180 Days With Mozart And Me

A Survey Of The Philips Complete Mozart Edition…From Symphonies Through Theatre And Ballet Music

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Of Saws and Seeing (Early Italian Operas, Box 13)

April 26th, 2010 · No Comments · Aceste, Arleen Auger, Ascanio, Ascanio in Alba, Box 13: Early Italian Operas, Diana Damrau, Fauno, Genii, Jimmy Page, K111, K111 (Part I), Leopold Hager, Lilian Sukis, Milan (October - November 1771), Mozart at 15, Mozarteum-Orchester Salzburg, Peter Schreier, Saw as instrument, Se il labbro più non dice, Silvia, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Theremin, Venere (Venus)

Early Italian Operas Box 13I had another epiphany yesterday.

Operas were never intended to be disembodied and heard apart from their live stage performance.

I wonder what Mozart would have thought if someone approached him and said, “Wolfie, sweetie. Tell you what I’m gonna do. I can record your opera on this gadget, make copies of it, and sell it to people around the world. That way, people who live a thousand miles from Vienna will get to hear your opera. You won’t have to tour any more! Oh, and I’ll give you a percentage of every sale. What do you say?”

I’m sure Mozart would have been intrigued by the thought of making money. He was always in need of it.

Yet, I’m not sure he – or his father, Leopold – would have passed up a chance to perform before an audience. I get the feeling both were showboats, craving the accolades and adoration of an audience. So, it’s possible Mozart would have told the music industry chap to take a hike.

Plus, the purist in Mozart (junior and senior) probably would have scoffed at the mere notion of turning performers into ghosts, voices alone, and hearing them perform a play. What of the costumes? What of the acting? What of the spectacle? What of seeing – nay, being part of – the audience rising to its feet and roaring with appreciation?

No. Of all musical genres, I think opera is best left to live settings. Merely hearing them on CD doesn’t do them justice. Not by a long shot.

Doubt me? Take a look at the spectacle of Track 12; “Se il labbro più non dice” – No.8 Aria – performed by Diana Damrau:

Any questions?

Granted, directors are free to stage a performance any way they wish. This is probably not the norm. And, if you read some of the comments posted by YouTubers, you’ll see that not everyone likes opera staged this elaborately. But the point is this: Opera is a spectacle. Without the visual, it’s just not opera.

Today’s CD is #6 from the box of Early Italian Operas. The title of this opera is Ascanio in Alba, K111. It was created by a 15-year-old Mozart while he was in Milan. Once more, I turn to Wikipedia for background and a synopsis:

Ascanio in Alba, K. 111, is a pastoral opera in two parts (Festa teatrale in due atti) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to an Italian libretto by Giuseppe Parini. This youthful opera by Mozart contains outstanding arias and brilliant moments of musical drama.

It was first performed at the Teatro Regio Ducal in Milan, on 17 October 1771. (See original cast list below.)

Place: the site of the future city of Alba Longa, near Rome
Time: mythical times.

Ascanio in Alba Original Cast

Here’s the cast on today’s CD:

Venere (Venus)…………………………………………….Lilian Sukis
Ascanio, her son, son of Aeneas…………………Agnes Baltsa
Silvia, a nymph descended from Hercules……….Edith Mathis
Aceste, a priest of Venus……………………………..Peter Schreier
Fauno, a shepherd………………………………………Arleen Auger
Genii, Shepherds & Shepherdesses (chorus)…………Salzburg Kammerchor

Leopold Hager, harpsichord
Mozarteum-Orchester Salzburg
Leopold Hager, conductor

By the way, Ascanio refers to Greek mythology. According to its entry on Wikipedia,

In Greek and Roman mythology, Ascanius was the son of the Trojan prince Aeneas and Creusa, daughter of Priam. After the Trojan War, as the city burned, Aeneas escaped to Latium in Italy, taking his father Anchises and his child Ascanius with him, though Creusa died during the escape.

According to another legend mentioned by Livy, Ascanius may have been the son of Aeneas and Lavinia and thus born in Latium, not Troy. Ascanius later fought in the Italian Wars along with his father Aeneas.

