Wednesday, 7 February 2018

WHAT RIVALRY? HERREN MOZART AND SALIERI JOIN FORCES TO MOCK MUSICAL VANITY IN HILARIOUS SINGSPIEL (TODAY IN MOZART HISTORY)

Mozart in 1786, the year "The Impresario" held it's private
debut at the Holy Roman Emperor's
Schönbrunn Palace on
the 7th of February.
As if the world needed more evidence that Mozart and Salieri were absolutely not mortal enemies (though at times, as is the case with any competitive duo) the occasional verbal assassinations (note: verbal is the only assassination relative to this dynamic pair), back-stabbery and one-upmanship would occur in an effort to further one’s position at court and fatten one’s wallet – Unraveling Musical Myths reminds the reader of the often unspoken"Der Schauspieldirektor” (The Impresario).

The 1786 comic singspiel composed by “Wolfie” at the direct command of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II that had Salieri and Mozart ‘dueling’ over the beauty of German singspiel with Italian Opera Buffa, as portrayed through two dueling divas.

Fans of the masterful film Amadeus will be undoubtedly familiar with the picture’s many liberties taken – however there are some documented truths in the film: Mozart was vulgar, oftentimes jealous and had a penchant for scatological humor. Salieri, according to many music historians, did indeed, on several occasions attempt to impede and suppress works by Mozart for wider recognition of his own – and that famous scene of Salieri witnessing soprano and love interest/pupil Katerina Magdalena Giuseppa Cavalieri sing her heart out to the tune of "Martern Aller Arten" ("Torture of all Kinds") from Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio where the aging maestro, reflecting back, confesses to his Priest:

"...there she stood…Showing off like the greedy songbird she was. Ten minutes of ghastly scales and arpeggios, whizzing up and down like fireworks at a fairground!” 

actually contained some truth as well, anecdotal as the movie presented the infamous scene. In fact, Mozart’s 1782 singspiel Die Entführung aus dem Serail (which Mozart had, in reality, not only cast Salieri’s prized pupil in the opera, but actually wrote the part of Konstanze specifically for her, to show off her vocal prowess and astonishing coloratura. Allegedly, she had never before showed such astonished skill under the hand of her mentor, Salieri. Yet there she stood, tall and proud on stage one-upping the teacher who didn’t believe she was quite ready for such an incredibly challenging role.

Salieri, 1786.
And that – the dazzling displays of vocal athletics, and the aforementioned one-upmanship of not only composers, preferred languages, and, in this instance, the overzealous vanity and egos of les chanteuses themselves, came to life before a private audience of 80 and the Emperor himself on this day at the the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna in 1786.

The plot, is decidedly simple enough - the arias selected, however - increasingly tempestuous as two highly skilled sopranos are pitted against one another during an audition each attempting to “out-sing” the other by one diva responding to the other’s with rapidly increasing vocal scale and coloratura technique -the duo even taking stabs at each other (written in the libretto) to announce the defeat of the other, whilst the self-styled “winner of the competition" facetiously sings "There tolls the hour of departure," only for the other to retort back with an unkind remark of her own, directed at on the other soprano's inexperience, thus claiming herself the victor in this brazen display of ego.

Below: the famous scene from Amadeus in which Salieri's pupil Cavalieri sings Mozart's "Martern Aller Arten" (sung in English -with a non-exact translation- for the benefit of American audiences):



The setup to the dueling divas begins at the theatre of Frank: an impresario and his cohort, the buffo singer (cleverly named “Buff"), request the two singers  try out for a spot in Frank’s new company. Both ladies scored a spot, so impressed were the judges – but alas, not all was kosher for either diva - each of whom, instead of celebrating what would have been a spot for only one singer, begin to quarrel over which singer will get “Top Billing” (aka the leading role) and, more importantly, who was the most deserving of the duo to earn a more handsome paycheck to rub in the other’s face. They then, unprompted, begin to belt out exceptionally difficult arias in order to further entice the judges into preferring one over the other. Abruptly, amidst all the beautiful chaos, emerges a frustrated tenor by the name of Vogelsang, who has had enough of such embarrassing antics by the clearly talented chanteuses, and intervenes, as the three break into a trio, singing the aria, "Ich bin die erste Sängerin" ("I am the prima donna").

Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II of
Austria commissioned the
competition between Mozart and
Salieri, securing it's premiere on this
7th day of February, 1786 at the
Ruler's Schönbrunn Palace in
Vienna.
It appears Vogelsang’s intervention had formed a truce, as the former duo-cum-trio becomes quartet, with all characters singing the ethereal "Jeder Künstler strebt nach Ehre" ("Every artist strives for glory").

As for the truce?

Equal star billing and two big, fat paycheques, of course.

Described as a “parody on the vanity of singers", the Emperor had Mozart perform The Impresario from one corner of the room in German, and on the other side of the room, Salieri performed his opera buffa, Prima la musicale e poi le parole (First the Music, then the Words), in the Italian tongue in what would prove to be a tounge-in-cheek back handed slap to the whole German vs. Italian language and style of music.

This is indeed notable, as aforementioned in the largely fictional “Amadeus”, several factual events seeped through – notably, the incessant quarelling over German language Opera versus Italian – a subject long debated at the Imperial Court and across Europe at the time.

Joseph’s clever commission would prove, to humorous effect, the pedantic nature of operatic music in-fighting, and, perhaps, allowed some pause for both Mozart and Salieri’s unconventional familiarity with one another to be taken with a side of jest and a heavy dose of the damaging reality of overzealous egos and unbridled competitiveness.

Listen below to excerpts from the singspiel.(in separate recordings) beginning with with the aria “Da schlägt des Abschieds Stunde” ("There tolls the hour of departure”) sung by the character Madame Herz under Hungarian soprano Magda Nador (as seen in the video below), followed by Kiwi Soprano Kiri Te Kanawa singing the rondo in the role of one Madame Silberklang: "Bester Jüngling" ("Dearest Youth") in response (heard here), ending with a trio of compromise prompted by one fed-up tenor: “Ich bin die erste Sängerin ("I am the prima donna") which can be heard here: Edita Gruberova, Kiri Te Kanawa, Uwe Heillmann trio.




DISCOVER MORE:

  • See and listen to the full singspiel here, with original libretto intact (modern performances completely replace the lyrics to suit modern concerns and fancies).
-Rose.

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