The first use of the word ‘micromanagement’ was recorded in 1975, when The Economist used the term to describe the questionable governance practices of Tun Abdul Razak, the second prime minister of Malaysia, and a statist. The journo, in his imprecation, suggested that the Malays might meet with more economic success if their monarch would only interfere less. He didn’t take the advice, dying a few months after the magazine’s criticism.
For modern executives—both of the state and the corporate variety—it is considered in poor form to muddle in the affairs of every element of the hierarchy. The leader sits in solemnity, foretelling and envisioning and directing from on high. If he is a visionary, all else will follow. But ours is a novel age, in which private enterprise enjoys the protection of the law and politicians the popular support of the governed. Historically, power granted was used to its fullest. This is no more the case than with the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, who was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s patron (if not always in florins then at least in praise) and ruled from the seat in Vienna for twenty-five years, from 1765 to 1790. Joseph was one of the enlightenment rulers, and his self-assigned charge was to attenuate the empire’s history of despotism and increase, where possible, liberty. Most liberating, he supposed, was music.
It is complex business, though, to unfurl a long history of aristocratic oppression. Joseph's Habsburgs were full up of sniffing bureaucratic elite, and their hidebound musk was nowhere so thick as in the offices of the Opera. Music was not a top priority for the emperor. Joseph’s many reform efforts mostly meant long wakeful hours, poring over this document or that report. One imagines the emperor rising early in the morning, as was his wont, in grand ritual, with fakirs and stewards bustling about the bedchamber, though he did not specially desire their presence. From desks in anterooms innumerable and from the throne, he would oversee the sundry reformations that were, slowly and collectively, moving old lady Austria into the modernity being pioneered by young and hotheaded revolutionaries in America. Joseph was building insane asylums, poorhouses, orphanages, and hospitals. He was raising parks and gardens which would actually be open to the public. He was remolding the empire’s economy by eliminating feudalism and serfdom. He banned torture and capital punishment, and ensured that those bans were effective. And all of this consumed great swaths of his time. On the heels of all of this creation, the manage the imperial opera was a rare source of peace. Joseph managed the opera decisively, helped along by the weasliness of his musicians, any of whom, at any hour, could be found tattling musical sin into his ear.
It was in this atmosphere that another, less royal, king held sway over his kingdom: Mozart and his singers and players. And Mozart, too, micromanaged. The twentieth-century performance trend, a particularly haughty one, is to excise the many subtle and not-so-subtle cues Mozart gave as to how he wanted his music sung or bowed or blown or banged, and to replace the whole of them with a panoply of standardized romantic embellishments. The excuse is often ‘creative interpretation’, but this rationale falls away on the realization of two points: First, these interpretations are rarely creative, since they always seem to sound the same. Second, there is very little room for interpretation in Mozart, because the progenitor maestro himself left plenty of clues as to how his music was to be performed. A historically-authentic performance movement was touched off in the late 1980s with the release of the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe edition, which amalgamates much of what is known about how Mozart would steward his singers and players through the music. Here, Mozart’s precise dicta on all manner of musical minutiae is finally put on the page for performers to follow if they choose such fealty to Mozart; if they consent to being micromanaged by the composer.
The Supreme Decorator
In 2000, Sir Charles Mackerras summoned his stable of forces for a recording of Mozart arias with the Milanese soprano Barbara Frittoli. Mackerras’ Scottish Chamber Orchestra played on their customary period instruments. Mackerras, by popular consensus is one of the world’s finest Mozartians; a conductor constantly in search of the raw historical truth behind Mozart’s music. For this Erato disc, the conductor himself composed the vocal embellishments for Frittoli, with a stern-faced understanding that the contemporary method of singing Mozartian arias—either dryly and limpidly or with careful, cautious, tedious vibrato—was simply inaccurate and unfulfilling of the music’s potential. Mackerras himself, therefore, wrote out the decorations. The disc was a critical failure. That was partly the result of a botched Don Giovanni in which Frittoli had just taken part in Salzburg; it had left a bad taste in critics’ mouths, though Frittoli herself had been the lone pylon left standing in that toppling production. But the real offense turned out to be Mackerras’ amendments. Writing on the disc in Oxford University’s Opera Quarterly, E. Thomas Glasow opined that Frittoli had “an annoyingly wide vibrato, an ambiguous trill, and an occasional shrillness,” and that “[t]he decorations Sir Charles Mackerras here wrote for her to sing sound merely tacked on, not thoughtfully digested and incorporated into an ‘interpretation’”. Glasow went on to ask “and why does a proven stylist like Mackerras here allow the orchestral players to ignore the embellished vocal line in a number of crucial symmetrical give-and-take passages?”
