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Culture Forum

  1. 24 Jul '13 22:25
    A friend of mine recently said: "Tell me which is your favourite Mozart opera, and I'll tell you what kind of personality you have!"

    What's your favourite Mozart opera? In what order would you rank the generally acknowledged "Big Four" (Marriage of Figaro, Cosi fan Tutte, Don Giovanni, Magic Flute)? Do you think any of his less frequently performed operatic works rank at a comparable level of aesthetic achievement?
  2. 27 Jul '13 06:55 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by Teinosuke
    A friend of mine recently said: "Tell me which is your favourite Mozart opera, and I'll tell you what kind of personality you have!"

    What's your favourite Mozart opera? In what order would you rank the generally acknowledged "Big Four" (Marriage of Figaro, Cosi fan Tutte, Don Giovanni, Magic Flute)? Do you think any of his less frequently performed operatic works rank at a comparable level of aesthetic achievement?
    Scacchipazzo mi amico, where are you when you are needed?
  3. 31 Jul '13 12:25 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by Teinosuke
    Scacchipazzo mi amico, where are you when you are needed?
    I was out of town and had little access to a PC, although there was one, sand and water called more strongly.

    Here's my take on Mozart. By far the best is not really even an opera. Die Zauberflote is a singspiel and was Beethoven's favorite because he found Don Giovanni, technically the best, lewd and disturbing, moralist that he was. I vote in favor of Don Giovanni, considered by many the greatest opera ever written. Alongside it Le Nozze di Figaro is incredibly well written, funny, endearing, and a most well rounded of all of Mozart's, but does not quite attain the heights of Don Giovanni. For pure comic genius none compares to Cosi Fan Tutte. I have never warmed up to Abduction form the Seraglio. The three best share the common thread of libretti written by Lorenzo da Ponte, the licentious priest and literary genius. In my many trips to NYC, I have never been able to visit the tomb of the great man who died a professor of Italian literature at Columbia University. Die Zauberflote is certainly the best musically and foretold the heights of future works had Mozart lived a life as long as Beethoven's at least or Haydn's.

    Of the less well known Mozart operas I have always been fond of Mitridate Re di Ponto, Il Sogno di Scipione and Zaide(my mother's name) although plenty of jewels also in Bastien und Bastienne and Der Schauspieldirektor. La Finta Semplice is another lovely early opera full of incredible arias foretelling the big four. Il Sogno di Scipione is dark and brooding, dreamy and ethereal. One could go on forever about Mozart who first and foremost considered himself an opera composer rather than a composer of instrumental works. Also gotta throw in Idomeneo, re di Creta, and Lucio Silla. Mozart was an inexhaustible font of creative genius!

    In the end it's like picking a favorite child, a veritable Sophie's List of opera. There can never be a clear favorite since Mozart's greatness made even cameo appearances in his lesser works and even his early efforts.
  4. 03 Aug '13 07:11
    Originally posted by scacchipazzo
    I was out of town and had little access to a PC, although there was one, sand and water called more strongly.

    Here's my take on Mozart. By far the best is not really even an opera. Die Zauberflote is a singspiel and was Beethoven's favorite because he found Don Giovanni, technically the best, lewd and disturbing, moralist that he was. I vote in favo ...[text shortened]... s greatness made even cameo appearances in his lesser works and even his early efforts.
    Ah! Much as I revere all four of the great Mozart operas, I'd feel inclined to place Magic Flute lowest of the four! Perhaps that's because of the Singspiel format, which prevents the work from achieving the same kind of extraordinary structural cohesion of Mozart at his best. In the case of the Magic Flute, I feel a little more that I'm appreciating a series of separate beautiful things, less that I am experiencing a unfolding work of complete coherence. Although it could be said that I'm unfairly criticising Flute for the conventions of the Singspiel format, I think that a similar criticism could certainly be levelled at Don Giovanni, where (amazing though they are), elaborate arias such as Mi Tradi and Il Mio Tesoro seem to halt the action in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Handel rather than forming an organic part of it.

