Opera. The word itself can send shivers down the non-musician’s spine. Screaming women wearing horned helmets and overweight men pretending to be lithe youths in love with a fair damsel. Well, these are a slightly out of date image of opera and of their participants today, though there are still one or two overweight tenors out there(!!). Opera today demands more realism on stage and opera audiences expect to see believably sized actors on stage, and opera directors and producers are putting on some really fine productions which the non-expert can delight in.
Mozart’s world evolved around opera. His instrumental works always have a vocal aspect to them, and it is this “singability” in all his works that make them so endearing and humane. He started composing operas from age eleven(or those that survive from that age) till his final year. His operatic works number about 23, although not all were completed, and many were composed in his youth on commission when he was travelling through Italy in his early teens.
His mature operas are the only 18th century works that remain in the general repertoire of the great International opera companies. The four “mature” operas: “The Marriage of Figaro”, “Don Giovanni”, “Cosi Fan Tutte” and “The Magic Flute” are universally loved by opera audiences. It is even more amazing to know that they are over 200 years old, but still relevant in today’s society, as they involve human emotions ranging from tragedy and loss through to love, joy and the comic. Mozart had this innate understanding of human nature and hence able to capture and portray these emotions through his music. Although he had to work with some silly and complicated plots, Mozart’s music manages to come through with all its magnificence and humanity.
A case in point is “Cosi Fan Tutte” (Thus Do They All)- based on 2 men betting that their fiancées would not remain faithful if they were to leave them for a while. The 2 fiancées(who are sisters) would then be seduced by the other one’s partner in disguise. A rather silly plot but what music!! Listen to the opening of this scene when the 2 sisters realise that they are seduced by 2 “foreign” men and now are uncertain of their fidelity to their betrothed. They are being “egged” on by Don Alfonso who is the instigator of the wager – “Ah, che tutta in un momento” (In a moment, all is changed):
Listen to the interplay of the woodwinds with the strings and voices. If this is not heavenly music, I don’t know what is!! Or what about this: “Soave sia il vento” (May the winds be gentle), as they bid farewell to their lovers:
Again the woodwinds come to the fore and suggest the breezes blowing through the trees as the sisters sing of their uncertainty. And again in this scene albeit in a modern production, as the 2 men prepare for their new engagement to their “new” lovers!! “Secondate, aurette amiche” (Friendly breezes aid my desires)
If you wish to view and listen to the complete opera this is quite a good version, and it has English subtitles:
Not all of Mozart’s operas have such a silly plot, but not many have such heavenly musical scenes!! Hope you enjoy this. Do let me know of what you think.