Waiting for Figaro

Mozart

Information

W.A. Mozart - Waiting for Figaro (The Impresario, The Deluded Bridegroom and The Cairo Goose)

Libretti by Gottlieb Stephanie the Younger anonymous, and Giambattista Varesco
English translations by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray

Cast

Mr Frank, an impresario Bryan Pilkington
Angel, his assistant director, who reluctantly sings
Pulcherio, a misogynist, and more willingly
Calandrino, Don Pippo's nephew, in love with Lavina
Mark Wilde
Madame Goldentrill, a fading opera star, auditioning for
Bettina, a servant, but eventually gets to sing
Celidora, daughter of Don Pippo
Ilona Domnich
Mlle Warblewell, a rising opera star, also auditioning for
Bettina, but ends up as
Lavina, friend of Celidora
Betsabée Haas
a Work Experience Girl, with ambitions to sing
Eugenia, a noblewoman, but given the role of
Auretta, chambermaid to the absent Donna Pantea
Amanda Pitt
New Tenor, delighted to be asked to sing
Don Asdrubale, suitor to Eugenia, as well as
Biondello, wealthy gentleman from Ripasecca, in love with Celidora
Benjamin Hulett
Bluff, an impoverished stage-manager, who is made to sing
Bocconio, a rich fool, and also
Don Pippo, Marquis of Ripasecca, another rich fool
Mark Saberton
Chichibio, major-domo to Don Pippo Thomas Guthrie
   
Conductor Edward Gardner
Directors Thomas Guthrie, Jeremy Gray
Policemen and guards of the tower: Rosie Anderson, Jessica Beecham, Morag Crowther, Jennifer French, Anne Hichens, Caroline Kennedy, Andrew Hichens, Alex Millar, Alan Poppleton, Mike Probert, Damian Riddle
Orchestra Andrea Morris, Jane Gordon, Rebecca Rule, Sarah Moffat, Wiebke Thormahlen, Oliver Sandig violin; Esther van der Eijk, Robin Ashwell viola; Joseph Crouch, Henryk Persson 'cello; Roger McCann bass;Graham O'Sullivan, Ule Torssander flute; Hannah McLaughlin oboe; Zoe Shevlin, Kate Walpole bassoon;

 

Synopsis

The Impresario and The Deluded Bridegroom
The Impresario Frank (speaking part) is anxious because music for a forthcoming performance of the Marriage of Figaro has not arrived, and rehearsals need to commence. When the music is delivered, they discover that an alternative has been supplied: The Deluded Bridegroom. Their deliberations are interrupted by the arrival of Madame Goldentrill (booked by Angel) who has come to audition, followed quickly by Miss Warblewell (booked by Frank). Both women sing their audition pieces, and take a firm dislike to each other. The company starts to rehearse the music from The Deluded Bridegroom, and in the opening quartet both new sopranos have to share the role of the servant Bettina, a situation which can only add to their rift. Meanwhile, a Work Experience Girl - a student from the Academy - reminds Frank that she has also been promised a part, and sightreads her way through Eugenia's aria with great aplomb; a New Tenor, to whom the Work Experience Girl has taken a fancy, also shows off his musical skills as Don Asdrubale. A trio, "This is dreadful! Tribulation!" seems to echo Frank's own dilemma. The warring divas return and develop their feud, whilst Angel tries to calm them down and effect a truce. The plan to perform the Deluded Bridegroom comes to an abrupt end however, when Frank discovers that Mozart had never written more than four numbers. Examining the music parcel again they discover further music, for the Cairo Goose - with three soprano parts, and something for the tenors as well, everyone can be kept happy. Work Experience Girl and New Tenor slip away to practise their love scenes, whilst the remainder, joined by the director Bluff, celebrate the joys of music with some degree of equanimity.

