Revolution And Artistry In Mozart’s Operas; A Deeper Look At The Marriage Of Figaro (1786); Don Giovanni (1787); And The Magic Flute (1791)

“The opera art form is the sum of many artistic expressions: theatrical drama, music, scenery, poetry, dance, acting and gestures. In opera, it is the composer who is the dramatist, using the emotive power of his music to express intense, human conflicts. Opera’s sublime fusion of words, music and all the theatrical arts provides powerful theatre, an impact on one’s sensibilities that can reach into the very depths of the human soul.”

Fisher, B. D., (2005). Don Giovanni. Miami: Opera Journeys Publishing.

Opera itself is a genre that combines several genres of artistic expression. When it comes to the music of opera, the composer needs to be a little bit of all of the above, a dramatist, a writer, an artist, and not just a composer. When it comes to the music of opera, the composer needs to be a bit of all the above, a dramatist, a writer, an artist, and not just a composer. Mozart was each of those and used those influences to blend power and emotion into his works. Although opera is said to be a combination of various art forms, Mozart was rather clear in his priorities saying, “In an opera, poetry must be altogether the obedient daughter of music” (Fisher, 2005). 

“Mozart’s operas possess ingenious musical characterizations, his music brilliantly conveying and describing vital essences of the human personality and character” (Fisher, 2005). 

Mozart lived between January 27, 1756, and December 5, 1791. Living only 35 years, he accomplished a tremendous amount in terms of musical composition. His list of over 600 works includes forty-one symphonies, twenty-seven piano concertos, over thirty string quartets, several quintets, concertos, sonatas, and, then a legacy of sensational operas (Fisher, 2005). Mozart wrote nearly 20 operas between 1768 and 1791 for a variety of venues and patrons in Europe. A few of these include some of his later ones, which this review will be looking at more closely; The Marriage of Figaro (1786); Don Giovanni (1787); and The Magic Flute (1971).

Mozart wrote nearly 20 operas between 1768 and 1791 for a variety of venues and patrons in Europe. A few of these include some of his later ones, which this review will be looking at more closely; Le Nozze di Figaro, (“The Marriage of Figaro”)(1786); Don Giovanni (1787); Così fan Tutte (1790); Die Zauberflöte (“The MagicFlute”) (1791). 

During Mozart’s music career, the late eighteenth century had its own style under the era of classical music. The features of this genre are both a contrast and a continuation to the previous style of the late baroque period which was characterized by Granduear and overstatement. Classical music had the debating sides of natural music and pleasing variety, which were taken for granted that they went hand in hand. Varet was used to call of boredom but it also called on the complexity that counteracted natural simplicity and clarity. Classical music brought both of these qualities into the music even though some considered it a contradiction within a single era. This period saw a shift in rhythm and dynamics as both became more varied in their range. 

In the baroque period, emotions were thought to be able to be isolated, categorized and listed in a fairly simple way and that music could enhance or even arouse each emotion. In the classical period, this simplicity became quite a bit deeper. The classical period entwined with the period of enlightenment which put a greater emphasis on human awareness and thought leading to a deeper understanding and fascination with human emotion. 

Operas specifically were a perfect genre during the classical era to develop and admire human emotion. In this time period, the general emotions were ones of unrest and rebellion as evident by revolutions throughout the world such as the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, to the American Revolution War between 1765 and 1983. Mozart specifically loved the chance to portray the themes of the struggle of the average person. These three operas are among the last of his operas and all three were composed during the 18th century political and social upheavals.

Don Giovanni is an Opera in Italian in two acts created by a collaboration between Mozart and Lorenzo Ca Ponte, a Venetian composer and poet. This opera contains the following characters; Don Giovanni, a Spanish nobleman; Leporello, his servant; Donna Anna, a noble lady; The Commendatore, Donna Anna’s father; Don Octavio; Donna Anna’s fiancé; Donna Elvira, a noble lady from Burgos, abandoned by Don Giovanni; Zerlina, a peasant girl; Masetto, Zerlina’s fiancé. Only portraying a 24-hour period, this storyline follows several characters in a dramatic story of seduction and retribution. The main character, Don Giovanni, spends the entire opera attempting to seduce many women only to be thwarted by past attempts turned scorned women. Every turn gives him an opportunity to repent his sins. When he refuses for the last time, he is sent to hell as punishment.

