Study Guide For Students Only Dress Rehearsal January 29, 2014 7: 00 pm jubilee Auditorium

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Study Guide

For Students Only Dress Rehearsal

January 29, 2014
7:00 PM
Jubilee Auditorium
Welcome to Calgary Opera’s 2014-15 season!
Opera is a unique and exciting art form that combines the disciplines of music, drama, literature, dance, visual, and technical arts like no other.
This guide will give you a backstage tour of all that is opera - terminology, inside information on the production, the history behind the opera and the composer as well as ideas for including opera in your students’ learning.
We hope that this guide will assist you in making opera connections in your classroom in a fun and interesting ways as well as to use The Marriage of Figaro as a point of departure for their learning. Exposure to performing and fine arts helps students develop critical analysis and problem solving skills, perseverance, and a drive for excellence. The creative skills students develop through the arts carry them toward new ideas, new experiences and new challenges. Plus, there’s nothing like the excitement and magic of a live professional performance!
Thank you for giving your students this special opportunity.

Emily Forrest

Education and Outreach Coordinator

Calgary Opera

Phone (403) 262-7286, direct line (403) 802-3404

Community Outreach sponsor

The more students are prepared for this experience, the more they will get out of it. Knowing the story, the life and times of the composer and the music is very important to make their opera experience a sensational one.
Before the Opera

  • Review the study guide, including the suggested preparation and learning activities, before deciding on which will be the best fit for your students. Some of the activities/discussions should be started prior to seeing the opera. Preparing students ahead of time gives them a chance to view the opera with understanding i.e. history, reviewing, character studies, discussions, etc.

  • Read the enclosed Marriage of Figaro synopsis, which provides a background and helps familiarize students and teachers with the story.

  • Read the history of the opera, composer and director, and familiarize your group with opera terms (all items in the guide can be reproduced).

  • Familiarize students with the characters and their corresponding opera voice types (i.e. soprano, mezzo-soprano, bass, baritone, and tenor.) This enables students to identify them during the opera.

  • Discuss the characters and plot, and engage students in discussion around the suggested themes.

  • You may wish to assign students to write a review on the opera – a guideline for writing reviews is included in this study guide.

  • You may assign some students to report on singing, characters, orchestra, costumes, scenery etc. after the dress rehearsal.

  • Make sure that meeting places and times are clear at the Jubilee Auditorium.

  • Review the audience expectations in our Attending the Opera section.

Some teachers have found it advisable to give out assigned seat tickets at a meeting place in the hall just before a performance, as lost tickets cannot be replaced.

Attending the Opera

There’s nothing more exciting than attending an opera! You’ll be a guest at the final dress rehearsal of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Here’s what you’ll need to know about attending the opera:

You may notice a long table with lights and people sitting behind it in the centre of the main floor of the auditorium. Seated in this area is the production team: Director, Lighting Designer, Fight Director, and Choreographer (among others.) They’ll be taking notes and communicating with the many people backstage who help make all of the operatic magic happen. They’ll be able to talk to the crew so changes can be made. Should anything need some adjustments, the rehearsal might be stopped or a part repeated to make sure that it is perfect.


Unlike actors on television or in the movies, performers onstage are very aware of the audience. They want to share their love of performing with you. Everything you do in the audience affects what happens on stage. You can show them how much you appreciate their work and the opportunity to come to the rehearsal by being as quiet as possible.

Show your respect for the cast, musicians, the production team, and everyone in the theatre by not talking. Give the artists and the production your full attention!

Here’s a list of DOs and DON’Ts so that everyone in the theatre can enjoy the opera:

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› Use the bathrooms before the rehearsal begins or at intermission.

› Enter and exit the theatre in an orderly fashion.

› Think about what makes a good audience member.

› Turn off your cell phones and all electronic devices.

› Applaud when the conductor enters and bows, then again after the overture.

› Applaud after the arias as well as after the performance; you can shout “Bravo!” for a man, “Brava!” for a woman, and “Bravi!” for more than one person, or the whole performance.

› Enjoy the rehearsal. You’ve worked too hard preparing for the rehearsal not to!

Don’t Forget...

› When you are seated, you may be able to see the orchestra tuning their instruments in the orchestra pit.

