Term Paper: Relationship Between Opera Composers and Librettists

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¶ … Opera Composers and Librettists

Relationship Between Mozart and Da Ponte in their Collaborations

The production of an opera requires the collaboration of multiple individuals who specialize in their particular artistic media. Those individuals at the forefront of the production are the composer, who writes the musical score, and the librettist, who writes the lyrics to complement the score. In many cases, a composer and librettist will recognize the positive chemistry in their relationship and team up to create several successful productions. One example of a composer/librettist relationship that resulted in a string of successful operas is that of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte. Together they developed three masterpiece operas: The Marriage of Figaro (also known as Le Nozze di Figaro), Don Giovanni, and Cosi Fan Tutte. The collaboration of these two artists to create these three magnificent works marks the highest point in both of their careers as contributors to opera. This essay will examine the lives of each artist relative to the operas they created together and will seek to define each artist's role in the composition of the operas, examining what each artist contributed, and what about their contributions made the operas successful.

Beginning with the more well-known of the two, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in 1756 and was recognized within his early years to be a musical prodigy. Mozart was highly encouraged by his father who taught him how to play the harpsichord, violin, and organ, and he began writing musical compositions before the age of five ("Wolfgang Amadeus," 2010). By thirteen he had already composed multiple concertos, sonatas, and symphonies as well as a German operetta and an Italian opera buffa (2010). In his early teens he was granted the post of concertmaster for the archbishop of Salzburg, but became dissatisfied with restrictions placed on his work and began looking for another occupation into his early adulthood (2010). Finding no satisfactory post, he returned to Salzburg for a brief time before heading to Vienna, where he would soon marry and eventually work with the librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte to create three well-loved operas. It was during this time and shortly thereafter that Mozart produced many more compositions of symphonies, concertos, and operas until his death in 1791 at the tender age of 35 (2010).

In one case there is the famous success of Mozart, and in the other, the more haphazard, sparse achievements of Lorenzo Da Ponte. Da Ponte's career with opera, compared to Mozart's, was slow to develop. He was born in 1749, converted to Catholicism from Judaism when he was fourteen, and became a priest in 1773 ("Lorenzo," 2010). His career as a priest was not marked by successes, and shortly after he planted himself in Venice (in the year 1781), he came under the purview of Emperor Joseph II as the poet of the imperial theaters, in which post he would collaborate with Mozart on the three operatic pieces attributed to them (2010). As a witness to his character, during his time in Venice, Da Ponte instantly "plunged into all the indulgences of the pleasure-loving city of Canals" ("Lorenzo," 1978, p.163) including affairs with ladies and with gambling, which may be no surprise considering he was a friend of the one-and-only Casanova (1978). Before taking up his post under Emperor Joseph, he existed only by what sums he received through transitory applications of his pen and his wit (1978). Unfortunately, after his final collaboration with Mozart was completed in 1790, Joseph died, his brother Leopold succeeded him, and Da Ponte found himself out of favor with the Emperor. The rest of his life was more disconnected, including a marriage, children, a move to America, and a new life as a grocer, boarding house proprietor, licensed distiller, milliner, itinerant peddler, memoirist, and a teacher as the Professor of Italian at Columbia University (1978).

It is fascinating to compare the lives of these two artists, but even more so when their biographies are viewed in conjunction with the operas they produced together. Their first work, the Marriage of Figaro, focuses on two main couples: Figaro and his bride Susanna and the Count and Countess. According to the playbill for the production performed by the Metropolitan Opera in February 2005, the story is laid out the following way: Figaro and Susanna are earnestly in love with one another, but the Countess laments the loss of her husband's love, as the Count has designs on Susanna. The plot unfolds as a plan to chasten the Count is developed by his Countess, Figaro and Susanna. Meanwhile a plan to get revenge upon Figaro develops involving the Count, the Countess' ex-suitor Bartolo, and Bartolo's housekeeper, Marcellina. In the plan against Figaro, Bartolo convinces Marcellina to foreclose on a loan she once gave Figaro and collect the collateral he offered her: marriage. When it is discovered that Figaro is actually Marcellina's long-lost son by Bartolo, they all make amends.