    I'd have to acknowledge that the Commendatore scene, with its extraordinary combination of beauty and terror, is unequivocally one of the finest scenes in all opera and perhaps the single most intense experience in Mozart. But for me, the two truly flawless masterpieces are the two comedies. Cosi fan Tutte does an amazing job of taking what might in principle be a crude, near farcical story and making it profound. Consider the shimmering beauty of the orchestration in Soave sia il vento, which spurs you to realise that, as far as the women are concerned, their men really are going off to war and might die! It's an extraordinary opera.

    But for my money, the one that is a work of absolute, unremitting perfection is Figaro. The work's structure is so elegant, both musically and dramatically; Act II is one of the best bits of screwball comedy ever contrived and escalates with perfect timing; the Countess' aria is heartbreaking, but her final Piú docile io sono is exhilarating.

    But as you say, to choose one is to sacrifice so much else. You're right to mention Zaide, which though unfinished contains perhaps my favourite single Mozart aria, Ruhe Sanft mein Holdes Leben. Even the hastily composed Clemenza di Tito contains some beautiful moments. And as for the early works, I've yet to explore them as thoroughly as you clearly have. I'll have to track down La Finta Semplice at the earliest opportunity!
  5. 03 Aug '13 14:02
    Originally posted by Teinosuke
    Ah! Much as I revere all four of the great Mozart operas, I'd feel inclined to place Magic Flute lowest of the four! Perhaps that's because of the Singspiel format, which prevents the work from achieving the same kind of extraordinary structural cohesion of Mozart at his best. In the case of the Magic Flute, I feel a little more that I'm appreciating a ser ...[text shortened]... clearly have. I'll have to track down La Finta Semplice at the earliest opportunity!
    I first became interested in opera through Bizet's Carmen which I saw live in a bull ring and included a bullfight before the final scene. A dear friend's mother sang Micaela. I was fascinated by the extraordinary writing, incredible ensemble numbers and drama. This got me started on reading about opera and already loved Mozart. Upon discovering that first and foremost he considered himself an opera composer I went out and bought Don Giovanni and was smitten forever. Our excellent library system has an extensive Mozart opera collection allowing me to explore Mozart's early operas and compilations of incomplete/unfinished operas such as Zaide. Your assessment of Don Giovanni is spot on. Many places in the opera are broken/disjointed. "Il mio tesoro" in particular was hastily composed and inserted because the premiering tenor felt shortchanged and demanded a flashy aria. No one mentions why Mozart gave in. Same happened with aria of The Queen of the Night in Zauberflote. By the time rehearsals had started Mozart was no longer having a romance with the soprano, Josepha Hofer, but wanted her off his back. Mozart obliged, but wrote an aria he swore would make her vocal chords bleed!

    Le Nozze di Figaro is indeed operatic perfection. I suspect that this first collaboration with Da Ponte was carefully crafted and had few external pressures as did Cosi Fan Tutte. Same cannot be said for Don Giovanni or Zauberflote(not a a Ponte effort, but an Emmanuel Schikaneder libretto).

    Mozart's early operas are shockful of jewels. I drool at times thinking of what Mozart might have written had he lived as long as Beethoven. I also wonder how much Pergolesi's "Serva Padrona" influenced Mozart. Like you, the singspiel/opera comique form is no as compelling to me as a full fledged opera.
  6. Subscriber sonhouse
    Fast and Curious
    08 Aug '13 15:08 / 3 edits
    Originally posted by scacchipazzo
    I first became interested in opera through Bizet's Carmen which I saw live in a bull ring and included a bullfight before the final scene. A dear friend's mother sang Micaela. I was fascinated by the extraordinary writing, incredible ensemble numbers and drama. This got me started on reading about opera and already loved Mozart. Upon discovering that fi ou, the singspiel/opera comique form is no as compelling to me as a full fledged opera.
    This is off the Mozart track but did you ever hear Shirley Varrett-Carter? I remember her singing El Amor Brujo and was just blown away by her great voice. Have you listened to her sing that piece?
  7. 09 Aug '13 00:25
    Originally posted by sonhouse
    This is off the Mozart track but did you ever hear Shirley Varrett-Carter? I remember her singing El Amor Brujo and was just blown away by her great voice. Have you listened to her sing that piece?
    I have not heard her sing that particular opera, but have heard of her. I'll look her up see if there's a clip of singing one of my favorite songs ever, La Cancion del Fuego Fatuo (Song of the Will-O'-The Wisp. That is one amazingly difficult song. So finely crafted, strangely dissonant, but not for dissonance's sake, eerie, atmospheric and sublime. Manuel de Fallas rarely gets the credit he deserves for his genius.
  8. Subscriber sonhouse
    Fast and Curious
    09 Aug '13 01:49 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by scacchipazzo
    I have not heard her sing that particular opera, but have heard of her. I'll look her up see if there's a clip of singing one of my favorite songs ever, La Cancion del Fuego Fatuo (Song of the Will-O'-The Wisp. That is one amazingly difficult song. So finely crafted, strangely dissonant, but not for dissonance's sake, eerie, atmospheric and sublime. Manuel de Fallas rarely gets the credit he deserves for his genius.
    That is the one sung SO well by Shirley Verrett! It sticks with me to this day. I think I still have the vinyl.