› Keep movement and voices down to a minimum as this is a live dress rehearsal performance.

› Keep food, drinks and gum outside of the auditorium – the Jubilee Auditorium has great acoustics so every sound can be heard in the theatre. Bottled water is allowed.

When the house lights dim, it’s time to:

› Turn off all cell phones, iPods, and other electronic devices. The use of cameras or recording devices is strictly forbidden.

› After the curtain goes down and the lights go up, the intermission (20 minutes) begins. Now is the time to talk, eat (in the lobby) and use the washroom.

› Be silent if the performance has to stop for a few moments (this is a performance, but also a working rehearsal so it may be necessary to stop at times).

› If you must use the washroom during the performance, please be accompanied by an adult supervisor. The ushers will let you in again but you will have to wait until there is an appropriate break in the opera. Many times this is not until intermission.

About Opera

The History of Opera

Theatrical performances that use music, song and dance to tell a story can be found in many cultures. Opera is just one example of music drama.

Have you ever wondered where opera got its start? Back in the late 1500s during the height of the Renaissance, a group of men called the Florentine Camerata got together to create a new and moving theatrical experience. They wanted to recreate what the ancient Greeks did during their legendary dramas. The result was something entirely new – opera!

Most of the early operas were based on Greek myths. The first opera that we know of was called Dafne by Jacopo Peri in 1598, but the most famous opera of this early period that is still performed today is Claudio Monteverdi’s Orfeo (1607). Certain basic ingredients were included in opera: songs, instrumental accompaniments, costumes, dance, and scenery. We still use all of these ingredients today! The early operas were first performed in the grand courts of Italian nobility, but soon opera became popular with the public, too. As it became all the rage, productions became more lavish.

Soon, theatres began to be built just to mount operas. These theatres had elaborate stage machinery to create special effects like flying actors or crumbling buildings. Not everyone embraced the new form of theatre. Some critics thought that all of the stage antics in opera detracted from the music and drama. Some people even believed that seeing too much comedy in opera could make you immoral.

George Frederic Handel (1685-1759)
During the Baroque period (about 1600 to 1750), Italian opera spread all over Europe. The Italian style of opera was so popular that even non-Italians wrote in this style. For example George Frederic Handel (1685–1759) was a German-born composer who lived and worked in England. His operas, like Julius Caesar (1724), were written in the Italian language and used an Italian style of music. The only nation to create its own national operatic style was France. Ballet played a large role in the French culture, and operas often included ballets in the middle of the opera. The most famous French Baroque opera composers were Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632- 1687) and Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764).

The 18th century was full of change for both Europe and opera. This time period was known as the Age of Enlightenment. People were starting to talk about new forms of government and organization in society, especially the ever-growing middle class. Music displayed this new thinking as composers dropped the Baroque era’s complicated musical style for simpler, more emotional music. In less-flashy music, characters could express their thoughts and feelings more believably. One of the first operas to use this new style was Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice (1762).

In 1789 the French Revolution changed the world. The first modern democracies were born, and to match the times in which they were created, audiences wanted to see characters like themselves on stage, not gods and goddesses. They also wanted to see issues that were important to them. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (1786) featured a timely story of aristocratic class struggles that had both servants and nobility in lead roles. The ideals of the Enlightenment also came to the stage in Ludwig van Beethoven‘s only opera, Fidelio, a story about equality and freedom.

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)

In the 1800s opera continued to grow. The Italian tradition continued in the bel canto movement, which literally translates to “beautiful singing.” These operas asked performers to sing complicated groups of fast notes in the melodies. The most famous bel canto composers were Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868), Gaetano Donizetti (1797–1848), and Vincenzo Bellini (1801–1835). Their operas, like Rossini’s popular comedies The Barber of Seville (1816) and Cinderella (1817), are still some of the most popular operas performed today. By the middle of the century, the Romantic Movement led many composers to champion their own national identities. As a result, operas in languages other than Italian became more common; new works often reflected pride in a country’s people, history, and folklore. German operas like Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz (1821), Russian operas like Mikhail Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar (1836) and French operas like Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots (1836) started to be performed across Europe. By using nationalism in his operas like Nabucco (1842), Italian Giuseppe Verdi became a national hero.

