias follow the traditions of the day. However, I suspect if it had not got Mozart’s name appended to it the work would have had little circulation. It’s certainly no match for the contemporaneous operas of Haydn in its orchestral complexity and maturity. That said, an excellent singing cast and Peter Schreier, a distinguished Mozart singer himself on the podium, do the work full justice.
At the end of 1769 Leopold and his fourteen-year-old son set out for Italy, the home of opera and then under Austrian rule. Leopold wanted to make this visit while the boy was young enough for his talents to arouse wonder as well as introducing him to the Italian style and, he hoped, resulting in a commission to compose an opera. However, before an opera commission was forthcoming Wolfgang had to show his proficiency in the Italian style. In Milan, the centre of Austrian rule over Northern Italy, the Governor-General of Lombardy gave a concert in his palace in which arias by Mozart were performed. These showed the young genius from across the Alps to be proficient in the Italian style and he was commissioned to write an opera to open the Carnival Season at the Teatro Ducal in Milan on 26 December 1770. Whilst in Italy, as in London, he was subjected to various rigorous tests and in Rome after one hearing of Allegri’s Miserere he wrote it out from memory.
The Milan opera, Mitridate, re di Ponto (CDs 3-5) was so well received as to be given a further twenty-one performances in the season. Based on Racine it was Wolfgang’s first opera seria and he took particular care to match, often after rewritings, the arias to match and please the singers involved. In the usual manner the young Mozart directed the first three performances from the harpsichord. On the first night one of the prima donna’s arias was encored, almost unprecedented on a first night, and after almost all the arias there were cries of Evviva il maestro, evviva il maestrino. The local Gazzetta di Milano noted in its review: The young maestro di cappella, not yet fifteen years old, studies the beauties of nature, and represents them with the rarest of musical graces.
In this presentation one act is accommodated on each of the three discs. Act one, (CD 3), illustrates to perfection the strengths and weaknesses of the young Mozart’s creation; there are fewer of the latter in the singing and overall performance. The generality of Italian opera performance in 1771, and for much of the remaining century and beyond, was concerned with vocal skill and display. It was still the era of the castrati and their skill and egos. In Mitridate Mozart followed this pattern with recitative followed by aria. The recitative moved the story forward whilst the solo arias, twenty-two of them, enabled the singers to show off their skills. In this performance the three main soprano roles are taken with considerable skill by Arleen Auger as Aspasia, the betrothed of Mitridate, Edita Gruberova as Sifare, Mitridate’s son and Ileana Cotrubas as Ismene, daughter of the King of the Parthinians. Auger and Gruberova are rather similar in tone (CD 3 trs.3 and 5) with each reaching stratospheric heights and with neither having great clarity of diction, a comment rather than condemnation given the tessitura; both have secure and enjoyable trills. Ileana Cotrubas has a fuller and warmer tone; she was, after all, to sing Elisabetta in Verdi’s Don Carlo not many years after this recording. She still manages the coloratura with aplomb, and trills with skill, whilst conveying character with conviction (tr. 16). Even when some of the arias are rather long and repetitive, these three sopranos make the whole performance a canary-fanciers delight. At the premier, the castrati Sartorini took the role of Sifare whilst that of Farnace, Mitridate’s elder son, was taken by a male and is sung here by the tangy lyric mezzo Agnes Baltsa. She sings with more declamation, as would be expected, but also with good expression and decoration (tr.12).
In the title role Werner Hollweg has to reach for his notes on occasion whilst his tenor has enough edge to convey the role’s various emotions (tr.14). Leopold Hager plays the harpsichord and whilst keeping the whole thing going briskly, he cannot do much with the frequent but often-overlong recitatives Mozart provided. At least when playing a CD these can be abbreviated or skipped altogether.
After the performances in Milan, Mitridate, re di Ponto disappeared from the repertoire until 1971 when it emerged again at the Salzburg Festival. With the quality of singing found on this recording, and in costume, a DVD of the work would make good entertainment as long as the recitatives were abbreviated as happens in some non-purist staged performances. As Charles Osborne notes in respect of Mitridate, one can hardly claim that in it Mozart had replaced Racine’s poetry with music of equal power and resonance. For that kind of genius one has to wait for Idomeneo (The Complete Operas of Mozart, Indigo, 1978). Absolutely true, but it was not a bad shot for a fourteen year old tackling his first opera seria!
Whilst in Rome, before the premiere of Mitridate, the young Mozart had an audience with the Pope who awarded him the high honour of Knight of the Golden Spur. After the performances of Mitridate, and before the father and son left Milan for home, another commission for the Teatro Ducal was forthcoming. The two eventually arrived home in Salzburg in March 1771 with the pubescent Wolfgang eager to chat up the local girls as well as composing the oratorio La Betulia liberata, some sacred works and symphonies. Father and son were home barely five months before returning to Milan in August where he received the libretto for Ascanio in Alba.
Ascanio in Alba is not a full-blown opera, but rather what is described as a Festa teatrale or a serenata. It was Wolfgang’s most important commission to date. The Archduke Ferdinand, the third son of the Empress Maria Theresa, was to marry the Princess Maria Beatrice of Modena. Ferdinand was Governor of Lombardy and it was planned that his wedding would be celebrated in grand style in Milan, the capital of Lombardy. The Empress also commissioned an opera from the elderly Johann Adolph Hasse, his opera being presented on 16 October 1771, the day after the wedding with Wolfgang’s serenata the evening following.
Ascanio in Alba, (CDs 6-8) whilst not being an opera seria is compositionally, I suggest, a major step forward for the young Mozart and is well titled as a pastoral opera. As well as secco and accompanied recitative, generally not as long or monotonous as in Mitradate, it is also sometimes cleverly blended with arioso. The involvement of the eight chorus pieces is also of significance particularly in the manner they are used together with the fifteen arias and three trios. Although only receiving five performances, the young man’s serenata completely eclipsed the older Hasse’s work. Whilst the elderly Empress favoured the latter, when the newly married couple attended the third performance they applauded so much that two pieces had to be repeated.
In this performance Leopold Hager conducts with a fine feeling for the mood of the work whilst the Salzburger Kammerchor add vibrancy and excellent diction in the chorus contributions. The role of Ascanio was sung at the premiere by the twenty year old castrati Giovanni Manzuoli. The role is sung in this recording with warm creamy tone by the mezzo Agnes Baltsa (tr.8 on each CD) with the male role of the priest Alceste being taken by the tenor Peter Schreier. He has a strong, expressive and tasteful voice, which only lacks some degree of mellifluousness (CD 6 trs 14-17, CD 8 tr.9). As the shepherd Arleen Auger carries the burden of the longest aria in the opera (CD 7 tr.16) as well significant contributions elsewhere. Her clean pure tone, smooth legato and range of colour are a constant delight to my ear. Similarly, Edith Mathis as Nymph Sylvia who has the extended cavatina and aria in part one (CD 7 trs.2-4) is also a vocal delight with pure tone, good diction and trill. Less skilful in the singing display of the work is Lilian Suskiss as Venus, her tone a little too vibrant for the music at times. A most enjoyable work well performed and one I will return to.