For a historically-informed performance, this outing was a little too uninformed. The accompagnati was not even played by a harpsichord, a fact which Glasow took care to note. Charles Mackerras, like many originalist conductors, had been forced to compromise: What must be eliminated to make the disc more accessible to the broader classical music audience? The period pitch? The harpsichord? The careful and modest balance in volume between the orchestra and the singer? The fair speculation seems to be that, for Erato and its distributor Atlantic Records, these were worthy sacrifices at the altar of marketability.
There is only limited value in historically accurate accounts if they are to be half-heartedly so. Several years later, in Winter 2005, Mackerras set about another recital recording of Mozart opera and concert arias. This time, he was unshackled by the popular performance idiom, for the label which offered funding for the project was Opera Rara, a registered British charity whose thirty year existence has been devoted to recording rare, historically informed music. The Peter Moores Foundation provided additional capital. It is another British non-profit, and has collaborated with Opera Rara on several significant historic recording projects; especially ones which require new musicology and research. For the disc to be discussed here, “Mozart: The Supreme Decorator”, Charles Mackerras’ motivation, besides an elegant recovery from his previous outing and an attempt at self-edification in the art of aria decoration, was a vicarious love.
As Mozart was directing the seminal productions of the operas, he was never fully free from the demanding chirp of the most ravishing sopranos like Aloysia Weber and Caterina Cavalieri, who wanted to shimmer on stage not only with sequins and jewels but with their musical equivalents; they wanted Mozart to write out, ahead of time, the vocal ornaments they should use. It was a prized skill for singers to be able to do improvised decoration—especially in Vienna—and indeed Mozart’s girls could. But partly to satisfy egos, partly to ensure a smooth performance, and partly because it was his dear Aloysia asking, a girl for whom many of his sweetest arias were composed in the first place, Mozart did write custom cadenzas and coloratura points, both for performance and for singers whom he was privately coaching.
In his introductory notes, Charles Mackerras puts the project in context:
As we approach the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, I feel that it is appropriate to look into two aspects of Mozart’s composition which are not usually commented on but which actually give us new insight into the way this great composer’s mind worked. The first will show Mozart ornamenting his own vocal music in order to teach a young singer (with whom he was in love), how he could heighten the expressiveness or the brilliance of an aria by the judicious addition of extra notes, effects, and cadenzas.
The “second Mozart” that Mackerras implies is Mozart the Borrower—he also wrote ornamentation for many of Johann Christian Bach’s arias when his students were singing them. In examining the addenda Mozart gave his own works and his most beloved singers, the level of specificity—the perfect micromanagement—with which he composed music will become clear.
I. Non So D'Onde Viene, K. 294
K. 294 is among Mozart’s most gorgeous concert arias. Its text taken from Olimpiad, a dramma seria written by Pietro Metastasio, it was the final, most powerful sonic manifestation of Mozart’s concerted effort to make Aloysia Weber love him. (Following an earlier love aria, also written for her, from Perseus and Andromeda.) The romantic relationship between the elder Weber and Wolfgang was, of course, not to fadge particularly well. The folly of choosing this text, which is in fact not romantic, but is instead about paternal love between the singer (King Clisthenes) and a son whom he fails to recognize by appearance, but who invokes unidentifiable feelings of love just as he is about to be hanged, portends the young soprano’s imminent spurning of Mozart. Nevertheless, Mozart put the thing to expedient use. That both the composition and Mozart’s training of Aloysia were half-ploys to invoke in her amorous feelings resulted in an interesting beginning for this aria. Emily Anderson’s rendering of Mozart’s correspondence records the following, from Mozart’s letter to his father: “For practice I have also set to music the aria ‘Non so d’onde viene’, etc. … When it was finished, I said to Mlle. Weber: ‘Learn the aria yourself. Sing it as you think it ought to go; then let me hear it and afterwards I will tell you candidly what pleased and what displeased me.’” Aloysia obeyed these instructions, and in two days Mozart arrived at the Weber flat to hear the results. Mozart reports to Leopold that Aloysia sang the aria well, accompanying herself. “I was obliged to confess that she had sung it exactly as I wished and as I should have taught it to her myself.”
This could not have been entirely true, since Mozart then re-wrote significant portions of the aria and wrote extra vocal embellishments for Aloysia into the score. The re-writes are incorporated into performance scores used today, but not the vocal embellishments. Non so d’onde viene is a de capo aria—the type perfectly fit for embellishments in the return section—and is fully orchestrated, Mozart having been very recently excited at the Mannheim Orchestra’s expert playing and, of course, its wonderful clarinets. In a historically-informed (instrumentally, at least) 1998 recording, soprano Cyndia Sieden sang K. 294 accompanied, as she often is, by the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century under Frans Brüggen’s baton. The recording was made in Utrecht, Holland in May of 1998.
The selections below alternate between the Brüggen account and the Mackerras.