Johanna Heinze, Mezzo-Soprano, 1907

In Germany Richard Wagner took Romanticism to the extreme in a four-part operatic miniseries based on Norse mythology, The Ring of the Nibelung (1876), which takes over 15 hours to perform! The operatic stereotype of the singer in the Viking helmet comes from these operas.

Opera in 20th century became even more experimental. Composers like Giacomo Puccini (La Bohème, 1896), Claude Debussy (Pelléas et Mélisande, 1902), Richard Strauss (Salome, 1905), and Benjamin Britten (Peter Grimes, 1945) evolved their national styles. Others, horrified by the destruction of World War I (1914-1919) and other aspects of modern life, created music that was new and drastically dissonant. These operas often explored either dark psychological topics (Wozzeck by Alban Berg, 1925), or simple and absurd (The Rake’s Progress by Igor Stravinsky, 1951). American opera had a huge hit with George and Ira Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (1935) which included jazz and blues musical styles. Not only did American composers embrace popular music in opera but also a repetitive, hypnotic style called minimalism. American composer Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach (1976) is the popular example of minimalism in opera.

Today, opera is still growing and changing every day. Calgary Opera has commissioned many new works, including Moby-Dick (a co-commission with Dallas Opera, San Diego Opera, San Francisco Opera, and the State Opera of South Australia) by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer, The Inventor by Bramwell Tovey and John Murrell, Hannaraptor by Allan Gilliland and Val Brandt, Frobisher by John Estacio and John Murrell, and Filumena by John Estacio and John Murrell. The presentation and creation of new repertoire is vital to the future of opera, and it is important to look for the next Verdi or Puccini of our time.

Although opera is one of the oldest musical art forms, it still remains and expands today. From the old favorites to the new experimental works, opera continues to be a moving art form of the people.


Writing Activity

The picture on this page shows several patrons and famous opera characters on their way to attend an opera at the theatre. Now picture yourself in their shoes. On a separate piece of paper, write a story as if you are one of these people. Think about your trip to the performance. What will the opera be like? You may want to mention going to the Jubilee Auditorium or attending the opera. What will you wear? How will you and your classmates act? At what time will you meet your classmates? How many classmates will attend? Will you have a special dinner before the opera? If so, where? Will the opera be exciting and entertaining? Share your thoughts here and compare your stories with your classmates.


Write a Review or Critique of the Performance
One of the best ways to encourage critical thinking of a performing arts production is to encourage students’ honesty and draw out detailed opinions. A productive evaluation session - spoken, written, visual or dramatized - should follow this basic ‘how-to’ outline below.
On the internet, students can find many reviews of The Marriage of Figaro from other opera companies’ performances to use as a guideline or example.
Guidelines for writing a review
When writing an opera review you can focus on many different elements, but keep in mind the acting, singing, technical aspects, orchestration, and the overall view of the performance.
Performance of the Singers
The acting and singing are probably the most important aspects of the opera. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the opera and its characters before you go see it. Make sure you know all of the characters’ names and the singers who are playing them; the study guide or the Calgary Opera website is an ideal place to find all this information.
Did they bring the music to life? Could you see and hear the emotion while they sang? Did they interact well with others on stage?
Did any particular performer stand out to you and why? How did the singer communicate his/her character? Did you feel that the singer’s character was believable? Sympathetic? How well are they giving and taking focus?

Technical Aspects
It has been said that if the technical aspect of the performance becomes noticeable, then it is not effective. Keep in mind that the sets, lights, sound, make-up, and costumes are there to enhance the performance.

Were the costumes appropriate to the time period? Did they enhance the characters?
Did the lighting design communicate time of day and/or mood? Did it cast unflattering or distracting shadows? Was the set complex or simple? How did this help or hinder the production?
What do you notice about the make-up worn by the singers on stage that differs from what people might wear out in public? Did it age a singer? Make them appear more youthful? Was it done well?
Musical Aspects
Reviewing the musical performance is a tricky thing, and most reviewers continue to develop their ear for the music and knowledge of the art form their entire lives.
Did you enjoy the music? Did you feel that the singers performed it smooth and effortlessly? What was your favourite musical moment? What part did you feel had the power to move you emotionally?
So in conclusion, remember the singing, acting, music, the technical and the overall view, and you’ll have written a successful theatre review. Try to keep in mind that to be a theatre critic you often have to be critical, so if you feel that something was badly done include that in your review. Constructive criticism can be helpful. Keep these things in mind when writing your review and it will be great. Have fun!