The Mozarts remained in Milan until early December with Wolfgang applying for employment in the Archduke’s service. A letter to Ferdinand, from his mother, advised him against burdening himself with such useless people, and that the Mozarts’ habit of going round the world like beggars would degrade his service.
Before he had left for Milan and the presentation of Ascanio in Alba, Wolfgang had composed a work in similar vein in anticipation of the fiftieth anniversary of the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg’s service to the church. In the event the Archbishop died as the Mozarts arrived back in the city. Wolfgang made modifications to the work and which was used to celebrate the new Prince Archbishop who had replaced Leopold’s indulgent employer and with whom Mozart was later to have his celebrated dispute. Il sogno di Scipione, which the composer described as a serenata or azione teatrale was premiered around May 1772.
The time spent at home during this period was the scene of prolific compositional activity for the young Mozart. He composed eight symphonies along with divertimentos and substantial sacred works. In July he was formally taken into the employment of the court, with the title of Konzertmeister and a salary of 150 florins. He had already held the post in an honorary capacity for three years.
Charles Osborne (op. cit) is rather dismissive of Il sogno di Scipione, set to a libretto by Metastasio. It is, as I indicate, in similar vein to its predecessor and is enjoyable as a sung performance even if it lacks something of the depth to be exhibited in the opera seria to follow. Unusually, the young Mozart set the three male parts, Scipione himself, Publio and Emilio for tenor voice although in this performance (CDs 9-10) the latter is allocated to the light baritone Tomas Moser. Each sings with good tone, expression and characterisation with Claes H Ahnsjö, as Publio, exhibiting some pleasant heady passaggio tones along with good expression. Lucia Popp and Edita Gruberova sing the female roles of Constanza, Goddess of steadfastness, and Fortuna, Goddess of fortune, respectively. As before in this series Gruberova sings with comfort in the high realms with coloratura display. Lucia Popp’s lower and warmer tones lack a little in flexibility. With Leopold Hager having an idiomatic feel for this genre, I will return to this work and performance for pleasure.
The third and last Italian journey, for both father and son, began at the end of October 1772 with Wolfgang sixteen years of age. Again it was to fulfil a commission to open the Carnival Season at Milan’s Teatro Regio Ducal on 26 December. The work, Lucio Silla, (CDs 11-13), an opera seria in three acts had the benefit of Metastasio’s personal amendments to the original libretto and which included a new scene.
The tenor initially scheduled for the title part withdrew due to illness. With no comparable singer available a member of the choir at Lodi took the role. This accounts for its limitations in both number of arias for the title role as well as the vocal demands in those arias (CDs 11 tr.11 and 12 tr.12). Silla does however feature in the innovative trio (CD 13 tr.7) and extended recitative and grand finale (CD 13 trs.16-17). Osborne suggests that Wolfgang lavished his now considerable skills on the arias for Giunia, the unhappy heroine of the story, whilst those for Celia are featureless with her Strider sento la procella (CD13 tr.9) whose words speak of raging storms but whose music remains determinedly, indeed mindlessly, cheerful. There are certainly placid passages in the work, but equally it certainly illustrates, in its structure and use of the aria, a significant development of the pubescent Mozart’s grasp of the amorous and dramatic situations as can easily be heard when comparing the arias in the three acts and the unfolding story. In this respect it is unfortunate that a libretto is absent and while Sadie’s brief essay gives an outline of the story, Osborne’s more detailed treatment is of distinctly greater help in appreciating the musical development as the story unfolds. It is not without significance that the work was performed no fewer than twenty-six times in the Carnival Season of the premiere. Not unusually for operas of the period it was not performed again in the composer’s lifetime and only emerged in 1929 in German and in the original Italian thirty odd years later in Salzburg.
In this performance of Lucio Silla (CDs 11-13), again in the very capable hands of Leopold Hager, there are many hints of the great operatic works to come in the style and complexity of the writing with only the opera seria form inhibiting ensembles. Peter Schreier sings clearly and with style in the title role and is distinct in timbre from the other tenor role of Aufidio sung somewhat nasally by Werner Krenn. Arleen Auger is outstanding as Giunia sailing through the high-flying vocal demands with style and distinction. She is nearly matched in these respects by Edith Mathis as Lucio Cinna. As Cecilio, the banished senator, a role taken at the premiere by the castrato Rauzzini for whom Mozart later wrote Exultate, jubilate, Julia Varady’s warm tones and excellent characterisation is outstanding. As Silla’s sister Celia, Helen Donath’s light silvery voice, whilst always stylish and expressive, is somewhat marred by poorish diction. Among many vocal gems in this opera, as realised by this excellent cast, my favourite is the long recitative and sung duet between Auger and Varady (CD 12 trs.1-2). At this point my thoughts went to Bellini and duets such as Mira o Norma as the voices blend and the decoration is so thoughtful and beautiful.
Whilst having no expectation of employment from the Archduke for the young Wolfgang, father and son hung about in Milan as Leopold sought other openings for his son. When none was forthcoming the two returned home to Salzburg in mid March 1773. As noted, neither father nor son ever returned to Italy; they had no cause to. However, opera in Italian was performed all over Europe. It was particularly strong in the German-speaking countries, especially in the great Catholic courts of Vienna and Dresden as well as in Mannheim, Stuttgart and Munich. It was for Munich that Wolfgang wrote his next opera, a buffa and not his next two as Sadie’s notes in the booklet (page 183).
In the summer of 1774 Mozart was invited to write the second carnival opera for the coming winter. In Munich the second was traditionally less important than the first and was comic rather than serious. The official genre of dramma giocosa for La finta giardiniera, (The Pretend Gardener-Girl), rather than opera buffa, implies a dramatic story with a happy ending. The other virtue of the genre is that the composer did not have to wait to hear the singers before composing, the casting being more by type and comic aptitude than by voice. It is probable that most of the opera was written before Wolfgang left Salzburg.
When I first looked at the cast for the recording (CDs 14-16) my thoughts were that it was very much a second eleven as compared with the vocal versatility of the singers on the recording of Lucio Silla. In fact the cast is largely well suited to the task with only a little doubt in my mind at the casting of Ezio di Cesare as the Mayor; he is rather heavy-voiced for the music (CD 14 tr.6). As one might expect Brigitte Fassbender in the castrato role of Ramiro sings with flexible appealing tone and characterisation as does the welcome light-voiced Barry McDaniel, who can and does sing softly at times, and is nicely contrasted with the fuller tones of Thomas Moser. Lilian Suskis is a little thin-toned whilst Jutte-Renate Ihloff tends to be fluttery. Whatever these slight vocal limitations, the drama and humour of the implausible story comes over well. For purists it should be noted that this 1980 recording follows the rediscovery of the previously lost Italian recitatives from act one which are incorporated.
