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Classical 101

Mozart Minute: Singer Troubles

Mozart's phenomenal musical gifts certainly helped him become one of the finest opera composers the world has ever known. But Mozart, the genius composer, drew upon much more than musical chops when working to bring about performances of his operas. Enter Mozart the social man about town, the bridge-builder, the genius at collaborating with that very special breed of performing musician: the opera singer. As a composer, Mozart was obliged to work with the singers who created on stage the roles he composed on paper. No easy task. Singers depend on an instrument invisible to the naked eye but packaged in, ideally, a physique bursting with charisma. Then the singer opens his or her mouth and, again ideally, out pours a siren song from which even the strongest-willed Odysseus could not escape. Beauty, charisma, loads of esoteric talent - one can see how a singer might fall in love, metaphorically speaking, with his or her own reflection. Pity the composer the success of whose opera depends on critiquing that. And judging from Mozart's letters, the composer did have his crosses to bear with at least one of the singers cast in principal roles for the premiere of Idomeneo. On November 15, 1780, Mozart wrote to his father of his travails with Vincenzo dal Prato, the countertenor who created the role of Idamante. "... to my molto amato castrato dal Prato I shall have to teach the whole opera. he has no notion how to sing a cadenza effectively, and his voice is so uneven! He is only engaged for a year and at the end of that time, next September, Count Seeau will get somebody else." Several years earlier, after the premiere of Mozart's opera Lucio Silla, Mo