The Language of Opera

Act - Main sections of a play or opera.

Aria - A solo song sung in an opera.

Audience - People who watch a performance and sit in the “house” or auditorium.

Ballet - Dance set to music within an opera.

Blocking - Action on stage.

Character - Person who is part of the opera’s story.

Chorus - Music composed for a group of singers or the name of a group of singers in an opera.

Conductor - Person who rehearses and leads the orchestra.

Duet - A song performed by two singers.

Libretto - the words of the opera.

Opera - a musical work in one or more acts, made for singers and instrumentalists.

Opera Buffa - Funny, light opera.

Opera Seria - Serious, dramatic opera.

Orchestra - A group of musicians who play together on various musical instruments.

Overture - A piece of instrumental music played at the beginning of an opera.

Program - Booklet that contains information about the opera, composer, performers, and the opera company.

Recitative - Words that are sung in the rhythm of natural speech.

Rehearsal - Time when singers/actors practice with or without the orchestra; time when musicians practice together with the conductor.

Scene - Segments of action within the acts of an opera.

Types of Singers

Soprano - Highest pitched female voice.

Mezzo-Soprano - Female voice between soprano and contralto.

Contralto – Lowest pitched female voice

Tenor - Highest pitched male voice.

Baritone - Male voice between tenor and bass.

Bass - Lowest pitched male voice.


Connect the terms
1. Opera Seria

2. Baritone

3. Opera

4. Ballet

5. Orchestra

6. Libretto

7. Duet

8. Aria

9. Soprano

10. Chorus

11. Act

12. Contralto

13. Tenor

14. Opera Buffa

15. Recitative

16. Bass

17. Overture

A. Dance spectacle set to music.

B. Highest pitched woman’s voice.

C. Dramatic text adapted for opera.

D. Low female voice.

E. Comic opera.

F. A dramatic or comedic musical work in which singing is the essential factor; very little is spoken.

G. Opera with dramatic and intense plots.

H. Music composed for a singing group.

I. A song written for two performers to sing together.

J. A group of musicians who play together on various musical instruments.

K. Highest pitched man’s voice.

L. A musical style in which the words are spoken in the rhythm of natural speech.

M. Male voice between bass and tenor.

N. A piece of music originally designed to be played before an opera or musical play.

O. Deepest male voice.

P. Elaborate solo in an opera or oratorio.

Q. Main division of a play or opera.

Background Information

What in the World?

Life in the Age of Enlightenment

What is the Age of Enlightenment?

The Age of Enlightenment was a period around the 1700s where Western culture began to turn from traditional social, cultural, philosophical, scientific, and intellectual views to embrace views based on rationalism, or the belief that what people think or do should be based on reason and knowledge, not just tradition, religion or emotions.

What changes did the Enlightenment bring?

Quite a lot! Some of the biggest changes were the American and French Revolutions, overthrowing the ruling classes in favour of new regimes which better supported the “Common Man.” People began to see that they were not so different from nobles, and demanded to be treated better too. Some wanted equal rights for men and women of all races, freedom of expression and the press, the end of religious involvement in political process, and education. Still, some more moderate people just wanted to update and reform old structures of power and faith. All over the Western world, the Enlightenment looked very, very different.

What’s the deal with The Marriage of Figaro?

Did you know that Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro was based on a play? This play, called “La Folle Journée, ou Le Mariage de Figaro” (The Mad Day, or the Marriage of Figaro) was written by Pierre Beaumarchais (1732-1799) in 1778. Le Mariage de Figaro was the second of three plays in a series he wrote based around the character of Figaro, a very clever servant who repeatedly outwits the schemes of noblemen in favor of true love and virtue. In fact, the very first play of this series was made into another opera by Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) called Il barbiere di Siviglia, or The Barber of Seville, in which young Figaro becomes a barber in order to help an enamored Count marry a beautiful young women who is coveted by her older guardian. This is the one we hear in opera houses today. Prior to Mozart composing The Marriage of Figaro, another composer, Giovanni Pasiello (1740-1816), had already created an operatic version of The Barber of Seville… so it made sense to compose the sequel!

