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Mozart Minute: Figaro Frenzy

image of a portrait of Mozart in which he wears a bright red coat
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Catch The Mozart Minute every Friday at noon during the Amadeus Deli, and listen to The Mozart Minute podcast at wosu.org/podcasts.

This episode of The Mozart Minute was previously published on May 29, 2015 at www.wosu.org/classical101.

More than 200 years after its premiere, Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro remains one of the best-loved comic operas in the repertoire. And if you think people like Figaro today, you should have seen - and heard - the audiences in Mozart's day.

Mozart's father, Leopold Mozart, had fears about the opera's premiere.  Leopold wrote his daughter, Nannerl, on April 28, 1786 that "It will be surprising if (the premire) is a success, for I know that very powerful cabals have ranged themselves against your brother. Salieri and all his supporters will again try to move heaven and earth to down his opera." (The Letters of Mozart and His Family, trans. Emily Anderson.)

The reason? According to Leopold, "... it is on account of the very great reputation which your brother's exceptional talent and ability have won for him that so many people are plotting against him."

There was certainly a lot of noise at the May 1 premiere of Figaro. Some of the arias were applauded so heavily that they were repeated. Such was the case at the four additional Vienna performances between the premiere and July 11, when a telling review appeared in a Viennese newspaper.

"It (the general audience) heard many a bravo from unbiased connoisseurs, but obstreperous louts in the uppermost storey exerted their hired lungs with all their might to deafen singers and audience alike with their St! and Pst!. [...] But now, after several performances, one would be subscribing either to the cabal or to tastelessness if one were to maintain that Herr Mozart's music is anything but a masterpiece of art." (Otto Erich Deutsch, Mozart: A Documentary Biography, trans. Eric Blom, Peter Branscombe and Jeremy Noble.)

The opera's several successful performances in Prague prompted the author of a Dec. 12 review to write, "No piece ... has ever caused such a sensation as the Italian opera The Marriage of Figaro." And adding to the praise lavished upon the opera was Anton Daniel Breicha's panegyric to Mozart the dramatist:

***

When feverish anguish inspires thy strain
We freeze with compassion and horror; again
When it's playful and gay we revive with delight;
When plaintive and gloomy, like sounds of the tomb,
Thy mournfullest music enwraps us in gloom;
The cords of our hearts with thy music unite.

(Deutsch Mozart: A Documentary Biography, trans. Eric Blom, Peter Branscombe and Jeremy Noble.)

This episode of The Mozart Minute was originally published on May 29, 2015 at www.wosu.org/classical101.

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.