Structurally the most interesting features in La finta giardiniera are the finales to act 1 and 2 (CD 15 trs.3-5 and CD 16 trs. 7-9). Also of note is the richer orchestration compared with the opera seria. Otherwise, it is possible, very occasionally, to hear pre-echoes of the greater works in the genre to come. In 1779-80 Mozart cooperated in a German translation of the work with spoken dialogue as Die garterin aus liebe. The recording included in this collection is considered in date sequence below (CDs 35-37). Neither versions of survived beyond Mozart’s death although nowadays performances of La finta giardiniera can be caught in Europe and at summer country house festivals in Britain. Performances can provide an amusing and enjoyable evening’s light entertainment.
On his return to Salzburg from Munich in March 1775 Wolfgang found a commission awaiting him from the Archbishop. It was for a stage work to be given to mark a short visit to the town by the Archduke Maximilian, youngest son of the Empress Maria Theresa, at the end of April. This gave the composer about six weeks for the composition. The Archbishop’s advisers had already chosen Il re pastore, an often-used libretto by Metastasio; the story of love and duty, with overtones of avuncular behaviour by royalty being considered entirely appropriate for the occasion.
Il re pastore (CDs 17-18) was given on the second day of three involving musical celebrations of the Archduke’s short visit. It appears that the work was performed in a semi-staged or concert format and was termed by contemporary writers a Serenade or Cantata. The highly stylised opera seria format draws from Mozart pleasant if rather bland music that structurally takes neither him nor the format any further than his earlier Lucio Silla and, I might suggest, with less dramatic impact. The major musical items of interest are the duet at the end of act one between Elisa, the shepherdess of the story and Aminta the legitimate heir to the throne (CD 17 tr.15), and the well known and particularly beautiful aria for Aminta L’Amero, saro costante (CD 18 tr.6); The role was sung at the performance by the castrato Tommaso Consoli who had created the role of Ramiro in La finta giardiniera in Munich the previous January. He was present in Salzburg for one of the evening’s musical entertainments provided to entertain the Archduke; regrettably Angela Mary Blasi fails to do it full justice.
For this collection the Philips recording of Il re pastore conducted by Marriner has been chosen rather than that by Hager in his excellent series of Mozart’s early works and which form the backbone of the composer’s early works in this collection. This policy also marks a trend in respect of both the selection of the source and also the tendency towards international casts in preference to what might be considered specialist singers. This change seems also to have defeated the booklet’s compilers who attribute the performance to DG in a co- production, as is the case with the Hager performances! As Alessandro, King of Macedonia, Jerry Hadley has a rather edgy tenor tone for his act one aria (CD 17 tr.8) but is somewhat better in act two (CD 18 tr. 10) where he is much more mellifluous. In the other tenor role of the nobleman Agenore, Claes H. Ahnsjö is nicely contrasted in tone and more the Mozart voice we might expect. On the Hager performance the two tenor roles are sung by Peter Schreier and Werner Krenn who are better suited to the idiom. The two sopranos Sylvia McNair and Iris Vermillion are not in the class of their predecessors nor are they sufficiently distinctive at times. The recording has the singers well set back on the sound-stage.
Back in the constraining routine of Salzburg in the winter of 1779-80, now aged twenty-three, and perhaps stimulated by a visit to the town of a company of actor-singers under Johann Böhm, the young Mozart co-operated in a revision of La finta giardiniera in German with spoken dialogue replacing the recitative. The revision, named Die garterin aus liebe (CDs 35-37) is essentially a singspiel. It was premiered in Augsburg on 1 May 1780 and subsequently performed by Böhm’s troupe in Frankfurt, Prague and other centres after which, like its Italian progenitor, it fell into oblivion.
In this collection Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, whose doctoral thesis was concerned with the Italian version of the work, conducts the performance of Die garterin aus liebe. In his autobiography, Mostly Mozart, already referred to, his son, Erik Smith, writes movingly about the recording with his father as the conductor. It was the last they made together (pp.123-126). As Smith explains, it was the very first recording of the work and with his father on the rostrum of the orchestra he had himself founded, both of them were particularly pleased with the strength of the assembled cast.
Although mainly Germanic in origin, the cast adds an international flavour with the inclusion of Ileana Cotrubas and the Americans Jessye Norman and Tatiana Troyanos. The gains of the German speakers in the dialogue are obvious as is the singing of the Mayor’s aria Zu meinemen Ohr erschallet by Gerhard Unger. The recording is well balanced and dates well.
Part 2. The operas of Mozart’s mature years.
It is perhaps one of the tragedies of operatic history that after the performance of Il re pastore Wolfgang did not get the opportunity to compose another opera for five years. During that period his only musical contact with the stage was incidental music to the play Thamos King of Egypt. His time in Salzburg was spent largely on instrumental and church music as he and his father champed after wider fields and opportunities. In August 1777 he petitioned the Archbishop for leave from his duties and commenced a sixteen-month journey with his mother, taking in Munich and Mannheim before arriving in Paris in March 1778. It was his first separation from his father and the two corresponded frequently, with the latter ever pressing and trying to organise his son from afar and frustrated at not being able to make the journey himself because of financial constraints. During the stay in Paris his mother died. Wolfgang failed to find a suitable post in Paris and returned, at his father’s behest, to Salzburg in early 1779 where a new position of court organist was granted to him.
It seems that having got in the singspiel mode in the 1779-80 Salzburg winter with the revision of La finta giardiniera into Die garterin aus liebe, Wolfgang went further and began the composition of another work in this genre. He was perhaps influenced by the contemporary craze in Austria and Prussia for all things Turkish. In the booklet essay Richard Wigmore suggests that the ever-competitive Mozart might also have been keen to upstage Gluck’s harem opera La Recontre imprévue that had been a runaway success since its Viennese premiere in 1764. It is not known if he was commissioned to write the work or the provenance of the libretto. However, after a while and with no prospect of a staging Mozart abandoned the opera, which came to be called Zaide (CDs 38-39), leaving it without overture or the dénouement of a second act finale.