Only one problem, however…

The Marriage of Figaro was a very controversial work! Even despite the fact that Beaumarchais’ The Marriage of Figaro was written in the late 1770s, it took almost ten years before it was allowed by censors to be performed at the Parisian Comédie-Française, a historical French theatre. Why was it controversial? Noblemen and noblewomen of the time were nervous about “class conflict” between the upper and lower classes, the nobility and the common folk of France… the French Revolution would occur in the near future, around 1789, and the unrest in the country was palpable. As far as French nobles could tell, the play was encouraging conflict between the classes; the servants were often smarter and kinder than their masters, and weren’t afraid to confront them head-on for their bad behavior. By the time The Marriage of Figaro (the play) was performed at the Comédie-Française, they had to cut a great deal of it, including much of the character Marceline and her strong, feminist attitude, saying no Parisian actress was capable of acting the way the part required.

So the librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, had his work cut out for him. First thing to do was make it a comedy, so people wouldn’t take it seriously, and take out a lot of the more revolutionary parts so that the Hapsburg Emperor Joseph II would allow for its production. The opera that you will see performed at the Jubilee will be very much like Beaumarchais’ play, but a much lighter, funnier, and less controversial version.

This lighter, more comedic opera form of the play was a huge success, with five encores during the premiere, and seven on its second performance. The Emperor Joseph II himself had to ban encores, so these evenings wouldn’t drag on and on! Mozart and da Ponte went on to make more operas together, including Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte.

Many years later in France, Paris Opera decided to capitalize on the great fame of the work by playing Le Mariage de Figaro in Paris (even though the now-deceased Mozart was not even a Frenchman!) Rather comically, however, now the opposite problem was presented to those looking to perform this work. Now that the country was in the midst of a Revolution, and the opera was not revolutionary enough for those who would go see it, it wasn’t in keeping with the popular works of the time! What to do? So the opera buffa was turned into an opera-comique, and a hybrid of both Beaumarchais’ play and of Mozart and da Ponte’s opera – the songs stayed the same, but the recitatives were replaced with the more revolutionary text of the play. Beaumarchais himself was brought in to add in more of his play, and eventually this work was expanded to even include ballet music, and arias from other works by Mozart! Such is the strange history of history – and art – trying to keep up with the times. History – and

Words of Revolution
One of the most revolutionary parts of Beaumarchais’ play is a speech by Figaro in the fifth act. While he waits in secret with Doctor Bartolo to see if Susanna stays true to her vows and refuses the advances of the Count, Figaro gives a passionate speech against the Count attempting to seduce his wife. Essentially, Figaro denounces his master, asks “What makes HIM so special? Why am I just a normal guy, who has to struggle and fight just to get by, when the Count, who is no smarter, more virtuous, more kind than me, gets everything he wants, money, power, and now my wife?” Asking what made nobles deserve their riches and calling them “pompous” as well as “vile” and questioning their value made the nobles very nervous indeed that their subjects would soon start wondering the same thing…

No, my very worthy Lord and Master, you have not got her yet—What! Because you are a great Man, you fancy yourself a great Genius.—Which way?—How came you to be the rich and mighty Count Almaviva? Why truly, you gave yourself the Trouble to be born! While the obscurity in which I have been cast demanded more Abilities to gain a mere Subsistence than are requisite to govern Empires. And what, most noble Count, are your Claims to Distinction, to pompous Titles, and immense Wealth, of which you are so proud, and which, by Accident, you possess? For which of your Virtues? Your Wisdom? Your Generosity? Your Justice?—The Wisdom you have acquired consists in vile Arts, to gratify vile Passions; your Generosity is lavished on your hireling Instruments, but whose Necessities make them far less Contemptible than yourself; and your Justice is the inveterate Persecution of those who have the Will and the Wit to resist your Depredations.” But this has ever been the Practice of the little Great; those they cannot degrade, they endeavour to crush…

At Seville I found a Lord mad to marry his Mistress; my Wit procured him what his could not, a Wife; and, in return, he gratefully endeavours to Seduce mine—Strange concatenation of circumstance!”

In the opera, Da Ponte removed this speech so that Figaro instead expressed his disappointment in women and their disloyalty to their men, as he now suspects Susanna may deceive him.
Historic and Cultural Events in 1786

Listed below are some historic and cultural events that took place in 1786.