    I found a version for classical guitar here:

    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xcslwg_jean-marie-raymond-plays-cancion-de_music

    AHA, found Verrett!

    YouTube

    The comments say how badly she pronounces the Spanish. I just love her voice!
  9. 09 Aug '13 12:08 / 2 edits
    Originally posted by sonhouse
    That is the one sung SO well by Shirley Verrett! It sticks with me to this day. I think I still have the vinyl.

    I found a version for classical guitar here:

    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xcslwg_jean-marie-raymond-plays-cancion-de_music

    AHA, found Verrett!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tk2TEE_UZo4

    The comments say how badly she pronounces the Spanish. I just love her voice!
    Verrett certainly has a competent and beautiful voice, but it is not suited for the song is more a problem than her Spanish. Her Spanish is passable enough, but these failings become more noticeable because her voice is higher pitched so she cannot do the throaty lilt of the Spaniard gypsy like beautiful Rocio Jurado, more a mezzo than a soprano and steeped in a style only a Spaniard could capture. The passionate cries, the lightning fast deviations form the melodic line, almost imperceptible, the dropped "r's". Only a Spaniard can pull this off.
    YouTube

    This is more apparent in this longer number from the same opera:
    YouTube
  10. Subscriber Ponderable
    chemist
    14 Aug '13 11:16
    Actually I like "Zauberflöte" best. Maybe because it is German and I can follow the Story without program 😉

    I also like Cosi fan tutte very well.

    Don Giovanni is quite dark all in all.
  11. 14 Aug '13 23:41
    Originally posted by Ponderable
    Actually I like "Zauberflöte" best. Maybe because it is German and I can follow the Story without program 😉

    I also like Cosi fan tutte very well.

    Don Giovanni is quite dark all in all.
    I envy your speaking German so much. I wish I could follow Schubert(lieder, assorted arias from his operas0, Weber(Der Freischutze, Oberon), Wagner(anything Wagner), Brahms(lieder, Requiem) and many others without having to resort to a libretto with side by side English. I know enough Italian to get away with not needing one, except obscure colloquial Italian.

    I like Figaro best!
  12. 15 Aug '13 13:12
    Originally posted by scacchipazzo
    I envy your speaking German so much. I wish I could follow Schubert(lieder, assorted arias from his operas0, Weber(Der Freischutze, Oberon), Wagner(anything Wagner), Brahms(lieder, Requiem) and many others without having to resort to a libretto with side by side English.
    Oberon of course was originally staged at Covent Garden and in English! Surely time for a London revival...
  13. 15 Aug '13 20:10
    Originally posted by Teinosuke
    Oberon of course was originally staged at Covent Garden and in English! Surely time for a London revival...
    Makes sense to stage Oberon in English instead of German. I had no idea it was originally in English. I still envy anyone who can follow German. I'd be content to understand it without speaking it. My enjoyment of Wagner would be greater still.
  14. 25 Aug '13 18:38
    Don Giovanni
    And here is the best rendition I have ever seen:
    YouTube
    YouTube
  15. 26 Aug '13 11:07 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by Nocera
    Don Giovanni
    And here is the best rendition I have ever seen:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BBaAz0Wuic
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6H8a8HwA8g
    Excellent indeed! Thanks for posting. One can never get too much Mozart. I only wish more Mozart other than his big four operas would be staged such as Idomeneo re di Creta, possibly history's greatest opera seria.
    YouTube