In The Deluded Bridegroom a misunderstanding has separated the lovers Eugenia and Don Asdrubale. As Eugenia assumes the Don to be dead, she has been persuaded to marry the elderly, stupid, but very wealthy Bocconio, whom she has not seen. In the opening trio, Bocconio is teased about his wedding plans by the misogynist Pulcherio, the maid Bettina, and by Asdrubale, who in fact is his friend. Eugenia, like Laura in I due baroni complains about the poor reception she receives when she arrives at her fiancé's home. Pulcherio teases the betrothed couple. From later in the first act Asdrubale, who by now is being pursued by two other women, encounters Eugenia, causing consternation to themselves as well as to Bocconio.

The Cairo Goose
The old Marquis Don Pippo, who believes his absent wife Donna Pantea to be dead, has shut up his daughter Celidora and her companion Lavina in a tower. He intends to marry Lavina that very day, even though she pines for Calandrino, and he is forcing Celidora to marry Count Lionetto di Casavuoto instead of her lover Biondello. During the overture the chambermaid Auretta flirts with a sequence of tradesman to avoid paying their bills. In the opening duet she boasts of her coquettish arts whilst he lover Chichibio is miserable about them. They make up their quarrel during the course of the duet. In a recitative Don Pippo’s nephew Calandrino asks if his uncle is still asleep. Chichibio goes off to find out, and Calandrino flirts with Auretta. They notice that Chichibio has seen their embrace; Calandrino pretends to be in the middle of an anecdote: Like this they stood caressing, Apollo and Daphne…Auretta sings a teasing aria about jealousy and Chichibio complains that beautiful women, despite their insistence to the contrary, are rarely faithful. However, Biondello has a wager with Don Pippo: if he can rescue Celidora within a year of her incarceration her hand will be his reward. It is the eve of the anniversary of this wager; the marquis is confident that Biondello’s rescue plans are failing and sings a jolly buffo aria about his forthcoming wedding. Later Biondello sings that true love, with a little help from Cupid and Venus, will win him the wager, and looks forward to Don Pippo’s fury at his success. The two girls and their lovers sing a moving quartet, Auretta and Chichibio discuss their role in the rescue and workmen arrive to build a bridge. Auretta and Chichibio re-appear, panic-stricken as they have lost sight of Don Pippo, who indeed soon appears with a chorus of policemen and guards. The girls make lame excuses for being on the balcony but he is furious. The lovers are defiant but afraid, and the act ends with the assembled company being marched off to prison.

The rest of the story
In Act II a ship arrives at Ripasecca carrying Donna Pantea, wife of Don Pippo, who was believed dead. Disguised, she is carrying a large mechanical goose, which she says is from Cairo. Don Pippo is fascinated by the goose, particularly when he is tld that, if left alone at night in a walled garden, it will talk. In this way the goose – with Biondello in it – gets inside the tower garden. Pantea’s true identity is revealed, Pippo is humiliated and all the lovers are reunited.

Reviews

clarity, intimacy and communicative warmth...
The Oxford Times, 29 August 2002

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clarity, intimacy and communicative warmth...

The Oxford Times, 29 August 2002

The purple storm-clouds over Westonbirt School last week only unleashed their threatened deluge when the last chords of The Cairo Goose had sounded. Mozart thus proved that from some niche in Heaven he watches over his creations; he would presumably have drenched us earlier had Bampton Opera’s production Waiting for Figaro proved less than enchanting.

Fortunately, throughout this open-air extravaganza, directed jointly by Thomas Guthrie and Jeremy Gray, the singers and players did him brave service and, as a bonus, gave us the chance to listen to some Koechel numbers rarely heard.

The game-plan was to bracket Mozart’s abandoned opera-buffa torso The Deluded Bridegroom inside the four numbers written for The Impresario. Prima donna rivalries, singing competitions, lots of stage business fed into a plot whose dialogue was modernised in the now familiar style of Bampton’s tongue-in-cheek humour.

The aforesaid vanities were finally assuaged when, with the score of the Marriage of Figaro still lost in the post, the singers performed – faute de mieux – another Mozartian opera torso, the Cairo Goose.

