May 2, 1886
It was on May I, 1786, that The Marriage of Figaro first came across the footlights, and today. April 30, 1886, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of this masterpiece's premiere. Inevitably, we look back to the time in which such a work could originate, and then cast a critical glance at the present, which still -- or, if you prefer -- only now enjoys the works of Mozart.
These general reflections we owe to an article, "Das Publikum in Zeit und Raum" [ The Public in Time and Space]1 by Richard Wagner. Among other matters it contains a detailed discussion of the precarious position of Mozart's works in Mozart's own time and of their no less precarious position in ours. I pass some of it along herewith.
Calling attention initially to the fate of works for the musical theater as determined by the strong fluctuations of public taste, Wagner says: "In Mozart's operas we can plainly see that what raised them above their own time placed them in the curiously disadvantageous position of going on to live outside it, deprived of the social circumstances that determine their conception and performance. All other works by composers of Italian opera were spared this curious destiny. None survived the time to which alone it belonged and from which it sprang. With The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni it was otherwise. They could not be regarded as tailored only to the requirements of a few Italian opera seasons. The stamp of immortality was impressed upon them. Immortality! -- a fateful votive offering! To what a torturous existence is the departed soul of such a masterpiece not exposed when dragged forth by a modern theater medium for the edification of a latter-day public! Attending a performance of The Marriage of Figaro or Don Giovanni today. would we not wish for the work that it might once have lived completely and fully, leaving us its memory as a lovely saga, instead of which we see it forced into a life utterly alien to it like a martyr resurrected for further maltreatment. In these works of Mozart are united the elements of the full bloom of Italian musical taste with the spatial circumstances of the Italian opera house to form an utterly definitive idiom, beautifully and amiably expressing the spirit of the closing years of the last century. Wrenched from their native environment, and transplanted to our own time and circumstances, the eternal element in these artistic creations suffers a distortion that we vainly seek to correct through new disguises and conversions of their realistic form."