January 6 The outward bound East Indiaman Halsewell is wrecked on the south coast of England in a storm with only 74 of more than 240 on board surviving.

February 24 Birth of Wilhelm Grimm, author of famous Grimm fairytales.

May 1 Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro premieres in Vienna.

June 8 First commercially-made ice cream sold in New York.

June 10 An earthquake-caused landslide dam on the Dadu River gives way, killing 100,000 in the Sichuan province of China.

August 1 Caroline Herschel discovers a comet (the first discovered by a woman!)

August 8 Mont Blanc is climbed for the first time by Dr. Michel-Gabriel Paccard and Jacques Balmat.

August 17 Birth of Davy Crockett, American frontiersman.

November 30 Peter Leopold Joseph of Habsburg-Lorraine, Grand Duke of Tuscany, abolishes the death penalty in his country, making it the first state without one. November 30th has since been recognized around the world as Cities for Life Day.

Unknown The last reliably recorded wolf in Ireland is hunted down and killed near Mount Leinster, County Carlow, for killing sheep.


Write a one page story about what it would have been like to be a member of the aristocracy in France during the 1780s, just before the French Revolution.


Research and Report

  1. Mozart premiered The Marriage of Figaro in Vienna On May 1, 1786. Find an image of the opera house in Vienna in which this work premiered (the Burgtheatre), and discuss its history and highlights.

  1. The fashion during the 1780s in France was strongly influenced by Marie Antoinette at a time when she was beginning to rebel against the structure of court life. Some significant changes occurred in fashion at this time. Research and report on French fashion during the 1780s.