The resulting high-jinks forged an ingenious armature to house some normally footloose Mozart numbers in which the musical craftsmanship rides high on a learning-curve: for, in Mozart’s career, the real Figaro lies in the near-offing.

Most ensembles, particularly the haunting penultimate trio of The Impresario, already dovetail that mature Mozartian balance between dramatic variety and unifying musical tactics. The cast was at its best in these.

Bampton has, it seems, evolved a kind of house-style for such occasions. The hallmark is clarity, intimacy and – a rarer achievement – a communicative warmth that embraces the listener and prompts much charity for passing flaws.

Of these there were, last Saturday, few enough Edward Gardner’s orchestra got off to a slow, thinnish start with The Impresario overture; Ilona Domnich and Betsabee Haas, as Madame Goldentrill and Mlle Warblewell, were allowed to posture too much; and Amanda Pitt, who sang her first, difficult aria with a conjuror’s ease, needed to assert more presence, and volume, in her spoken parts.

Still, with such names on the programme as Mark Wilde, Benjamin Hulett and Thomas Guthrie, replete with quality and character, the singing department could hardly go awry. Held at knife-point, I would (I think) award special medals first to Ilona Domnich, whose high-level squeaks in the final Impresario quartet sank to insignificance beside her luscious handling of her more impressive mezzo-work and impressive stage-presence; and second to Mark Saberton, now a familiar name in the Bampton cast-list, whose musical sure-footedness and subtle vocal colouring never fail him.

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Derek Jole

 

...a fresh revelation of genius.
The Independent 23 September 2002

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...a fresh revelation of genius.

The Independent 23 September 2002

Would we care about Mozart if we had only the fragments? To judge from Waiting for Figaro, Bampton Classical Opera's latest foray into rare repertoire, the answer is a resounding "Yes". Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario/The Rivals), part of a Mozart-Salieri twin divertissement mounted in Joseph II's Schonbrunn orangery in 1786, actually postdates Figaro. But to create an inspired evening's worth, latter-day impresario-translators Jeremy Gray and Gilly French, the brains behind Bampton's zany revels in the obscure, have wrapped The Impresario around two sets of 1783 fragments: an overture and four stunning buffo movements from Lo Sposo Deluso (The Deluded Bridegroom); and half a dozen arias/ensembles, if anything even more dazzling – and including a remarkable Septet finale – from the surviving first Act of L'Oca del Cairo (The Cairo Goose).

Peter Schreier has recorded the extracts; but encountering them live at St John's, Smith Square, archly semi-staged by Gray and Thomas Guthrie, was a fresh revelation of genius. Gray, like Mozart, has a nose for fun; as the light drew in, the evening's sheer joky enjoyment waxed mightily. Gray is the sharper director. In L'Oca del Cairo, a zany story about two girls pent up in a tower by a grizzly old rotter and pursued by two tenor lovers who rescue them, he uses Guthrie's notable onstage comic and vocal gifts to classic effect. Watching him, Mark Saberton (as the misery guts) and soprano Amanda Pitt is a bit like seeing The Beano recycled as opera. On form, it's a hoot.

Bampton, making its first metropolitan sortie, now has a new, and deserved, London following. But it wasn't just the funnies. The orchestra, conducted by Edward Gardner, was even more remarkable. Gardner marshals his period players with the assurance of his near namesake, John Eliot Gardiner, and distils more affection. The string tone was superb; everyone excelled. Horn glitches in L'Oca's overture were eclipsed by horn brilliance in Eugenia's aria from Sposo; Pitt, who mastered the role at Bampton's outdoor premiere, just lacked sufficient weight and tone (though not range).

Saberton capitalised on the St John's aircraft-hangar echo in Don Pippo's "Siano pronte alle gran nozze", whose number patter ("32...33") prefigures both Figaro and Don Giovanni. Betsabee Haas comfortably won the Impresario soprano contest over Ilona Domnich, despite the latter's lovely top notes. But the abiding memories are tenor Mark Wilde's "She's as pretty as a picture", slightly overweighted by orchestra; Gardner's glorious string accenting for the Sposo trio; and Gray's deftly staged finale, with chorus and trumpeting brass consigning the dastardly whole lot to the clink.