Zaide is described by Wigmore as having no serious rival as the eighteenth century’s greatest operatic torso. It is full of musical felicities and it is an obvious predecessor of the more famous, and much greater, Die Entführung aus dem Serail that followed two years later. When Wolfgang eventually abandoned the work it had no overture, no finale and no title, Zaide being supplied later by Johann André who made a completion of the work that he published in 1838. Its fifteen numbers are divided into two acts and in this performance the missing overture is replaced by an extract from the symphony in G (K318) and the finale by the March in D No.1 (K335). The second of the two discs (CD 39) contains Erik Smith’s realisation of the remnants of the comedy Der Schauspieldirektor of 1786 and which is dealt with in its compositional order below.
Perhaps the best-known piece from Zaide is Ruhe sant, mein holdes Leben from act one (CD 38 tr.5). It is often heard on the concert platform and on recital records. It is more a song or lullaby than a formal aria. Its introductory elegiac music has echoes of deh vieni from Figaro and is followed by coloratura passages that contrast with the more declamatory Tiger! wetz nur die Klauen (CD 39 tr.6), all well realised by Edith Mathis. Peter Schreier is expressive if not vocally particularly mellifluous (CD 38 trs.7 and 11) with Werner Hollweg’s tenor nicely contrasted and tasteful (CD 38 tr.17 and CD 39 tr.2). Ingvar Wixell, who became a favourite of the Philips label, and appears in many of the later operas featured in this collection, is light-toned and vocally flexible as Sultan Soliman (CD 38 tr.17). The trio (CD 38 tr.15) and the quartet that concludes Mozart’s writing (CD 39 tr.16) are vigorous and well constructed. The spoken dialogue is by actors who together with the sung voices are placed well forward in a natural recorded ambience. The Staatskapelle Dresden under Bernhard Klee gives a sympathetic performance.
Whilst Mozart might have been frustrated by the lack of opportunities to stage his new singspiel, the summer of 1780 brought news for which the composer had longed. It was a commission to write the main serious opera for Munich, the new base of the Court previously at Manheim, to be presented in the Carnival Season of 1780-81. The subject chosen was Idomeneo. The composer sought leave from the Archbishop with the Chaplain of the Archbishop’s Court being chosen to write the libretto much of which was written whilst Mozart was in Salzburg.
Idomeneo (CDs 19-21) tells the story of the eponymous King of Crete immediately following the Trojan wars. In style it is firmly an opera seria. It was a genre that the composer did not return to again until his last staged work ten years later, when he wrote for a prestigious commission. By this time, vastly more experienced, he was able to bend the traditional form of the genre the better to encompass the dramatic thrust of the work. In Idomeneo this ability is less evident.
The name part has drawn many famous tenors to the recording studio including those not noted in Mozart in the theatre, including Pavarotti and Domingo. Francesco Araiza’s lightish tenor does not fall into that category. It is a flexible instrument and he recorded several Mozart roles but the dramatic thrust required in the title role does strain him. Similarly Barbara Hendricks as Ilia is hardly ideal casting and is certainly not in the league of Yvonne Kenny on the Glyndebourne DVD (see review). Roberta Alexander as Eletra is better casting although she too could benefit from more vocal bite, something that Susanne Mentzer in the castrato role of Idamante, initially the spurned son of Idomeneo, does have, alongside a lustrous tone.
This performance was Colin Davis’s second recorded effort at the work. Personally, I find Bernard Haitink in the Glyndebourne performance more congenial and idiomatic although he carries on the Glyndebourne tradition of casting a tenor as Idamante. It was at Glyndebourne that Idomeneo received its first British staged performances in 1951. The practice of casting the role for tenor seems to have arisen following amendments made to the score for private performance in Vienna in 1786 and for which Mozart made extensive alterations. These are included as an appendix (CD 21 trs.11-19).
Wolfgang stayed in Munich, as did his father and sister, for a few weeks after the premiere of Idomeneo. They were enjoying the carnival when, on 12 March Wolfgang was summoned to Vienna by his employer Archbishop Colerado. The musicians of his entourage were to accompany him to the homes of the nobility, waiting in an ante-room before being required to perform. This must have been particularly galling for Mozart who had been received by nobility, and indeed royalty, in the likes of London, Paris, Rome and Milan. He had renewed many contacts whilst in Vienna and hankered after being allowed to stay there and lead an independent life. Matters were brought to a head when the Archbishop ordered his return to Salzburg and Mozart declined. The Archbishop terminating his employment amid considerable rancour. Meanwhile he lodged with the Weber household. Mozart had for some years been infatuated with the Weber daughter Aloysia. She was now a leading soprano in the German Opera in the Burgtheater, the Court Theatre set up by Emperor Joseph II in an attempt to promote singspiel, musical comedy in the German language and with spoken dialogue.
Gottlieb Stephanie, Stage Director at the Burgtheater had been impressed with Zaide and promised Mozart a new libretto that would be even more congenial to him whilst also being on the Turkish theme. This was Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Mozart was greatly taken by the libretto and composed with enthusiasm. In this work Mozart does not eschew formal musical models in pursuit of simplicity. He does not hesitate to include elaborate arias and complex textures in the orchestra. The Emperor’s aspirations for his theatre were dead by 1788. Mozart, his aspirations at Court unrealised, had moved on to greater things in association with Da Ponte. However Die Entführung aus dem Serail, premiered on 16 July 1782, remained his first outstanding success, its music full of invention and vitality as well as vocal challenge for the heroine.
In this performance Colin Davis, when compared with the likes of Karl Böhm (DG) and later Solti (Decca) is rather pedestrian. Nor can his cast match those on either of those issues having major weakness with both sopranos. As Constanze, Christiane Eda-Pierre is not up to the formidable challenge of Martern Aller Arten (CD 40 tr.20) being rather fluttery, a quality shared by Norma Burrowes who also lacks a smooth legato line. As Pedrillo, Robert Tear is characterful and expressive and with clear diction. There’s a touch too much edge to his tenor (CD 41 rr.2). Welshmen Stuart Burrows and Robert Lloyd score better. Burrows shapes and phrases his arias with a pleasing tone whilst Lloyd has the low vital notes, singing Osmin’s glee with brio and sonority (CD 41 tr.13).
Whilst composing Die Entführung Mozart became engaged to Constance the third of the four Weber girls and, in respect for his fiancée, moved out of their house. They married on 4 August 1782. Wolfgang maintained the marital home teaching pupils of the nobility and as a composer including a number of piano concertos and solo arias for friends. He appeared as soloist before the Emperor whilst still thinking of opera and reading many possible libretti.
Following the success of Die Entführung and with Italian opera re-emerging in Vienna Mozart was asked to compose an opera buffa for the Imperial Theatre. He searched widely for a suitable libretto before turning, as a last resort to Varesco who had provided the words for Idomeneo. He came up with L’oca del Cairo (The Cairo Goose). It was sufficiently stimulating for Mozart to start work on it but not sufficient to finish it. He completed the first act including a quartet and extended finale but as his fame as a pianist grew he put it all aside. However, with opera still on his mind he wrote four pieces, two as only sketches for another buffa Lo sposo deluso. Mozart’s manner of composing opera often left the orchestration of the sketches until last. For Philips’ Complete Mozart Edition of 1991 Erik Smith undertook the orchestration as Mozart might have done himself, being careful to make no such claim for his work (ibid Mostly Mozart pp.154-55). Recordings of these two works are contained on CD 22.