After the death of Aeneas, Ascanius became king of Lavinium and an Etruscan king named Mezentius took advantage of the occasion to besiege the city. Menzentius succeeded in making the city surrender and agree to pay a yearly tribute. Upon his retirement, Ascanius fell upon him and his army unaware and entirely defeated Mezentius and killed his son Lausus. Mezentius was forced to agree to pay a yearly tribute. Subsequent to this, exactly thirty years after the founding of Lavinium, Ascanius founded the city of Alba Longa and became its first king.

Here is what I listened to today, complete with the best guesses of scholars regarding where and when each composition was penned. This information was pieced together from The Compactothèque book + CD, which is an essential purchase if you want the fullest enjoyment from the Philips Complete Mozart Edition. It’s only about $8 and the sampler CD, alone, is remarkably enjoyable. But the booklet is gold, Jerry! Gold! Keep in mind, some of these places and dates are merely guesses. But I find it fascinating to see even guesses for some of these compositions. They help me put Mozart’s life and creative output in perspective.

For example, Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart was born on 27 January 1756. With that in mind, take a look at where and when these pieces were composed. I’ll add Mozart’s approximate age in the parenthetical data below each composition:

1. Ascanio in Alba, KV 111 – Overtura (Mozarteum-Orchester Salzburg)
2. Ascanio in Alba, KV 111 / Part 1 – Andante grazioso
3. Ascanio in Alba, KV 111 / Part 1 – “Di te più amabile, né Dea maggiore” – No.2 Coro
4. Ascanio in Alba, KV 111 / Part 1 – “Geni, Grazie, ed Amori, fermate il piè” – Recitativo (Lilian Sukis)
5. Ascanio in Alba, KV 111 / Part 1 – “L’ombra de’rami tuoi” – No.3 Aria
6. Ascanio in Alba, KV 111 / Part 1 – “Ma la Ninfa gentil” – Recitativo (Agnes Baltsa)
7. Ascanio in Alba, KV 111 / Part 1 – “Di te più amabile, né Dea maggiore” – No.4 Coro (Mozarteum-Orchester Salzburg)
8. Ascanio in Alba, KV 111 / Part 1 – “Perché tacer degg’io” – Recitativo (Agnes Baltsa)
9. Ascanio in Alba, KV 111 / Part 1 – “Cara, lontano ancora” – No.5 Aria
10. Ascanio in Alba, KV 111 / Part 1 – “Venga, de’ sommi Eroi” – No.6 Coro / “Ma qual canto risona?” – Recitativo / “Venga, de’ sommi Eroi” – No.7 Coro
11. Ascanio in Alba, KV 111 / Part 1 – “Ma tu, chi sei, che ignoto qui t’aggiri fra noi?” – Recitativo (Arleen Augér)
12. Ascanio in Alba, KV 111 / Part 1 – “Se il labbro più non dice” – No.8 Aria
13. Ascanio in Alba, KV 111 / Part 1 – “Quanto soavi al core de la tua stirpe” – Recitativo (Agnes Baltsa)
14. Ascanio in Alba, KV 111 / Part 1 – “Hai di Diana il core” – “Oh, generosa Diva” – No.9 Coro – Recitativo (Peter Schreier)
15. Ascanio in Alba, KV 111 / Part 1 – “Venga, de’ sommi Eroi” – “Di propria man la Dea a voi la donerà” – “Venga, de’ sommi Eroi” – No.10 Coro – Recitativo – No.11 Coro
16. Ascanio in Alba, KV 111 / Part 1 – “Oh mia gloria, oh mia cura” – Recitativo
17. Ascanio in Alba, KV 111 / Part 1 – “Per la gioia in questo seno” – No.12 Aria
- Milan, October-November, 1771 (Mozart was 15)

I had another epiphany: sopranos can sound perilously close to the noise a saw makes when it’s played as an instrument.

Did you ever see someone do that – play a saw? A saw is held between the legs and tapped with a mallet of some kind. Different sounds can be pulled from the “instrument” by bending it or lengthening it.

A saw, when used as an instrument, has a warbly, ethereal sound. Like the sound effects in an old-time movie about ghosts or other spooky entities. Or that device used on the score of the classic movie The Day the Earth Stood Still (NOT the recent version starring Keanu Reeves!) or used on stage by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. Of course, I refer to the theremin.

My point is this, when a soprano gets warbling in a really irritating way, I’m reminded of the saw or the theremin.

I’m not pointing any fingers, especially at today’s vocalists.

I’m just saying.


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