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Roderic Dunnett

 

rich and credible operatic entertainment
Music and Vision, September 2002

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rich and credible operatic entertainment

Music and Vision, September 2002

Bampton Classical Opera is an enterprising company whose main arenas are on the country house circuit in Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. They recently abandoned the pure air temporarily and brought one of their productions to the 'smoke' of London's St John's, Smith Square. Now in their tenth season, they have made a significant and valuable niche in the operatic world with their espousal of rarely performed eighteenth century operas. Whilst, inevitably, the odd exhumation has not brought into serious question the decent burial accorded by history, our knowledge and experience can only be enhanced by their enterprise. All power to their corporate elbow!

No possible musical doubts, however, arise over the present production, Waiting for Figaro, which offers their fortunate audiences some glorious mature Mozart which has very rarely seen the light of day in live performance. If this seems unthinkable, let me explain that Waiting for Figaro is an entertainment offering the music Mozart wrote for Der Schauspieldirektor, K486, Lo Sposo Deluso, K430/421a and L'Oca del Cairo, K422. Lo Sposo Deluso exists as only four extant musical numbers, and L'Oca del Cairo as a virtually complete, but extensively unorchestrated first act, so that, whilst recordings have brought us the music, they have been unperformable as operatic dramas.

That is, until now. The joint directors, Thomas Guthrie and Jeremy Gray have come up with an ingenious idea to make an evening's operatic experience that makes complete sense, and which allows us the invaluable experience of seeing how Mozart's handling of operatic drama was developing between Die Entführung and Figaro. It is a positively revelatory experience that mere listening or score-reading cannot provide.

Their solution, which perhaps owes something to Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos, is as simple as it is clever: take the music and basic 'luvvie' comedy of Die Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario), and re-write the scenario around a projected production of Figaro. The two prime donne, claws extended, audition with their over-the-top arias. But there is a slight technical problem. The Figaro score has not arrived. All spare copies have been assigned to more high-profile country house companies such as Glyndebourne and Garsington -- a nice bit of self-deprecating comedy.

So poor old Bampton is fobbed off with Lo Sposo Deluso (The Deluded Bridegroom).

Nil desperandum! We'll get on with rehearsing that. And so The Deluded Bridegroom is brought to the stage, albeit in rehearsal. Fine. But there's another problem: four glorious musical numbers, (and they are), do not an opera make. But what's this at the bottom of the parcel? Yes, you've guessed: L' Oca del Cairo (The Cairo Goose). End of part 1. Rehearsal over, operatic politics as much resolved as may be, to the concluding numbers of The Impresario. Part 2: a fully-staged performance of The Cairo Goose. Result: a full evening of rare Mozart.

What we were given was much, much more than a tantalising series of Mozart's abandoned offcuts; we were treated to a rich and credible operatic entertainment, and a deep insight into the creative mind of a genius.

In the revised scenario, the producers and company are 'waiting for Figaro'. In his own creative 1780s development, Mozart was also waiting for Figaro, or, rather, the polished ingenuity of a Da Ponte libretto to liberate his greatest inspirations. In the meantime, though, in these miniatures and fragments, we can glimpse the detail of his period of gestation and experience the journey of his work in progress.

What stands out most of all is the marvel of Mozart's characterisation and ensemble writing, so manifest in Figaro itself, of course, but often raised to a comparable level in these little-known scores. The finale of this surviving act of L'Oca, for example, is a marvel of intricacy and interaction of character, and there are several character studies that can be readily identified in their later and finished perfection in the Da Ponte operas. The early duet of the lovers, Chichibio and Auretta in L'Oca has Figaro and Susanna written all over it in musical style and interaction of character. What a tragedy that Mozart never saw fit to complete this tantalising work, with such a brilliant and performable act already virtually finished in all but the details of orchestration. Here, Erik Smith's seamless reconstruction was used.