Continuing the theme of the average man compared to the privileged, The Marriage of Figaro is about the contrast of the lower class and their masters. This is the second time that Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte collaborated on an opera. Both men worked to create an opera buffa or a comedic opera with characters from everyday life. Characters for this opera include Count Almaviva; Countess Rosina Almaviva; Susanna, the countess’s maid; Figaro, the count’s personal valet; Cherubino, the Count’s page; Marcellina, Doctor Bartolo’s housekeeper; Doctor Bartolo, a doctor and practicing lawyer from Seville; Basilio, music teacher; Don Curzio, judge; Barbarina, Antonio’s daughter; and Antonio, the Count’s gardener and Susanna’s uncle.

Based on a stage comedy by Pierre Beaumarchais, La Folle Journée Ou Le Mariage De Figaro, the opera portrays servants smarter than their self-centred, immoral, and conceited masters. Just like Don Giovanni, Mozart continues to feature the nobleman as selfish, unscrupulous, and egotistic. The servant Figaro succeeded in wedding Susanna thus outsmarting their philandering employer Count Almaviva thus teaching him a lesson on being unfaithful.

The Magic Flute is one of Mozart’s most adored works, and one of his last. Premiering on September 30th, 1791 at Schikaneder’s theatre, this opera was conducted by Mozart himself. Other characters include Tamino; Papageno; Pamina; The Queen of the Night; Sarastro; Three ladies; Monostatos; Three child-spirits; Speaker of the temple; Three priests; Papagena; Two armoured men; and Three slaves.

Presented in the form of a Singspiel, this opera is in two acts written with both singing and spoken dialogue. The story follows the queen of the night’s attempt to save her daughter Pamina from the clutches of the high priest Sarastro by persuading Prince Tamino to rescue her only for him to learn of Sarastro’s ideals and ideas. He seeks to join disregarding his previous mission. Separately and then together both Tamino and Pamina go through several obstacles and trials of initiation. All of them end in triumph as the queen of the night and her kingdom is vanquished and Papageno takes the hand of his ideal female companion Papagena.

All three of these operas focus on the average person defeating odds greater than they could ever imagine while brining the nobility into a more reasonable perspective. It’s seen as a juxtaposition of the stereotypes of the lower and the upper class in the classical era. Yet it’s not a juxtaposition compared to the happenings of the time when the lower and upper classes were becoming more and more equalized.

In mere terms of musicality, Mozart’s work is classical and conforms to the standards of music at the time. His music is succinct, clear, well balanced, while also with developed ideas reaching a heightened emotional fullness (Fisher, 2005).All three of these operas focus on the average person defeating odds greater than they could ever imagine while bringing the nobility into a more reasonable perspective. It’s seen as a juxtaposition of the stereotypes of the lower and the upper class in the classical era. Yet it’s not a juxtaposition compared to the happenings of the time when the lower and upper classes were becoming more and more equalized. Richard Wagner emphasized the power of the orchestra in his music dramas and described Mozart’s symphonies highly and with reverence (Fisher, 2005).

Wagner explained “He seemed to breathe into his instruments the passionate tones of the human voice….and thus raised the capacity of orchestral music for expressing the emotions to a height where it could represent the entire unsatisfied yearning of the heart” (Fisher, 2005)

Citations
Dent, Edward J. (1973). Mozart’s Operas: A Critical Study. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-284001-0.

Fisher, B. D., (2005). Don Giovanni. Miami: Opera Journeys Publishing.

Mozart, W. A., & Da, P. L. (1960). The Marriage of Figaro: An Opera in Four Acts.

Mozart, W. A., Gruber, G., & Orel, A. (1970). Die Zauberflöte: The Magic Flute

Mozart, W. A., Macfarren, N., & Da, P. L. (1870). Don Giovanni: An Opera in Two Acts.

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