The French Queen Marie Antoinette

About the composer\'apr%c3%a8s_jean-marc_nattier,_portrait_de_pierre-augustin_caron_de_beaumarchais_(biblioth%c3%a8que-mus%c3%a9e_de_la_com%c3%a9die-fran%c3%a7aise)_-001.jpg
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (January 27 1756- December 5 1791), baptized as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, is probably one of the most well-known and highly regarded Classical-era composers recognized today. Born to Leopold and Anna Maria Mozart, Wolfgang was, from a very, very young age, trained to be a prolific composer and performer by his very accomplished musician father. While the matter is up for debate in many scholarly circles, his earliest known composition was written when Mozart was only five years old! Mozart also had a sister, Marie Anna (known as Nannerl), who was in many ways as talented and promising as her brother… unfortunately, as a woman of her time, Nannerl’s talents were not as celebrated as her brother’s. In their formative years, Nannerl and Wolfgang were taken on tours around Europe as a performing act, charming nobles with their talent and becoming somewhat like celebrities. These trips were hard and even dangerous for the family, as they fell ill quite frequently and were often travelling in discomfort for great distances. Wolfgang’s growing talents were undeniable, and as he was taken around Europe he was met by many talented composers such as Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach (prolific composer and son of Johann Sebastian Bach, the famous Baroque composer). His first symphony was composed when Mozart was only eight years old, and after hearing Gregario Allegri’s Misere performed only twice in the Sistine Chapel, the young composer transcribed the whole work – from memory alone! – and thus created an unauthorized copy of some very secret and special Vatican property. At 14 Mozart’s first opera was performed (Mitridate, re di Ponto) and led to further operatic commissions and successes.
Eventually, Mozart found employment in the Salzburg court of Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo. While employed here, Mozart composed some of his most celebrated compositions, including his violin and piano concerti. Still, the young composer was not entirely satisfied with this work – the pay was low, and there was little opportunity for him to compose more operas, on which he was particularly keen. While he would leave Salzburg to find better employment, there was no luck, and in 1777 Mozart resigned from his position and travelled around Europe to find something more suitable for him. He looked through Mannheim, Munich, Paris, and many other places, but could not find anything that would work for him, so the young composer returned to Salzburg as a court organist and concertmaster, despite his displeasure with the city.
In March of 1781, Mozart was summoned to Vienna for the celebrations of the ascension of Joseph II to the Austrian throne. Tensions with Mozart’s employer reached their peak when the Archbishop refused to allow Mozart to perform (for a sizeable fee) for the Countess Thun, and treated him in a way that Mozart felt was disproportionate to his gifts and abilities. When Mozart attempted to quit, he wasn’t allowed to. After a month, Mozart was given, quite literally, the “boot” by the Archbishop’s steward, and Mozart moved to Vienna as a freelance composer and performer. At the same time, Mozart’s relationship with his father grew increasingly strained – the young composer wished to move to Vienna, his father begged him to reconcile with his employer. At the culmination of Mozart’s dismissal, he found himself free from both his employer, and freer from the wishes of his father.
Mozart quickly grew a reputation in Vienna as a fabulous musician and composer. He also met and married Constanze Weber, who his father was not entirely in favor of, and who Mozart had great difficulty with obtaining permission to marry. They married the day before his letter of consent arrived in the mail! Of their six children, only two survived infancy, Karl Thomas Mozart, and Franz Xavier Wolfgang Mozart. Over the years, Mozart discovered the great Baroque composers, J.S. Bach and George Handel, who later inspired his musical language and style. Mozart also met the great Joseph Haydn, and the two became good friends. Mozart dedicated six quartets to Haydn, and Haydn greatly admired his skill – as he told Leopold Mozart, “I tell you before God, and as an honest man, your son is the greatest composer known to me by person and repute, he has taste and what is more the greatest skill in composition.”
As Mozart’s fame and stature grew around Vienna, he also began to live very comfortably. Children were sent to expensive schools, the family kept servants and lived in the poshest of apartments. Unfortunately, with this extravagance the Mozart family put very little aside for the future, and did little to prepare themselves for coming hardships. In 1784, Mozart also became a Freemason, and it played a large part in Mozart’s social and working life.
While Mozart had composed several operas over the years, it wasn’t until his collaboration with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte that his operatic career really took off. First, in 1786 The Marriage of Figaro was a great success in its Viennese premiere, and in 1787 the pair did their second collaboration, Don Giovanni, an opera based on the famous character of Don Juan, an immoral lothario who ruins hearts and lives, and pays the ultimate price. Both The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni are still played in opera houses around the world to this day.
In 1787, Mozart became the chamber composer of Emperor Joseph II. This was only a part-time appointment, but the Emperor hoped it would keep the composer and his talents in Vienna. That same year, Ludwig van Beethoven came to Vienna in the hopes of studying with Mozart, though that unfortunately never came to fruition.
At the end of the 1780s, Mozart’s life started to take a turn for the worse. Less performing opportunities and subsequent money made their way to the composer – the Austro-Turkish War had negatively impacted the spending ability of the noblesse and Viennese musicians felt those ill effects. The Mozart family moved into the suburbs of Vienna and began to borrow more and more money to support their lifestyle – many letters begging for loans are still kept from the unfortunate composer. Mozart wrote less and less; only a few more symphonies and his final collaboration with da Ponte, Così fan tutte, premiered in 1790. Mozart travelled (in vain) to Leipzig, Berlin, Dresden, and more cities throughout Europe to find more opportunity and more income – sadly, nothing significant availed itself to him and his circumstances worsened further still.
In 1791, Mozart was very productive. In this year he composed some of his greatest works – the opera The Magic Flute, for instance, or his great clarinet concerto, his string quartets, and most notably, his unfinished Requiem. There is some evidence that his financial situation was beginning to improve. And then, Mozart became sick. He was in Prague for the premier of his opera La clemenza di Tito, and his health simply did not improve. He became bedridden, and while he was nursed by family and doctors, and attempted to finish his Requiem. On December 5th, 1791, Mozart passed away from his illness. As was the Viennese custom, Mozart was buried in a “common grave with few to no mourners in attendance. This “common grave” simply means that it was an individual grave for a “common person,” not a member of the nobility, and would be excavated within a decade for re-use. The cause of Mozart’s death is unknown, but many have speculated that it could have been a fever, infection, or even mercury poisoning.
Though Mozart’s funeral was small and simple, many memorial concerts and services were held in Vienna as well as Prague, and following his passing, Mozart’s stature rose dramatically, and many of his works were performed in his memory throughout Europe after his death. One of the more popular modern works on the life of Mozart is the movie Amadeus (1984), in which Mozart is shown as a bawdy and frustrating young genius who is eventually destroyed by another composer of the time, Antonio Salieri. This is a great fictionalization of the great composer’s life, and not indicative of his personality, history, habits and relationships.