The four surviving pieces of Lo Sposo are equally fine in themselves, but, of course much more difficult to perform credibly on stage. The overture, conceived in the manner of that to Die Entführung (fast-slow-fast with a direct link into the first vocal number), is a marvellous piece, with an absolutely ravishing slow central section in triple time. Buried treasure indeed.

As befits such music, the singers of Bampton opera are all fine ensemble players, striking sparks off each other, and clearly enjoying the often ridiculous fun of these pieces. Ilona Domnich and Betabée Haas relished the wonderfully silly vocal rivalry in The Impresario, the swooning portamenti of one's 'adagio, adagio!' vying with the other's 'allegro allegrissimo' with wonderful comic effect, and if this music was on the very edge of what they found technically possible, then that is probably the intended effect. I was reminded of Irving Berlin's take on this idea in 'Anything you can do I can do better'. These ladies delighted later in the more ingratiating writing accorded them in the other works.

Amanda Pitt is a real discovery; a fine singer and a wonderful comic character actress. Cast as a student on work experience in the re-vamped plot of The Impresario, she gave a delicious display of feminine wiles and cunning in manipulating the hapless management to her own ends. Her delightful and characterful assumption of Auretta in L'Oca makes me keen to see what she would make of Susanna and Despina in full-blown Da Ponte/Mozart.

The men had less opportunity to show off musically, but they all contributed well to a strong team, and, as I indicated, ensemble playing was the great strength of this cast.

An alert period band produced some lovely sounds. I was particularly taken with the mellifluous sounds of the 'authentic' clarinets. Small wonder that Mozart was to have such a love affair with the instrument. A couple more desks of strings would have provided a better overall balance, but Edward Gardner's conducting was a model of Mozartian style throughout, and gave much pleasure.

It is a long time since I relished an operatic experience so much, and we must be deeply grateful to Bampton Opera for allowing us to hear and see these pieces. I am now 'waiting for Figaro' to be performed again somewhere, and when I go, I feel I will experience it with a deeper understanding of the thought-processes that went into its creation.

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David Thompson

 

Programme notes

Waiting for Figaro - two abandoned operas and a singspiel

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Waiting for Figaro - two abandoned operas and a singspiel

After the enormous success of the singspiel Die Entführung aus dem Serail in July 1782 (despite the Emperor's famous quibble 'too many notes, my dear Mozart'), Mozart was on the lookout for a good Italian libretto. The director of the Imperial Court Theatre, Count Orsini-Rosenberg, had requested an 'opera buffa', but the hunt was to prove problematic. Recently married, Mozart was in the mood for further work in German, and toyed with the idea of Goldoni's Servant of Two Masters in translation. However Italian opera was clearly in vogue, and there were fine singers in Vienna, including the buffo bass, Francesco Benucci, who later was to create the roles of Figaro and Guglielmo. In May 1783, Mozart complained to his father 'I have looked through easily a hundred libretti – even more – single-handedly – but I have found scarcely a single one which pleases me'. He hoped to work with a certain Abbate da Ponte, but as he was already contracted to Mozart's great rival Antonio Salieri, it seemed unlikely that a new libretto would be forthcoming. In the end Mozart asked his father to contact Abbate Varesco in Salzburg, despite the negative reaction to his libretto for Idomeneo.

By June 1783, Varesco had sent a draft of L'oca del Cairo (The Cairo Goose). Mozart deemed this satisfactory but claimed the composer's prerogative to demand alterations as much as he wished because Varesco 'has not the slightest knowledge or experience of the theatre'. Over the next six months, Mozart worked extensively on Act I, but soon began to have doubts about the libretto and its dramatic potential. The main reason was the incarceration of the two girls in a tower until the last moments of the opera – Mozart thought the audience might tolerate the women singing from the ramparts for one act, but felt strongly that the second act needed to be set inside the tower itself to give them more freedom. But, more fundamentally, he did not approve of the whole idea of the goose – a kind of Trojan horse used to mount a rescue of the imprisoned girls – and only went along with the idea because it was approved by his father and Varesco, 'two men of greater penetration and judgment than I'. By February Mozart had laid the music aside, albeit with the intention of a temporary delay, having written the vocal parts and bass lines to most of the first act, with some indications of orchestrations: as it turned out neither L'oca nor its librettist were heard of again.