In the more substantial material from L’Oca del Cairo Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as the Marquis sounds rather gruff. Peter Schreier conducts and sings with his usual taste whilst the two women are barely distinguishable. Nonetheless the music, particularly in the substantive ensembles (trs.7 and 13) is a joy and really does give a foretaste of what is to come. Using mainly Covent Garden singers the briefer extract from Lo sposo deluso
(trs.14-18) have an overture, two ensembles and arias sung by Felicity Palmer and Robert Tear. She is rather exaggerated in the chest register while he lacks some Italianata but is expressive and characterful. Again the extract and Smith’s realisation give hints of the glories to come.
Mozart put his time in 1784 to good use composing six of his greatest piano concertos. Then early in 1785 he read Le Marriage de Figaro by Beaumarchais. This was alongside composing a further five great piano concertos. He recognised in this novel the possibility of a great opera if, and only if, he could find a librettist to do it justice. Meanwhile he composed a miniature singspiel Der Schauspieldirektor (CD 39 part) for an imperial entertainment in the Schonbrunn Palace in February 1786. By this time most of his energies were focused on Le nozze di Figaro. The orchestra and some of the cast are those of the recording of the extracts from Lo sposo deluso. Ileana Cotrubas at the height of her vocal and expressive powers is a delightful Mlle Silberklang, the singer of the story, with Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Clifford Grant excellent in the ensembles (trs.16-17).
Leopold Mozart did not share his son’s view of Beaumarchais’s play and also took the view that its translation from French would not improve its prospects as a libretto. There was the further complication that the Emperor had banned a performance of a German translation of the play. However, the play itself was published in Vienna.
The man Mozart chose as his librettist was surely unique in the annals of music. Born a Jew, uneducated until near the age of fifteen, he was forced to convert to Christianity on the second marriage of his father when the boy became known as Lorenzo Da Ponte. He went on to become a distinguished scholar, a Catholic Priest, a recognised poet, a rebel and not least a libertine and adulterer when in Holy Orders. He had arrived in Vienna with an introduction to Salieri, Court Composer to the Emperor Joseph II. He arrived at the turn of 1781-82, a year before the Emperor restored Italian Opera to the Imperial Theatre, the Burgtheater. The Emperor appointed Da Ponte Poet to the Imperial Theatres. In this post he was mainly responsible for editing and adapting the libretti of other poets and through which he and Mozart met at a party given by a certain Baron Wetzlar in the spring of 1783. Later that year and being proficient in French he went to Paris for a period before returning to Vienna where he continued something of an amorous and playboy life. Da Ponte’s long life and activities, until his death in America, is entertainingly chronicled in The Man Who Wrote Mozart (Anthony Holden. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. 2006) and is certainly more accurate than Da Ponte’s own memoirs.
Even in Paris, Beaumarchais’s comedy play Le Marriage de Figaro was considered too licentious and socially revolutionary until, in 1784, it was seen and ran for many performances. Emperor Joseph II had greatly liberated Vienna on his sole accession after the death of his mother. Da Ponte, with his access to him worked the necessary miracles and got his permission for Le nozze di Figaro (CDs 23-25) to go ahead on the basis of it being an opera and not the play already banned. This necessitated the more political and revolutionary aspects of the play being toned down, particularly the inflammatory Act 5 monologue. It was replaced by Figaro’s Act 4 warning about women which greatly pleased the Emperor. In between Da Ponte’s going backwards and forwards to the Emperor to overcome various worries, Mozart composed the music in six weeks. During this compositional time he also suffered a flare up of the kidney condition that was to kill him five years later. Despite some opposition from conservative sections of the Court, the work was presented on 1 May 1786 to an audience somewhat bemused by the work’s novelty. At the second performance five numbers had to be repeated and at the third seven, with the duet Aprite presto (CD 24 Tr.3) performed three times.
In this 1971 performance Colin Davis, perhaps reflecting his extensive stage experience of Mozart at Sadler’s Wells and elsewhere, and also as the recently elevated Musical Director at Covent Garden, conducts with brio and musical felicity. The mixture of star international names and Covent Garden regulars is less successful. Most disappointing is Mirella Freni’s Susanna, caught too late in her career when she was already singing heavier roles for Karajan; even her Deh vieni (CD 25 Tr.8) lacks the ethereal magic caught by so many others on record. Likewise Wladimiro Ganzarolli as her Figaro is rather gruff of tone and lacking in vocal elegance. What he lacks Taddei has in abundance for Giulini and Geraint Evans for Klemperer (both EMI). Jessye Norman’s Countess is sung with refulgent silvery tone, her portrayal only lacking clearer diction in her two arias (CDs 23 tr.12 and 24 tr.11). Ingvar Wixell is an imperious and vocally incisive Count with good diction and variety of tone and expression. He has no difficulty with the tessitura of Vedro mentr’io sospiro (CD 24 trs.7-9). In act 4 all the lesser roles get their arias and all are sung with character. Lilian Watson’s cavatina L’ho perduta (CD 25 tr.1) is particularly appealing. The recording is a little flat by today’s standards, but is not a serious distraction with Davis conducting the many ensembles and pacing the recitatives with distinction.
Le nozze di Figaro did not get the run of performances its quality and reception deserved. However, the opera was acclaimed in Prague and early January 1787 Mozart, together with his wife, recovering from the death of their third child a month after his birth the previous autumn, travelled to the city to hear and conduct performances. While there he gave a concert including a new symphony that has become known as The Prague (K504). Given the popularity of Figaro in Prague, and the composer’s presence there, the impresario took the opportunity to commission Mozart to write an opera for production the following autumn.
Le nozze di Figaro was revived at the Burgtheater, Vienna in 1789. For this revival the composer wrote alternative arias, particularly for the act 4 Deh, vieni, non tardar. This was to accommodate Da Ponte’s mistress who was singing Susanna. In recent years Cecilia Bartoli’s wish to sing the replacement rondo, rather than the traditional aria at the New York Metropolitan Opera, caused ructions and the premature departure of the producer, Dr Jonathan Miller!
On his return to Vienna from Prague, with the new commission in his pocket, Mozart immediately consulted Da Ponte regarding the new opera and agreed on the subject of Don Juan. Although Da Ponte was working on librettos for two other composers he agreed to set the verses of Don Giovanni (CDs 26-28) for Mozart. The opera received its première in Prague on 29 October 1787 and was well received.
