This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
Mozart's operas are among the best loved and most often performed. Well, some of them – “Don Giovanni“, “Cosi Fan Tutte“, “The Marriage of Figaro“, “The Magic Flute“ and a few others. However, he wrote a whole bunch more and it's those that we're interested in today. Fortunately, these have been recorded, if not often performed.
As with all good operas, I'll start with an overture. This is from, as far as we know, the first opera Wolfie wrote. He was 12 years old.
It was apparently first performed in the back yard of Franz Mesmer (of hypnosis fame) who commissioned the work. It's the overture to Bastien and Bastienne.
La Finta Semplice (The Feigned Simpleton) was also written when Wolfie was 12. It was scheduled to be performed in Vienna but the bigwigs at the opera there conspired against it and threatened a riot, claiming it couldn't have been written by such a young person, and it was really by his father.
Dad, prudently, withdrew the performance and it was produced for the first time a year later in Salzburg.
This is the aria Marito io vorrei sung by TERESA BERGANZA.
Another finta - “La Finta Giardiniera” (The Pretend Garden Maid, or some such). This one is especially silly and this is how it goes...
We have Don Anchise who is in love with Sandrina. Sandrina, the Marchioness Violante Onest, likes to dress up as a gardener. Then there is Arminda, niece of Don, who is engaged to Belfiore but was previously in love with Ramiro. Belfiore, before he was engaged to Arminda, had the hots for Sandrina, but he stabbed her in a fit of rage (apparently suffering no consequences).
Ramiro wanders about love-struck (not surprisingly, as he was originally played by a castrato), but in the end, Arminda gets back together with him. Serpetta is Don's servant and she is in love with him, but nothing comes of this. Finally, Roberto, Sandrina's servant, likes to dress up as her dressing up as a gardener. He ended up with Serpetta. Got all that? No; neither did I.
Anyway, we have an aria sung by PLACIDO DOMINGO (as Belfiore) called Che beltà, che leggiadria.
If you think that was silly (and it was), consider “Mitridate, Re Di Ponto” (Mithridates, King of Pontus).
Mithridates, after a battle with the Romans, is thought to be dead (he isn't). That fake news is passed to Aspasia (his fiancée) and Farnace and Sifare (his sons) who certainly don't see eye to eye.
Sifare is in love with Aspasia, and it seems Farnace also has the hots for her and is a bit overly aggressive in this regard. Sifare helps Aspasia which does nothing for the brotherly love.
Around this time it's learnt that Mithridates is still alive and the brothers pretend everything is hunky dory between them, except that Farnace conspires with the Romans to do dad in.
Mithridates arrives in town with another chick in tow (Ismene) and when Farnace sees her he wants a bit of the action as well. Ismene is taken with Farnace and that causes friction with dad (not forgetting that Aspasia and Sifare are still at it).
Mithridates discovers the plot that Farnace hatched with the Romans and arrests him. He is rescued by Ismene but falsely suggests that Sifare was also involved, and besides dad, he's bonking your fiancée. Dad plans revenge on him as well.
That's only Act 1. There are two more to go but I'll spare you.
In the end dad forgives both sons who marry the appropriate women and then he commits suicide in fine operatic tradition.
From all that we have DIANA DAMRAU (as Aspasia) singing Al destin che la minaccia.
“Il Sogno di Scipione” (Scipio's Dream), as the title suggests, all takes place in a dream. When Scipio wakes up he realizes that was so, and, well, that's it really. A bit less complicated than the previous couple.
From that we have the wonderful RENÉE FLEMING (as Fortuna, whom we haven't met) performing sono al par del viento.
“Ascanius in Alba” (Ascanio in Alba) involves goddesses, nymphs and shepherds, the usual love affairs, broken hearts, city building (well, that's new) and everyone living happily ever after for a change. Here is an instrumental break, the first Ballet.
“Il Rè Pastore” (The Shepherd King) concerns a pair of lovers, one of whom is a shepherd, but he is the long lost king of Macedonia. He is eventually recognised as such but in the mean time all of the usual operatic shenanigans occur.
He eventually ends up as king and everyone marries whom they should and no one commits suicide.
Here Aminta (the shepherd king) and Elisa (his main squeeze) have a bit of a warble together. For some reason Aminta (who's a bloke) is sung by JOHANNETTE ZOMER (who isn't) and Elisa is sung by FRANCINE VAN DER HEYDEN (they got the genders right this time). Vanne a regnar ben mio.
“Apollo et Hyacinthus” (Apollo and Hyacinth) is very early Wolfie, he was 11 when he wrote it. This is one that may or may not be an opera, or it could be a song cycle.
The synopsis of this one was so complicated I couldn't make head nor tail of it. It involves gods, sacrifices, storms, murders, the usual convoluted love affairs, more shepherds and a discus.
What follows is a duet by Apollo, who is a god, but likes to mingle with the common herd, and Melia, once attached to the king who was making a sacrifice to the big guy, but she now has the hots for Apollo. Their relationship is far more complicated but we'll just blip over it.
Apollo is sung by RALF POPKEN and Media by VENCESLAVA HRUBA-FREIBERGER. They perform Discede Crudelis!
“Lucio Silla” is another Roman opera. Lucio is dictator of Rome and has had senator Cecilio exiled and has spread rumors that he's dead. There are a number of interlocking love affairs, a few murders and whatnot. It's even more complicated than any of the others.
In the end (and this is the most unbelievable bit of the lot), Lucio sees the error of his ways and steps down. Cecilio is restored to his rightful position and everyone gets married and lives happily ever after (at least, those still alive).
Now we have an aria by Cecilio, again another bloke sung by a woman: MARIANNE CREBASSA, singing Pupille amate.
Naturally, I'll end with a finale. In this one everyone gets to strut their stuff. The big ending to “The Shepherd King”, Viva! Viva l'invitto duce!
It shows you what teenagers can do when they set their minds to it. Everything in today's column Wolfie wrote when he was between eleven and nineteen. He might be an exceptional case, though.