The substantial fragment which Mozart completed has received a number of orchestrations and completions. Erik Smith's, made for the Philips Complete Mozart Edition in 1991, refrains from adding any additional music (the libretto to the whole act survives complete) other than sufficient recitative to relate the story. Lacking an overture, the 45 minute work nevertheless stands up as a performable and coherent opera, and throws particular light on Mozart's progress towards Figaro. The character and relationship of the servants, the flirtatious Auretta and her at times bewildered lover, Chichibio, whose teasing duet opens the opera, anticipate very closely the mood and character of Susanna and Figaro, a similarity reinforced by their subsequent arias. Like Bocconio in Lo sposo deluso (and, for that matter, the barons in Cimarosa's I due baroni), the boorish Don Pippo does not reach the more humane and equivocal character of Count Almaviva, but provides a conventional and appealing comic focus to the plot, especially in the relish with which he looks forward to his wedding with Lavina (Trio: 'Preparations for my marriage, a double marriage!'). This, which begins as a solo aria before the introduction of the other voices, as well as the lovers' expressive quartet (reminiscent of the concluding Act II quartet in Die Entführung) and the extended episodic finale, all indicate that this was to be an ensemble-based opera, and Mozart's experiences in writing these were to stand in good service for his Da Ponte collaborations. The constantly varied finale, involving all seven singers and introducing a chorus of Pippo's henchmen to forestall the elopement, shows the composer's response to the dynamic conclusions of Cimarosa and the Italian school; with its many shifts of tempo, ensemble and mood put to brilliantly comic and dramatic effect, we see Mozart's new ability to control complex groupings of characters which he was to explore to the full in Figaro.

The performance history of L'oca del Cairo is interesting. It was given a concert performance at Frankfurt in 1860, and a staged performance to a French libretto in Paris in 1867, with music interspersed from Lo sposo deluso and some concert arias. It was staged in Italian at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in 1870, and there were a number of new versions made in the twentieth century. Recent significant staged versions were given in 1991 at Batignano, Italy (arranged by Stephen Oliver) and at Illinois (completed by Nicholas Temperley). Erik Smith's version was performed at Sao Paolo, Brazil, in 2001, Bampton having given its first public performance in 1994.

By the time the work was abandoned early in 1784, Mozart already had in his hands a further libretto, by 'an Italian poet here [in Vienna]'. Although hopefully attributed to Da Ponte by many scholars, it is more likely that Lo sposo deluso (The Deluded Bridegroom), an adaptation of a two-part intermezzo set by Cimarosa (as Le donne rivali) in Rome in 1780, must be considered to be by a Viennese author. Like L'oca, Lo sposo deluso conformed to Mozart's preference for seven characters, and thus expanded the typically five-character cast (as I due baroni) of Cimarosa's original. The subtitle La rivalità di tre donne per un solo amante (The rivalry of three women for a single lover) indicates a standard buffa theme of amorous intrigue and deception. The action is fast and entirely comic, with little opportunity for sentimentality or reflection but allowing great scope for lively ensemble, a challenge which Mozart was increasingly able to meet. A dating to 1784 is virtually proven by the availability of the singers Mozart had in mind and listed: amongst others, the great Benucci was intended for the 'rich and stupid' Bocconio, Francesco Bussani (later Bartolo and Antonio, the Commendatore and Masetto, Don Alfonso) was to be the misogynist Pulcherio, and the darling of Vienna, Nancy Storace (later Susanna), sister of the English composer Stephen, was to be the noble Eugenia: the fact that Mozart gives her married surname Fischer apparently indicates a date after May 1784 for the composition.

