Term Paper: Relationship Between Opera Composers and Librettists

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¶ … Opera Composers and Librettists

Da Ponte and Mozart

Although there are a lot of elements involved in making an opera beautiful, the relationship between the composer and the librettist is particularly important, given that the artwork's success largely depends on it. In spite of the fact that the contemporary society is less acquainted with the factors behind an opera performance, one can easily understand the relationship between a composer and a librettist by looking at how a modern musical is based on the relationship between a composer and a lyricist.

While most operas were produced consequent to cooperation between a composer and a librettist, there are also exceptions in which certain individuals engaged in creating an opera on their own, their experience assisting them in being both a composer and a librettist. In order for an opera to come out excellently, the composer and the librettist need to cooperate very much, thus the reason for which many composers focused on keeping close relationship with particular librettists, given that they worked on a regular basis. Lorenzo da Ponte is a celebrated librettist, with the work generated from his relationship with Mozart being legendary.

In the days preceding the beginning of his collaboration with da Ponte, Mozart had been determined to find an experienced librettist who could provide him with assistance in composing his operas. Their first work, La Nozze di Figaro, was exactly what Mozart wanted in terms of a positive cooperation, especially considering that da Ponte had been among the composer's favorites even before they started their relationship. "His name occurs for the first time in the Mozart correspondence on May 7, 1783: "Our poet here is a certain Abbate da Ponte. At the moment he has an enormous amount to do revising plays. He is engaged to write a new libretto for Salieri which will certainly not be finished in less than two months. Then he has promised to do a new one for me. Who knows whether he will be able to keep his word -- or will want to?" (Winston & Winston, 1959, p. 360)

In spite of da Ponte's later success in life, the education received during his early childhood was certainly not what most people can imagine when relating to the librettist. Initially being tutored by a cruel teacher and later dedicating his life to material pleasures, it was not until the early 1780s that da Ponte came to work on his talent and started collaborations with notable composers.

His success was sometimes shadowed by as series of events preventing him from completely being rewarded for his work. Surprisingly, his very cooperation with Mozart was preceded by a divergence he had with Salieri on account of disappointing opera that surfaced as a result of their collaboration. Mozart ignored this event and still waited a long time before he could actually start work with da Ponte, proving his appreciation toward the librettist. Da Ponte generated tension wherever he went, other librettists considering that he and his work was a threat to their well-being. He reportedly produced several questionable librettos before he showed any interest in working with Mozart (Winston & Winston, 1959, p. 361).

Although he had limited experience when concerning opera, the young Mozart was already considered a notable competitor for most of his contemporary composers. In the years preceding his collaboration with da Ponte, Mozart managed to write "three more Italian comedies which were all performed in Vienna during his lifetime and laid the foundation for the modern opera repertory by their musical and dramatic intensity and cohesiveness. In addition to these, he wrote La Clemenza di Tito for the coronation of Leopold II in Prague, and another singspiel, Die Zauberflote"(Du Mont, 2000, p. xi).

Da Ponte and Mozart first met in the home of Baron Wetzlar, both of them coming from different worlds but dedicated to produce superb operas. Wetzlar played a great role in guaranteeing the safe collaboration between the two artists, given that he offered to pay for the playwright and to organize productions in Paris and London in case that the opera would not be played in Vienna. Da Ponte actually suggested that their first opera to be presented to the Holy Roman Emperor as a surprise, since the imperial house had shown no interest in commissioning it (Winston & Winston, 1959, p. 361).

Da Ponte and Wetzler alike considered that it would be best for Mozart to decide the topic of the opera. The composer came up with a subject that was practically revolutionary and even extremist in nature. Mozart inspired from Schikaneder and Beaumarchais's Le Mariage de Figaro ou la Folle Journhee, that generated a lot of tension in Paris and across Europe because of the way it criticized parts of the aristocracy.

Given that both Mozart and da Ponte have had some divergences with the ruling classes themselves, none of them were reluctant to create an opera that would condemn the ways of the old regime. "Here was a chance for each of them to settle scores with the hated representatives of society, the Schhonaus, Arcos, Colloredos, and what Da Ponte called "the Venetian coterie" (Winston & Winston, 1959, p. 361).

It is difficult to determine the exact time it took da Ponte to write La Nozze di Figaro, given that most librettists lied in regard to the time they wrote plays with the purpose of boosting their image in society. The Venetian was however ardent to promote the belief that La Nozze di Figaro was written in less than six weeks. Conditions were nonetheless critical at the time, with the National Theatre apparently being in desperate search of a good opera.

Emperor Joseph II was however uncertain regarding Mozart's abilities to produce good opera, since he believed that the composer's skills were limited to instrumental compositions. The Emperor's position toward Mozart was to a certain degree reasonable, since the composer did not actually produce any notable work in dramatic music until that time.

In spite of the fact that La Nozze di Figaro was somewhat critical toward the upper classes, da Ponte's diplomatic abilities assisted him and Mozart in being fully appreciated by Joseph II. This is particularly amazing because Joseph II had banned La mariage de Figaro from the stage precisely because of the fact that the play criticized him and his close ones. It was primarily due to da Ponte's trust in Mozart that the latter got the chance to demonstrate his talent, since the former had apparently used his reputation as a guarantee that the whole would come to be pleased about La Nozze di Figaro.

Consequent to hearing several pieces from the new opera, the Emperor immediately gave orders that the National Theatre should start production. Da Ponte was obviously determined to continue working with Mozart and entrusted his younger collaborator with most of his expertise in the domain (Winston & Winston, 1959, p. 361).

Mozart and da Ponte had both found what they were looking for in each-other. Mozart was dedicated to demonstrate his abilities in producing opera, but his passion was limited because of his failure in finding good librettists. Mozart's father, Leopold, was against the collaboration between his son and da Ponte, and was particularly against their first opera.

The composer and the librettist encountered a lot of resistance in trying to come out with their first production, given that there were numerous individuals who did not want La Nozze di Figaro to exist as Mozart and da Ponte wanted it to. The Emperor had been surprisingly cool about letting the two artists work as they pleased. Joseph II was actually the one who assisted them on their road to putting their first opera in motion, harshly criticizing everyone that was hard to Mozart and da Ponte (Steptoe, 1990, p. 2).

It was not until May 1786 that La Nozze di Figaro first became available to the public, marking the beginning of one of the most interesting relationships in the world of opera music. There are a series or rumors regarding the opera's actual meaning, as some consider that it is based on contemporary scandal while others believe that it is actually meant to condemn the upper classes by referencing classical mythology. Regardless of its actual meaning, the opera had triggered a wave of appreciation during its first productions, with its premiere being particularly successful (Du Mont, 2000, p. xii).

In spite of the fact that the collaboration between Mozart and da Ponte materialized in only three operas, the works are presently considered among the greatest ever produced. Consequent to La Nozze di Figaro in 1786, the two produced Don Giovanni in 1787 and Cosi fan tutte in 1790. In comparison to most composer-librettist groups, Mozart and da Ponte managed to work at an impressive speed, given that they wrote their three operas in approximately four years.

One can consider that Mozart's apogee was during his collaboration with da Ponte and vice versa. With Mozart's later operas… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Relationship Between Opera Composers and Librettists.  (2011, January 17).  Retrieved May 23, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/relationship-opera-composers-librettists/77220

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