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Mozart

and Opera
Dr. Lara Housez
School of the Arts
McMaster University

Content

What is opera?
18th-Century Opera
The Marriage of Figaro
Act I, Cosa sento
Characters
Action
Word and music relationships
Contrasting melodies

Other Classical operas

What is opera?
= A staged entertainment, usually sung from
beginning to end, featuring music, drama, poetry,
the visual arts, and sometimes dance
Elements of opera
Recitative: speech-like; emphasis on text
Aria: lyrical, melodic, smooth; emphasis on music
Example of a recitative + aria: Mozarts Le nozze di
Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), Sullaria

Duets (2 singers), trios (3), quartets (4),


quintets (5), sextets (6), choruses, etc.

th
18 -Century Opera
In the early 18th century, several subgenres of opera
coexisted. Composers and librettists were expected
to adhere to the conventions of each type:
Opera buffa: Italian opera about believable, everyday
characters rather than mythical or historical [igures
Opera seria: Italian opera on serious subjects, typically
consisting of alternating recitatives and da capo arias
Opra comique: French opera, usually comic, with
spoken dialogue
Singspiel: German opera, usually comic, with spoken
dialogue
Zarzuela: Spanish opera with spoken dialogue

In the late 18th century, composers and


librettists began blending elements of the
various operatic subgenres. Mozart, for
instance, dispensed with da capo arias,
which broke up the dramatic [low
Enlightenment thinking in[luenced opera:
plots related to real life and social reform
Video: History of 18th-Century Opera

Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage


of Figaro) (1786)
Opera in Italian in 4 acts
Libretto by Lorenzo da
Ponte (also later with
Mozart: Don Giovanni
and Cos fan tutti)
Based on a play by
French dramatist Pierre
Beaumarchais (1784)

Premiered in Vienna, Austria in 1786


Successful reception; has since become a
cornerstone of modern operatic repertoire
Dramatic contrasts, modulations, sudden
contrasts
Believable characters, identi[iable, not mythical
or historical

Act I, Cosa sento (I Heard That)


CHARACTERS
Count Almaviva (baritone): Married to
Countess Rosina Almaviva (soprano)
Susanna (soprano): The countesss maid,
engaged to marry Figaro (bass), the Counts
manservant
Basilio (tenor): Court music teacher and
meddling gossip
Cherubino (soprano, trouser role): The
Counts page boy; he is present but does not
sing in Cosa sento

ACTION
Cherubino goes to Susanna to ask for help and
hides behind a chair when the Count arrives
Count tries to seduce Susanna, but is
interrupted by Basilio
Count tries to hide behind same chair as
Cherubino; Cherubino slips into seat, hides
beneath dress
Basilio tells Susanna about Cherubinos
interest in Countess, which is overheard by
Count
Outraged, Count sings Cosa sento (I Heard
That)

ACTION CONTINUED

Basilio backtracks and apologizes


Count is determined to banish Cherubino
from court
Tells Susanna and Basilio about his recent
encounter with Cherubino and describes
how he had discovered him under a table by
lifting the tablecloth
Count illustrates this by lifting the dress off
the chair only to [ind Cherubino cringing
before him, hiding yet again

Count Almaviva, outraged, uncovers Cherubino, hiding beneath


dress draped over chair. Basilio (left) is delighted; Susanna (right)
is horri[ied. Character of young man Cherubino always performed
by woman dressed as man.
Read text/lyrics and play video

Word-Music Relationships in
Cosa sento
Words and music unite to create suspense
and humor
Mozart captures essence of each characters
predicament quickly changing emotions
Count: outrage to astonishment
Basilio: embarrassment to triumph
Susanna: increasingly humiliated

Achieved by using different melodies and


orchestration

Different emotion states = different melodies


Count's opening theme: slow, rising line =
determination (0:00)
Basilios: whiny and hesitant descending line =
embarrassment (1:34)
Susanna: shaking up and down = agitation
(1:43)
Count describing his encounter with Cherubino:
accompanied recitative (2:12)
The sequence of dramatic events is suggestive of
the rondo (ABACA), as certain elements of the trio
repeat

Other Classical operas


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Don Giovanni (1787)
Cos fan tutte (1790)
The Magic Flute (Die Zauber=lte, 1791)
Christoph Willibald Gluck (17141787)
Orfeo ed Euridice (1762)
Alceste (1767)

For Tuesday
Read: pp. 224-232
Listen: CD 3, track 2 (William Billings,
Chester)