About the librettist

Lorenzo da Ponte (March 10 1749- August 17 1838), was born Emanuele Conegliano to the widower Geronimo Conegliano who, in order to remarry, converted himself to Roman Catholicism and took a new name for his family. Thus, Emanuele became known as Lorenzo Da Ponte. Young Lorenzo took to schooling and, in 1770 took Minor Orders and became a Professor of Literature, and then became an ordained priest in 1773. At this point, Da Ponte began to write poetry, and moved to Venice to live as a teacher of languages. Although Da Ponte was a priest, he was not a very chaste man, and in 1779 was banished from Venice for (allegedly) living in and arranging the entertainments of a brothel!
Da Ponte then moved to Gorizia, Austria, and was engaged as a writer there. Soon after Da Ponte found work translating libretti at a theatre, and also was introduced to the then-popular composer, Antonio Salieri. With his help, Da Ponte became the librettist of the Italian Theatre in Vienna. He also found a patron, Raimund Wetzlar von Plankenstern, who was also the benefactor of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and as court librettist Da Ponte would often collaborate with composers such as Mozart and Salieri. All of the librettist’s works were adaptations of pre-existing plots, with the exception of a few such as Cosi fan tutte. Many, such as The Marriage of Figaro, were adapted and molded to suit the purposes of the composer, occasion and casting needs.
After the death of Austrian Emperor Joseph II in 1790, Da Ponte lost his patron, and was dismissed from the Imperial Service in 1791. As he could still not return to Venice, Da Ponte then travelled to London and, in 1803, became the librettist of the King’s Theatre, until he fled to the United States in 1805 due to debt and bankruptcy. In America, Da Ponte first lived in New York, then Pennsylvania, where he ran a grocery store and gave lessons in Italian. Once returned to New York, Da Ponte opened a bookstore, and eventually became the first professor of Italian literature at Columbia College. He also introduced opera to New York, and produced a performance of Don Giovanni in 1825. He also introduced the music of Gioachino Rossini to America. In 1828, at the then-grand age of 79, Da Ponte became a U.S. citizen, and at 84 he founded the New York Opera Company, which only lasted two seasons before being disbanded (it was, however, the predecessor of both the New York Academy of Music and the New York Metropolitan Opera.)
Da Ponte died in 1838 in New York, and an enormous funeral was held for him in St Patrick’s Cathedral. His collaborations with Mozart still are played around the world to this day.
Musical Excerpts

  • Clip #1: The Marriage of Figaro Overture
This short work, without any singing, is called an “overture,” or the opening of the work. Its main purpose is to set the tone of the opera, and contained the main theme of the opera. What does this work say to you about the opera? Is it a comedy, tragedy?

  • Clip #2: Bass aria, Non più andrai
This is an aria written for the bass voice of Figaro. The misbehaving Cherubino, having been caught in the bedroom of Susanna by the Count (who cannot punish him as he was there himself under suspicious pretence), is to be sent away to the Count’s military regiment in Seville. In this aria, Figaro is teasing the young man, making fun of his future and how different it will be from the life of leisure he has enjoyed in court. Can you hear any of the military-sounding themes written into this piece as Figaro sings about being in the military?

  • Clip #2: Mezzo-Soprano aria, Voi che sapete
This aria, sung by the mezzo-soprano Cherubino, is the love song written by him (as it is a pants role, this character is played by a woman, dressed as a man) for the Countess. Translated, the lyrics say, “You who know what love is, women, see whether it's in my heart/ What I am experiencing I will tell you, It is new to me and I do not understand it/ I have a feeling full of desire, that now, is both pleasure and suffering/ At first frost, then I feel the soul burning, And in a moment I'm freezing again./ Seek a blessing outside myself, I do not know how to hold it, I do not know what it is./ I sigh and moan without meaning to, Throb and tremble without knowing/ I find no peace both night or day, But even still, I like to languish/ You who know what love is, Women, see whether it's in my heart.”
How does the music show what Cherubino is singing about? Does it reflect the mood of the singer, his hopes and dreams? Why do you think Mozart decided to make this character a woman’s role?

About the Production


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