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Mozart's Contribution to Opera

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According to Burton Fisher, opera is a formal theatrical medium that expresses its dramatic essence by integrating its words and action with music. Like drama, opera embraces an entire spectrum of theatrical elements, such as dialogue, acting, costumes, scenery, and action, but it is the unity of all of these elements combined with music that defines the art form called opera (Fisher 14).

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (the full name was Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart) (27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791) was an Austrian composer, a representative of Viennese classicism. He is considered to be one of the most ingenious musicians in history. Mozart’s creative heritage contains more than 600 works: more than 50 symphonies, more than 19 operas, many instrumental concerts (including 27 piano concerts), 13 string quartets, 35 sonatas for violin, Requiem, and many other instrumental and choral works. Having been greatly influenced by Haydn, Mozart’s music became the pinnacle of the classical era by its purity of melody and form. He was an outstanding representative of the Viennese classical school. In his work, the opera was not the only musical genre. Amazing harmony is combined with rigorous, clear forms, which are typical for music of classical composers. The melody plays a dominant role as the primary means of expression and realization of artistic and creative means of works. Mozart’s melodies combine intonation of Austrian folk songs and melodic cantilena of Italian melodies.

According to Jeremy Siepmann, the world into which Mozart was born and in which he grew up, matured and died bore little resemblance to the perfect order and pervasive beauty of his music. It was time of rampant, often violent change, beset by wars and bloody revolutions, none of which he witnessed at first hand. It was small wonder then that the musical form which dominated the classical age of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven (the so-called  sonata form, which they nurtured and brought to its highest state) was fundamentally based on the alternation of stability and flux (Siepmann 6).

Mozart made a huge contribution to the development of the opera genre. He was its first significant reformer. Music became the basis of the opera for Mozart. In one of his letters to his father, Mozart wrote that poetry must be an obedient daughter of music. Mozart’s opera contains music and development of stage action.

The stylistic basis of Mozart’s operas is Viennese classicism. Its principles were changed in opera. It affected the melodic style, increased the role of the orchestra and methods of development, especially in large ensemble scenes and finals.

John Guinn and Les Stone stated that Mozart's career as an opera composer spanned over two decades, from Apollo etHyacinthus in 1767 to La cletrtenza di Tito in 1791. He composed works in most of the major opera genres of his day, including opera seria, opera huffa, and Singspiel. Moreover, he received commissions from diverse institutions, including the Archbishop's court in Salzburg, the ducal court in Milan, the Electoral court in Munich, the imperial court in Vienna, the Prague National Theater, and the private theater of Emanuel Schikaneder. Throughout his career, Mozart demonstrated remarkable mastery of styles and conventions popular at that time, but he regularly pushed the conventions to fit with new ideas of his own. His later works reveal the confident hand of a master dramatist balancing aria and ensemble, voice and orchestra, sectional form and thoroughly composed rhetoric, melodic inventiveness and motivic development. But his earlier works also often demonstrate adaptation rather than wholesale adoption of the established styles (Guinn & Stone 548).

Musical beginning is dominant in Mozart’s operas. Music is combined with the plot and the development of stage action. There are no clearly positive or negative characters in Mozart’s operas. All the characters evolve, interact, and change the motivation of their actions depending on the circumstances.

Julian Rushton stated that Mozart’s concern for singers was unusual. Possibly, he accommodated them better than other composers, but then he did most things better than other composers (Rushton 11).

The composer’s operas are characterized by the development of the plot. There are no false dance numbers hindering overall development activities. All recitatives have a pronounced dramatic character; they differ and are logically combined with the action moving.

Burton Fisher stated that Mozart became the first psychologist of opera, conveying mood, situation, and character through his ingenious musical inventions. He unmasked his characters and exposed their souls. His musical characterizations provided a truthful expression of their virtues, flaws, and profound human sentiments (Fisher 52).

According to Joan Accocella, Lorenzo Da Ponte, who wrote the librettos for The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Così Fan Tutte, has been a troubling item for Mozart scholars. Almost everyone agrees that Da Ponte supplied Mozart with better texts than the composer had ever worked with and that the operas the two men produced together are among the greatest in the international repertory. Nevertheless, Da Ponte's contribution has often been put down to mere cleverness, stage smarts – not art, not soul, not like Mozart (Acocella 1).

Joan Accocella wrote that the poet of the Italian opera actually spent little of his time writing original librettos. Opera in the eighteenth century was not the museum of old treasures that it is today. It was a popular art, more like our movies or television. Most of the operas produced were new or they were reworkings. These were the days before copyright law. The librettos of operas that had succeeded elsewhere were translated and adapted; their scores were replaced or retailored for new casts. The leading singers, not the composers, let alone the librettists, were best paid and most powerful people in the profession. If, as once happened to Da Ponte, a lead soprano wanted a mad scene inserted into a comic opera, because she had recently performed a mad scene in another opera and it had gone over very well, her wishes were accommodated. This meant a lot of donkey work: cutting, cobbling, or fixing on a short deadline. That, for the most part, was what Da Ponte did at the Burgtheater. Only in between did he write whole librettos. Soon after he took up his post, he met Mozart. Mozart was a celebrity, but he had never written an opera buffa. He longed to and he got Da Ponte to agree to write him a libretto. But Da Ponte was busy with his cut-and-paste jobs. What time he had for whole librettos he gave to well-known buffa composers, like Antonio Salieri, the court composer, and Vicente Martín y Soler, and not to beginners like Mozart. Eventually, however, the two men got back in touch, and after four years they produced The Marriage of Figaro (1786), Don Giovanni (1787), and Così Fan Tutte (1790). What Da Ponte brought to Mozart was, first of all, an immensely singable verse, which was also elegant, economical, and witty. He also created clear, strong plots and characters interesting enough to inspire and embody the drama of Mozart's music (Acocella 2).

Mozart’s creation made a whole era in the development of opera. Mozart mastered almost all his contemporary opera genre. The organic unity of drama, music and symphonic patterns, and personality of drama are typical for his mature operas. Considering the experience of Gluck, Mozart created own type of heroic drama in Idomeneo and The Marriage of Figaro. He had come to realistic musical comedy of characters on the basis of buffa opera. Mozart turned singspiel into a philosophical tale, containing educational ideas (The Magic Flute). The opera Don Giovanni differs by versatility of contrasts and the unusual fusion of opera and drama genre forms.

Mozart’s style differs by expressive intonation, plastic flexibility, cantilena, the wealth of melody, and the interpretation of the vocal and instrumental principles. Mozart made an enormous contribution to the development of sonata form. Mozart is characterized by a sense of tonal harmonic semantics and expressive possibilities of harmony (the use of the minor, chromaticism, interrupted speed, etc.). Texture of Mozart is varied by combinations of homophonic harmonic and polyphonic forms of synthesis.

One of the major innovations in Mozart's operas is action’s transfer of the dialogues in music (bands, duos and even in the aria). Earlier, the action took place in secco-recitatives, during which people were eating, talking, and playing cards in the boxes. They distracted only in order to hear virtuoso aria.

Mozart gave opera a form of grace and humanity. Furthermore, he deepened the shadows in order to emphasize more strongly the flash of wit and fun. He created a rare type of comedy in his works that can touch the listener to tears. It is still impossible to say exactly whether Mozart's Don Giovanni is a comedy or a tragedy.

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