The Culture of Opera Buffa in Mozart's Vienna: A Poetics of Entertainment

By Mary Hunter | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

THEATRICAL CONVERSATIONS

To the Burgtheater audience watching Da Ponte and Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro in the spring of 1786, the spectacle of Susanna fending off the unwelcome advances of the Count and finally achieving happiness with Figaro would have seemed quite familiar, notwithstanding the many and well-advertised novelties of the work.1 Many, if not most, audience members would have known Le mariage de Figaro, the play by Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais on which the opera is based, as by the end of 1785 it had been published in German translation and was in any case something of a cause célèbre.2 The audience could also have recognized Figaro himself and the Count and Countess Almaviva from Petrosellini and Paisiello's Il barbiere di Siviglia, a setting of the first play in Beaumarchais's trilogy, which had enjoyed its thirty-eighth performance at the Burgtheater only three months before the premiere of Figaro.3 Regulars at the Burgtheater would also have recognized the more general theme of a virtuous lowerclass woman importuned by a nobleman and eventually allowed to return to her proper lover. This theme was quite frequently played out on the Burgtheater stage; in May 1786 its most recent instantiations had been Bertati and Bianchi's La villanella rapita, for which Mozart wrote two insertion ensembles,4 and Sarti's Fra i due litiganti, played only five days before Figaro. Three months after the premiere of Figaro, but before it had finished its first run,5 the importuning-nobleman theme was replayed in Bertati and Sarti's I finti eredi, whose Viennese version included an inserted aria by Francesco Piticchio6 in which the lower-class lover, Pierotto, ex

____________________
1
In the preamble to the 1786 libretto, Da Ponte describes Le nozze di Figaro as a “quasi nuovo genere di spettacolo.” Warburton, Libretti, vol. 3, The Mozart–Da Ponte Operas, p. 6.
2
Daniel Heartz, “From Beaumarchais to Da Ponte,” in Mozart's Operas, edited, with contributing essays, by Thomas Bauman (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990) p. 108, notes that Joseph II allowed a German translation of the play to be published even as he was forbidding a staged production by Schikaneder's troupe. See also Tim Carter, W. A. Mozart: “Le nozze di Figaro” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987) p. 35.
3
Michtner, DAB, p. 484, lists the most recent Burgtheater performance of Paisiello's opera before the May 1 premiere of Figaro as occurring on Feb. 1, 1786.
4
It played between November 1785 and February 17, 1786. Dates are from Michtner, DAB, p. 484.
5
Figaro premiered on May 1, 1786, and had eight more performances between then and November 18. I finti eredi premiered on August 1 and had seven more performances between then and December 8 (Michtner, DAB, pp. 485–89).
6
Piticchio seems to have been resident in Vienna from 1786 to 1791. (s.v. “Piticchio” in NGO). Da Ponte wrote one complete libretto, Il Bertoldo, for him, which had eight performances in 1787. Da Ponte described him as “a man of little intelligence and imperceptible (scarsissima) musical talent,” a judgment contrasting sharply with Gerber's, who found his music “passionate” and interesting. The aria in question is competent but not passionate.

-3-

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