In the plan against the Count, however, Susanna and the Countess switch identities, and in the guise of Susanna, the Countess waits in the garden for the Count to woo her. Being at first unaware of the joke, but soon discovering it, Figaro woos Susanna, knowing that she is disguised. When the Count sees Figaro apparently wooing the Countess, he rages until his wife arrives to reveal the joke on the Count, who begs for her forgiveness ("Le Nozze," 2005).

Don Giovanni, the second opera produced by Mozart and Da Ponte, is an adaptation of the story of the legendary libertine, Don Juan. According to the opera playbill produced by the Metropolitan Opera in March 2004, the Mozart/Da Ponte version of the story is as follows: The opera opens with the character Donna Anna chasing Don Giovanni away from her chamber after his unsuccessful attempt to woo her. On her behalf, her father and fiance, Don Ottavio, join the fray, and when her father is killed as a result, she makes Ottavio swear vengeance on Giovanni. When Giovanni flees to a tavern, he makes the mistake of flirting with a woman who he had seduced once before (Elvira), who is still upset about his betrayal. In his escape from that sticky situation (with the help of his servant Leporello) Giovanni discovers a wedding party that he joins in order to pursue the bride, Zerlina. This attempt is thwarted by the entrance of Anna, Ottavio, and Elvira who know him to be a seducer. Giovanni later holds a feast for Zerlina and her betrothed, Masetto, during which he again pursues Zerlina. When he is discovered, he blames Zerlina's screams on Leporello. Giovanni flees, but still hasn't learned his lesson.

In the next scene he convinces Leporello to woo Elvira so he can woo Elvira's maid. While Giovanni is otherwise engaged, Anna, Ottavio, Zerlina and Masetto catch Leporello (disguised as Giovanni) leading Elvira to the palace. Frightened by the imminent danger, Leporello unmasks and runs. A strain of the supernatural enters the plot here when Leporello finds Giovanni speaking to the statue of Anna's dead father in the garden, whom Giovanni invites to dinner. At the banquet, after Giovanni is warned several times to repent of his sins, but refuses, the statue enters and sends Giovanni down to Hell (Hamilton, 2004).

The third and final collaboration by Da Ponte and Mozart was Cosi Fan Tutte, which may have been received least favorably among the three due to "a marked resemblance to a scandal that had recently shaken Viennese society" ("Lorenzo," 1978). According to the opera playbill produced by the Metropolitan Opera in 2006, the course of events the opera takes is this: the cynical Don Alfonso bets Ferrando and Guglielmo that their lovers are fickle, as is the nature of all women. The two men accept the bet, but in order for it to be done correctly, the two must follow Don Alfonso's instructions for 24 hours, so to him they are tied. Alfonso contrives a situation where the ladies' lovers are called to serve in their regiment, and so they exchange sorrowful goodbyes, Ferrando with his Dorabella and Guglielmo with his Fiordiligi. Next, Alfonso bribes the maid, Despina, to assist him in the conspiracy as they introduce disguised Ferrando and Guglielmo to the ladies as Albanian friends of Alfonso's. At the moment that the two Albanians declare their affections for Fiodiligi and Dorabella, the ladies reject them, leaving Ferrando and Guglielmo, for the moment, pleased.

In Alfonso's next attempt, he has the men approach the ladies pretending to have poisoned themselves as a result of the ladies' rejection of them. When Despina arrives in the guise of a doctor to cure them, she revives the men, who ask the women for a kiss, but the women again reject the requests. Later Despina returns in her post as the maid, and as such succeeds in convincing the ladies that there is no harm in innocent flirtation. Therefore, when the ladies meet the Albanian men in the garden, they… [END OF PREVIEW]

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