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Have You Ever Looked At Opera This Way?

There are many similarities in plot and differences in emotions  between two operas composed by the same composers: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. During the years of 1786 and 1787, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote two of his three famous Italian opera buffa operas, Don Giovanni and Le Nozze di Figaro (Cosi fan tutte being the third). Don Giovanni, or Il Dissoluto Punito (The Rake Punished), was first premiered on Oct. 29, 1787 by the Prague Italian Opera in the Teatro di Praga. Teatro di Praga is now called the Estates Theatre. The libretto, written by Lorenzo da Ponte, was called drama giocoso (a jocular drama). Basically, what this was was a name for serious operas with a touch of comedy in them. Many philosophers have written essay on the character of Don Giovanni. E.T.A. Hoffmann wrote a short story called "Don Juan", in which the narrator gets to meet Donna Anna. She tells him that Don Giovanni is an "aesthetic hero rebelling against God and society. 

Le Nozze di Figaro, written in 1786, is also about a noble womanizer. Unlike Don Giovanni, who was a bachelor, Count Almaviva is a married man. The libretto was written by Lorenzo da Ponte, who wrote the libretto based on a stage comedy by Pierre Beaumarchairs. La Folle joureue, ou le Mariage de Figaro (1784). Beaumarchais's Marriage of Figaro was first banned in Vienna because of its “lack of moral restraint”. Despite all of this, da Ponte managed to receive an approval for turning it into an operatic version from an official. Le Nozze di Figaro was the first opera written by Mozart in collaboration with Lorenzo da Ponte. 

The arias in the two operas sometimes have the same mood, but the music composed by Mozart depicting it is different. For example, the Countess Almaviva from Le Nozze di Figaro and Donna Elvira from Don Giovanni both have an aria towards the end of the opera where they express their love towards the men who are womanizers and don’t care very much about them. “Mi Tradi” in Act II Scene II, for Donna Elvira; and “Dove sono” in Act III Scene VIII, for Countess Almaviva. In “Mi Tradi”, Donna Elvira talks about how much she is hurt by Don Giovanni, and yet she still loves him and feels bad for him. Her aria has quick 16th notes “whizzing up and down”. This musical ornament continues throughout the whole aria. These scales are demonstrating Elvira’s mixed moods during this time. In “Dove sono”, the aria is slow and calm, just like the countess herself. She is very soft as a personality in The Marriage of Figaro, unlike her character during Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Because of her current soft personality, Figaro and Susanna are the ones who are doing all of the thinking and acting.

The synopsis’ of the two operas have a similar turn of events. Regarding the servants and masters of both stories, it was very common for the servant to dress as their master and the master to dress as their servant. Leporello was persuaded by Don Giovanni to dress as Giovanni while Susanna and Rosina switched their dresses as well. The purpose of both dress switches was to fool characters of the opposite sex. For Don Giovanni and Leporello, these two characters were Donna Elvira and her chambermaid. For Susanna and the Countess, the characters were Figaro and the count. 

The life events happening to the composer during the time affect his operas. While writing Don Giovanni, Mozart spent a lot of time with the worldwide known womanizer Giacomo Casanova. He was most likely the prototype Mozart used for Don Giovanni. The very first time Casanova’s involvement had been suggested was in 1876, by Alfred Meissner. Meissner's grandfather was a confident of the musicians performing in the premiere of Don Giovanni in Prague. He published his suggestion in a book called “Rococo Bilder”. he stated that Casanova was present during rehearsals of Don Giovanni in October. During this time, Mozart hadn’t even finished the opera and the enraged musicians locked Mozart in a room claiming that they would not let him out until he finished the opera. Casanover persuaded them to free the composer, and Mozart completed the overture that night. Although premiered in Vienna for the first time, Figaro was written in Prague in 1786.  The orchestra and rich music lovers paid for Mozart’s visit so he could see a remake production of Figaro. He arrived on January 11, 1787 in Prague, and gave a concert for his own profit on January 19th. The famous Symphony in D Major, K. 504 (it is now called the “Prague” symphony) premiered then too.

Although being both opera buffs, Le Nozze di Figaro has more of a happy nature to it. Of course the issues faced by the main characters in Figaro were at some point in human history valid. But despite all of this, the audience knows that everything will work out for them. In Don Giovanni, part of the audience is rooting for Don Giovanni while the others hald is crying about the fate of the women ravished or almost ravished by him. Mozart succeeded in bringing forth different emotions in relatively similar plots.             


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