Mozart appears to have tackled the project with initial but short lived energy, composing a complex opening in which a cheerful three-part overture runs directly into an extended quartet ensemble, with significant and effective thematic links (he only wrote the wind parts for the first page, and the subsequent orchestration was made for a concert put on by Mozart's widow in 1797). A trio from late in Act I is fully scored, but two arias for Eugenia and Pulcherio have voice and bass parts only, with occasional hints of additional instrumentation. The missing orchestrations were made by Erik Smith in 1974.

Lo sposo deluso survives as a tantalising fragment of what could have become a great opera, one which, with its buffissima character, would surely have satisfied Viennese taste with alacrity. It is not known for certain why Mozart abandoned it, as there are no direct references to it in his correspondence. Like L'oca it appears that the libretto did not satisfy, and since May 1783 Mozart had set his heart on a collaboration with Lorenzo da Ponte. Nevertheless he continued to dabble with possibilities, composing a trio for Il regno delle Amazoni to words by Giuseppe Petroselli, and two notable ensembles to be inserted into Francesco Bianchi's opera La villanella rapita performed at the Burgtheater in Vienna on 28 November. By that time, however, as his letters show, he was already hard at work on Da Ponte's brilliant adaptation of Beaumarchais' controversial play Le marriage de Figaro.

Despite having at last found his ideal libretto, Mozart interrupted Figaro to write not only the great piano concertos K482, K488 and K491, but also the music for Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario), written between 18 January and 3 February 1786. Der Schauspieldirektor was an imperial commission from the Emperor Joseph II for an entertainment to be presented at a reception to celebrate the visit of Duke Albert of Sachsen-Teschen and the Archduchess Marie Christine (the Emperor's sister) on 7 February 1786 in the huge Orangery at Schönbrunn palace. The commission to Mozart, for which he was paid 50 ducats, was for what amounted to a Singspiel – a set of musical numbers to punctuate a comic play by Gottlieb Stephanie the Younger, who had previously written Die Entführung for Mozart. The evening's entertainment was completed with another work, this time an Italian opera buffa by Mozart's rival Salieri, Prima la musica poi le parole: Salieri's fee was 100 ducats.

The idea of the plot of Der Schauspieldirektor was said to have been given to Stephanie by the Emperor himself. The plot, not an original one, dealt, to Mozart's great appeal, with the difficulties of an impresario in assembling a theatrical company in Salzburg. The work proved immensely successful but ran the gamut of continual adaptation, being combined, for example, with Cimarosa's L'impresario in angustie for a production by Goethe in 1791, and rewritten in 1845 by Louis Schneider as Mozart and Schikaneder.

Some modern performances still present the pairing with Salieri's Prima la musica, but nearly always the lengthy and complex play of Stephanie is rewritten, and most non-singing roles are cut. Mozart only wrote five numbers, but each is masterful and very funny, and reveal the composer's mature grasp of his comic dramatic art at this critical stage of his career. A scintillating overture is one of Mozart's warmest and most energetic. Two rival sopranos are characterised in contrasting audition arias: Madame Goldentrill (originally Madame Herz) reveals both pathos and passion in her ariette, whilst the younger Mlle Warblewell (originally Mlle Silberklang) invites her love with coquettish directness. The comic heart of the piece lies in a delicious and episodic trio in which the tenor Angel attempts to calm the tempers of the rivals. Somehow a truce is effected, and the buffo singer Buff completes a lively, if slightly less inventive, quartet of reconciliation.

Three months after the première of Der Schauspieldirektor, came the triumphant first performance of Le nozze di Figaro, at the Burgtheater on 1 May. Mozart had at last the inestimable benefit of working with a librettist whose appreciation for drama, comedy and timing equalled his own. Nevertheless, the experience he had gained through these shorter projects was critical to the quality of Figaro, and its genius must justify the demise of both Goose and Bridegroom.


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