For the Vienna production of Don Giovanni in 1788 there were problems. The tenor couldn’t sing his Act 2 aria, No. 21 Il Mio Tesore (CD 28 tr.4). Mozart substituted the aria Dalla sua pace, better suited to his abilities at No.10 in Act 1 (CD 27 tr.2). The role of Elvira, sung in Vienna by a protégée of Salieri, demanded a scena for herself. Mozart added the accompanied recitative and aria Mi Tradi at No.21 (CD 26 tr.6). In this performance the now common custom of incorporating these additions is followed.
The great strength of this performance is Colin Davis’s conducting. He is particularly strong in the duets, trios and particularly in the ensembles at the end of each of the two acts (CD 27 trs.7-11 and CD 28 trs.12-17). His pacing of the arias and the accompanying recitatives is excellent; a significant strength over other recorded performances although not that by Giulini (EMI) and which remains my favourite. The soloists are more variable, but all are appropriately contrasted in tonal quality, essential in some sense if one is trying to follow the detail of the plot, especially without a libretto. This is particularly important in the many interactions between the Leporello of Wladimiro Ganzarolli and his eponymous master sung with incisive diction and style by Ingvar Wixell. I was not enamoured of Ganzarolli as Figaro, but here his rather earthy portrayal is more appropriate although many have made more of the Catalogue Aria (CD 26 tr.8), particularly Taddei for Giulini and Geraint Evans to name but two. Stuart Burrows is a vocal delight as Ottavio. Il mio tesoro (CD 28 tr.4) holds no fears for him and in Dalla sua pace (CD 27 tr.2), as Ottavio asks Anna to dry her tears, his graceful phrasing and heady mezza voce are a delight. Richard van Allan’s lean bass makes much of the words as Masetto (CD 26 tr.10). Luigi Roni is a formidable Commendatore, his sonorous tones and Davis’s conducting, along with the vocal acting of Wixell and Ganzarolli, makes the supper scene of the act 2 finale gripping (CD 29 trs.7-8).
Without letting the side down, the women are more variable. Mirella Freni sings appealingly as Zerlina without convincing me that hers is not too big a voice as she manoeuvres round the phrases of Batti batti as she pleads with Masetto for forgiveness for her flirtatious involvement with the Don (CD 27 tr.6). Kiri Te Kanawa and Martina Arroyo might have come over better in reversed roles. Elvira is for me not merely a wronged woman but a bit of a harridan too as she harries Don Giovanni and hawks her wronged psyche around. The role needs a bit of vocal heft and tonal bite. Kiri comes over as just too polite and nice and whilst singing Mi tradi (CD. tr.6) with purity of tone and phrasing does so as though at a concert; she is not helped by poor diction. The significantly bigger voiced Martina Arroyo is a little unwieldy at times. She is however expressive in Or sai chi l’onore (CD 26 tr. 17) as Anna tells Ottavio of her attempted violation by Don Giovanni and fines her voice down for the two part aria Non mi dir. She makes a passable shot at the coloratura of the second part (CD 28 trs.10-11).
Mozart and his wife returned to Vienna in mid-November after the Prague premiere of Don Giovanni. They learned that a day or so previously Gluck, the doyen of living composers had died. The Emperor appointed Mozart to succeed him at an annual salary twice that paid for composing am opera for the Imperial theatre. Despite this the composer found it difficult to live on his earnings. He moved to cheaper accommodation yet again and Constance gave birth to a daughter on 27 December 1787. The child died six months later. Meanwhile concerts became less fashionable, and with fewer opportunities of fees for performing, Mozart was reduced to writing begging letters to fellow Freemasons. Matters looked up after the revival of Figaro at the Burgtheater in Vienna in 1789 with the commission from the Emperor for a new opera to be premiered there.
For the new opera Mozart again called on Da Ponte for the libretto of the new work, Così fan tutte (CDs 29-31). The libretto was an original work by Da Ponte and originally intended for Salieri who did not like it. Mozart’s opera was premiered at the Burgtheater on 26 January 1790. It had only had five performances when all entertainment was curtailed on the death of Emperor Joseph II; it was never heard again in Vienna in Mozart’s lifetime although it was soon given in Prague and several German cities. Così fan tutte never achieved the popularity of the two earlier collaborations between Da Ponte and Mozart although, since the middle of the twentieth century, it has not lacked for productions. The discography is generous in its variety.
For this 1974 recording Philips went overboard with its policy of signing a diverse international cast. At first sight it is hardly what one would expect for a Mozart opera, let alone one of the most divine comedies in the operatic literature. Some commentators have found the casting of Montserrat Caballé and Janet Baker as the two sisters inspirational, finding them to spark off each other. It was perhaps no accident that this is Caballé’s only legitimate recording of a Mozart opera in an extensive discography. She had sung the role of Fiordiligi, and other Mozart roles at Basel early in her career and did assay Elettra in Idomeneo as late as 1991 (Montserrat Caballé. Casta Diva. Robert Pullen and Stephen Taylor. Inigo. 1996). She lightens her tone to sound girlish in act one, but does not manage any trills in Come scoglio (CD 29 tr.16) whilst her act two rondo Per pieta (CD 30 tr.16) is over-mannered with excessive chest tones. It had me thinking Aida not Mozart. Baker is a heavy Dorabella, more matron than flirtatious floozy. Whilst Caballé and Baker do blend well in the duets it does not make their contributions good Mozart; more suitable perhaps to Bellini’s Norma.
Having found fault with the two female singers I recognise that they do have vocal virtues compared with the male leads of Wladimoro Ganzarolli, too heavy and gruff by far for Guglielmo. Nicolai Gedda is far past his best as a Mozartian as Ferrando with often effortful singing (CD 31 tr.7). Neither of these two has the ideal vocal flexibility or expressiveness to bring the complexities of the comedy alive. Richard van Allan and Ileana Cotrubas are more successful in this respect as Alfonso and Despina whilst Colin Davis on the rostrum is fully alert to the nuances of the plot; all that being said this performance did receive a lot of awards at the time.
With the death of the enlightened Emperor Joseph II, who had commissioned Cosi fan tutte, Mozart’s source of operatic patronage appeared to have dried up particularly as his successor, his brother Leopold II, had no interest in the arts. Ever in a parlous financial state he would doubtless have welcomed Emanuel Schikaneder’s suggestion that Mozart compose a magic opera for his small Theater auf der Wieden situated outside the city. The two had resumed friendship when Schikaneder returned to Vienna in 1789 and they shared the fellowship of the same Masonic Lodge. The Theater auf der Wieden was a popular venue holding around one thousand. It mounted productions featuring elaborate machinery, live animals, spectacular lighting and scenic effects. These were interspersed with topical jokes, in the local patois, and songs to suit an unsophisticated audience.
As Mozart commenced on the composition of his magic opera or singspiel for Schikaneder’s theatre an unexpected commission came his way. After Leopold II became Emperor of the Austrian Empire and, after the formality of election, of the Holy Roman Empire also, there were various Coronation ceremonies, one of them in Prague. It must have been something of a surprise to Mozart, who knew he was not flavour of the month at the Royal Court, particularly with the Empress, when was approached by the impresario Guardasoni with the commission to write an opera for Emperor Leopold’s Coronation Day in Prague on September 6th 1791. The decision to stage an opera had been made rather late in the day and Salieri, refused the commission due to pressure of Court work. It was decided to use a Metastasio libretto written in 1734. Its story of the innate goodness and generosity of an Emperor was particularly apposite for the occasion. However, it was recognised that the ancient libretto would need some attention and Mozart turned to his old colleague Mazzola who undertook the necessary adaptation to produce the opera seria La clemenza di Tito (CD 32-33).
Having some of the completed libretto, but knowing little of the singers, Mozart set out on the four-day coach journey to Prague together with his wife and pupil Süssmayer on August 25th a mere twelve days before the scheduled premiere. It has been suggested that Mozart composed La clemenza di Tito in his head during the journey and transcribed it for the copyists on his arrival. Research on the paper used in the manuscript score, which fortunately survives, indicates a more complex story. Mozart certainly wrote some numbers from the opera before he had any idea of the commission coming his way (Mozart’s Last Year. H.C. Robbins Landon. Thames and Hudson 1988).
That La clemenza di Tito was in the rather static opera seria form might have disappointed Mozart whose last work in this genre had been Idomeneo in 1781 and since when his operas had moved on in style and vitality as well as humour. Working with Mazzola, Mozart was able to breathe some vitality into Metastasio’s original libretto and break away to some extent from the formal constraints of the genre. Despite his efforts circumstances surrounding the Coronation Day lead to the initial failure of the work. However, by the final performance on September 30th, the night of the premiere of his singspiel in Schikaneder’s theatre Vienna, it was a resounding success. In the following forty years La clemenza di Tito stood alongside Don Giovanni as Mozart’s most popular stage work until it fell into decline. A Decca recording in 1967 (see review) and a Covent Garden production by Anthony Besch in 1974, under Colin Davis, and which is the basis of the recording used here, helped revive the opera and it is now featured on stage world wide. There are several recordings available on both CD and DVD.
Sir Colin Davis’s conducting of this performance of La clemenza di Tito makes it one of the finest of his contributions to this collection. I didn’t catch up with the Covent Garden production until its revival in 1983 when Stuart Burrows was the noble emperor. Although somewhat portly of demeanour, he sang with the grace and eloquence that marks his performance in this recording where his tone is lighter and even more mellifluous. As Vitellia, Janet Baker finds her true Mozartian niche as the character moves from baddy to goody avoiding any harshness of tone or phrase whilst encompassing the lower tones of her great aria. Nicely contrasted in tone, with her and each other, are Frederica von Stade as Annio and Yvonne Minton as Sesto who achieve the delicate balance between dignity and humanity. Lucia Popp is a big plus as Servilia as is Robert Lloyd as Publio.
Freed from the production of La clemenza di Tito Mozart returned to Vienna to complete the composition of Die Zauberflöte his last and most sublime singspiel (Wigmore p. 210 in the booklet) that he was composing to Schikaneder’s libretto. It was premiered at the librettist’s theatre on 30 September 1791, a mere eighteen days after the premiere of La clemenza di Tito.
Various sources have been suggested for the basis of with much discussion of the relationship of the trials undergone by Tamino and Pamina, and the triumph of good over evil, to the Masonic background of composer and librettist. The Masonic influence is also claimed by the frequent occasions the number three occurs in the opera as it is said that this number is significant in Freemasonry. Certainly the number occurs with the Three Ladies, Boys, and Doors as well as in the musical structure. What really destroys this argument for the work being a Masonic allegory is the fact that there are only two trials, of fire and water. If there were any Masonic allusions it would be the three steps and trials an initiate has to take and undergo to raise to the sublime degree of Master Mason.
Die Zauberflöte is securely in the tradition of the Theater auf der Wieden as a popular entertainment with as much spectacle as possible. A performance such as that by Colin Davis (CDs 42-44), which seeks a patina of extra gravitas via slow tempi and heavy orchestral colouring, is missing the point. It is the one opera conducted by him in this collection that was not recorded in London. Whether he was influenced by the traditions of Leipzig I have no idea but to my ears his conducting is far too often turgid and lacking in magic of any kind. It is in complete contrast to that of Mackerras (Telarc 1992) and more recently Abbado (see review) whose fleetness, and in the former conductors case, appoggiaturas, are altogether preferable. Davis makes some abbreviations to the extensive dialogue, spoken by actors, but not as much as Haitink (EMI). Add a mediocre singing cast, only distinguished by Margaret Price as Pamina and Kurt Moll as Sarastro, the priest of the temple, and this performance is the biggest weakness of this extensive collection.
After his return from Prague and the premiere of Die Zauberflöte, Mozart returned to completion of the Requiem. It was a work commissioned by a person unknown to him and via a third party, receiving half the fee on acceptance of the commission, the remainder to be paid on completion. Besides the funeral motet Ave verum corpus K618 of June 1791, it was his first sacred music since the abandoned C minor Mass of 1783. The two operas had furnished him with the money to pay off at least some of his debts. Despite these positive signs he became seriously ill and desperately depressed, often feeling and saying he was writing his own Requiem and convinced he had been poisoned. His symptoms developed rapidly and included oedema and fits of vomiting. He died shortly after midnight on 4 December 1791 a few days after receiving a Court appointment that would have freed him to compose what he wished rather than accept any work that came his way in order to keep himself and his family housed and fed. He was within weeks of his thirty-sixth birthday, an age when later, and recognised great opera composers, had hardly got out of their early development stage let alone approached their compositional maturity.
So passed the greatest composer to have lived.
Postscript - The cause of Mozart’s death
Despite his own neuroses, and what has become popular myth, Mozart was not poisoned. In his childhood journeys round Europe he had several bouts of serious illness including streptococcal infections that may well have compromised his immune system. This possibility, and his illnesses in the seventeen-eighties, has been the subject of much study as contemporary medicine has come more fully to understand the functioning of the human immune system. In analysis of correspondence in The Musical Times in June 1984, Dr. Peter J Davies, a physician of Melbourne, Australia, put forward (ibid July 1985) a considered clinical analysis suggesting that Mozart had died from Shönlein Henoch Syndrome (SHS). Although common in children SHS is rather less so in adults today. However, the complex collections of symptoms known to have been present in the dying Mozart, added to known facts of Mozart’s streptococcal infections of 1784 and 1787 which could easily, particularly in the absence of antibiotics to treat those infections, have further aggravated his compromised immune system and caused his death on further infection in 1791. Certainly Dr. Davies’s detailed clinical analysis rings true and now seems quite widely accepted.
Robert J Farr
A very strong contender as first recommendation for the complete Mozart operas heard in classic recordings. … see Full Review
OPERAS AND CAST DETAILS IN ORDER OF COMPOSITION
No. 1. Bastien und Bastienne,
Singspiel in one act. K.50 (1768)
Dominik Orieschnig; Georg Nigl; David Busch
Vienna Symphoniker/Uwe Christian Harrer [52.32]
No. 2. La Finta Semplice, (The pretended simpleton).
Opera buffa in three acts. K.51 (1769)
Barbara Hendricks; Siegfried Lorenz; Douglas Johnson; Ann Murray; Eva Lind; Hans Peter Blochwitz; Andrea Schmidt
Kammerorchester Carl Philipp Bach/Peter Schreier [72.01 + 74.54]
No. 3. Mitridate, re di Ponto,
Opera seria in three acts. K.87 (1770)
Werner Hollweg; Arleen Auger; Edita Gruberova; Ileana Cotrubas; Agnes Baltsa; David Kübler
Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg/Leopold Hager [3 CDs: 75.21 + 68.55 + 49.05]
No. 4. Ascanio in Alba,
A pastoral serenata in two parts. K.111 (1771)
Agnes Baltsa; Edith Mathis; Peter Schreier, Arleen Auger
Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg/Leopold Hager [3 CDs: 58.03 + 57.27 + 47.51]
No. 5. Il sogno di Scipione, (Scipio’s dream).
A dramatic serenade in one act. K.126 (1772)
Peter Schreier; Lucia Popp; Edita Gruberova; Claes H Ahnsjö; Tomas Moser
Salzburg Radio and Mozarteumchor. Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg/Leopold Hager [64.48 + 46.29]
No. 6. Lucio Silla, An opera seria in three acts (1772)
Peter Schreier; Julia Varady; Arleen Auger; Edith Mathis; Helen Donath; Werner Krenn
Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg/Leopold Hager [3 CDs: 68.39 + 74.10 + 68.57]
No. 7. La finta giardiniera, (The Pretend Gardener-Girl).
A dramma giocosa in three acts. K.196 (1775)
Thomas Moser; Brigitte Fassbender; Julia Conwell; Ezio di Cesare; Lilian Suskis; Barry McDaniel
Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg/Leopold Hager [3 CDs: 65.16 + 67.29 + 71.29]
No. 8. Il re pastore, (The Shepherd King).
An opera in two acts. K.208 (1775)
Jerry Hadley; Sylvia McNair; Claes H. Ahnsjö; Iris Vermillion; Angela Mary Blasi
Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields/Neville Marriner [54.56 + 51.43]
No. 9. Die garterin aus liebe.
German adaptation (1779-80) of La finta giardiniera with spoken dialogue K.196.
Helen Donath; Werner Hollweg; Jessye Norman; Gerhard Unger; Tatiana Troyanos; Ileana Cotrubas; Hermann Prey
Chorus and Orchestra of North German Radio/Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt. [3 CDs: 56.25 + 65.40 + 59.11]
No. 10. Zaide, (The Harem).
Singspiel in two acts. K.344. (Composed 1779-1780. Incomplete. Not performed during Mozart’s lifetime)
Edith Mathis; Peter Schreier; Ingvar Wixell; Werner Hollweg
Staatskapelle Dresden/Bernhard Klee [59.12 + 67.14]
Dialogue spoken by actors
No. 11 Idomeneo, re di Creta,
Opera seria in three acts. K.366. Ballet Music K. 367 (1781)
Francesco Araiza; Barbara Hendricks; Roberta Alexander; Werner Hollweg; Uwe Heilmann; Susanne Mentzer
Chorus and Symphony Orchestra of Bavarian Radio/Sir Colin Davis [3 CDs: 73.24 + 73.22 + 76.09]
No. 12. Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Singspiel in three acts. (1782)
Christiane Eda-Pierre; Norma Burrowes; Stuart Burrows; Robert Lloyd; Robert Tear
Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields/Sir Colin Davis [67.36 + 60.10]
CD 22 (1st part)
No. 13. L'oca del Cairo, (The Cairo Goose)
Drama giocoso in two acts, unfinished. K.422 (1783)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; Peter Schreier; Edith Wiens; Pamela Coburn; Inga Nielsen
Berlin Radio Choir. Kammerorchester Carl Philipp Bach/Peter Schreier [65.39]
CD 22 (2nd part)
No. 14. Lo sposo deluso,
Opera buffa in two acts. (fragment) K.430 (1784)
Felicity Palmer; Anthony Rolfe Johnson; Robert Tear; Ileana Cotrubas
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis
CD 39 (part)
No. 15. Der Schauspieldirektor,
Comedy with music in one act. K.486 (1786)
Ileana Cotrubas; Ruth Welting; Anthony Rolfe Johnson; Robert Tear; Clifford Grant
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis
No. 16. Le nozze di Figaro,
Opera buffa in four acts. K. 492 (1786)
Ingvar Wixell; Jessye Norman; Mirella Freni; Wladimoro Ganzarolli; Yvonne Minton; Clifford Grant; Robert Tear, Lilian Watson
BBC Chorus. BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis [3 CDs: 60.01 + 71.49 + 42.02]
No. 17. Don Giovanni
Opera buffa in two acts. K.527 (1787)
Ingvar Wixell; Wladimoro Ganzarolli; Martina Arroyo; Kiri Te Kanawa; Stuart Burrows; Mirella Freni; Richard van Allan
Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Sir Colin Davis [3 CDs: 54.34 + 51.02 + 58.05]
No. 18. Così fan tutte,
Dramma giocoso in two acts. K.588 (1790)
Montserrat Caballé; Janet Baker; Ileana Cotrubas; Nicolai Gedda; Wladimoro Ganzarolli; Richard van Allan
Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Sir Colin Davis [3 CDs: 69.17 + 61.04 + 52.12]
No. 19. La clemenza di Tito
Opera seria in two acts. K.621 (1791)
Stuart Burrows; Janet Baker; Lucia Popp; Frederica von Stade; Yvonne Minton; Robert Lloyd
Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Sir Colin Davis [62.41 + 65.00]
No. 20. Die Zauberflöte, Opera in two acts. K. 620 (1791)
Margaret Price; Peter Schreier; Kurt Moll; Luciana Sierra; Stuart Burrows; Mikael Melbye
Leipzig Radio Chorus. Staatskapelle Dresden/Sir Colin Davis [3 CDs: 48.22 + 59.08 + 54.36]
Dialogue spoken by actors