[Play] In the opening measures as played by Brüggen, one hears much of what the listener would have heard in the eighteenth century. A notable exception is the harpsichord. Sieden begins singing on top of muted strings, with noticeably attenuated vibrato—which will be made even more evident on listening to the historically-informed performance. The timbre of Sieden’s voice does not especially gel with what is known of Aloysia’s, and of Mozart’s other favorite singers: Sieden elides notes, gelling together, quite noticeably, the two notes in petto. This situation is made worse by another anachronistic element: the presence of cathedral-style reverberations, which are inaccurate both as this aria would have been performed in a regular-sized hall and especially as it was written at the start as a practice piece for Aloysia, to be played in an apartment. Certainly, the Orchestra of the Eighteen Century provides a somewhat faithful account here.
[Play] As Mackerras takes it, however, the overall tenor is immediately sharper: crisp harpsichord accents, cutting, sul ponticello violins, and a bass with distinctly more weight than before. Soprano Elizabeth Futral takes the soundstage with the opening words, and several disparities become immediately clear: Mozart’s ornamentations are applied even to the first section of the aria, although the touch of rather light. Yet the embellishments—Futral’s trill on the second syllable of viene, an extra little fioriture crescendo on nel—are eminently comprehensible, revealed in full by Futral’s sharp, resolving instrument. It is worthy of note that, in both versions, the E-flat clarinet is lovingly, and after many years of Mozart being deprived of its human graces, included in the accompaniment.
[Play] The beautiful finish of the first section and a sort of intermediate recapitulation of the libretto’s first half—a recapitulation, that is, before the one demanded by the ternary form, which is at the end of the piece—follow. Sieden’s singing is, of course, precisely on-point for her intent. Of particular note, is the descending scorrendo and the careful, teetering, soaring music given to the final do mi va in this passage. Sieden accomplishes them masterfully, but their promise is not entirely fulfilled.
[Play] Since Mozart has altered the da capo form (partly owing to his overflowing cup of ideas and partly the short libretto), he affords the second singing of the first half a divinely developed music. After coming in too strongly on the first two notes, the harpsichord player checks himself—this is a passage where the singer can steal for herself the full highlight of the audience without launching full-breastedly, not yet, into the actual embellished recapitulation. To Sieden’s great credit, she interprets the three implied notes on the last syllable oftenero and eliding into affretto, but they are markedly restrained and ambiguous. When Futral sings this passage, atop gentle, weightless violins and reserved plucks from the harpsichord, the effect is unrestrained and astounding. At the end of this selection, Futral pulls back her own reigns on the colorful, graded trill in mi va. This is not for lack of ability, but a quiet foreshadowing of her recapitulation to come.
[Play] The libretto’s second half is a wending road of Italianate diction, and Sieden’s smooth approach creates a legato effect over the words si fieri contrasti—indeed the two t’s in that last word are hardly noticeable. But we know the importance Mozart attached to these words, and he put them in Aloysia’s mouth for a reason: “Such fierce contrasts afflict my breast!” They were meant to be meant.
[Play] Mozart’s embellishments, which increase the dramatic tension of the singer’s realization that the object on whom she has set eyes is inspiring not pity but love, include dotting rhythms. As Futral sings this passage, there is a marked increase in emotional intensity; she emphasizes consonants and affords key repeated words, like basti, not embellishments proper but enhanced resolution; always with a slight wryness of voice.
[Play] The aria then enters one of its most effusive passages, as the second section is given its own recapitulation with a different orchestration. With brilliant highs, the section is repeated, and then the vocal passagework on non parmi che basti is attended by effusive, cutting string responses, rising to a fevered climax—what Mozart may have had in mind is clear enough, although the libretto is of course wholly asexual—which then chills to an andante and then a largo, as Sieden seems to sigh each increasingly breathless syllable.
[Play] Under Mackerras and Futral, again the diction in both orchestra and voice is sharper and more separated, discrete. Particularly noteworthy is the utter desperation with which the second instance of basti is sung, which is followed, when violins cue a rhythm change, with a trembling, breathless non. Futral maintains this effusive breathiness, and elongates the word parmi, then the two instances of non until the final is formed perfectly so as to bleed back into the beginning line once again, for the recapitulative coda. The Italianate vocal idiom is particularly strong here, and, as Mackerras comments with respect to both this and the coda, “Aloysia must have had an incredible range.”
[Play] Suddenly, the soundstage is reset, and the texture is reduced to a girl and a whisper of strings as the first half of the libretto is repeated anew. For these first several measures, Sieden’s dry, unornamented approach—with the exception of a subtle, modest warble on the syllable ten—seems to shine. Her voice is young, as Aloysia’s certainly was at this time, and above all the sound is dulcissimo. Where Mozart’s customizations become especially necessary is the second line: Quel tenero affetto. Again these words are unfocused, and while Sieden’s vowels are pure and sung very lovingly, and while she achieves the sailing e-flat at the aria’s very end with some grace, there is a lack of presence throughout.
[Play] Futral remedies this, although perhaps at the expense of the youthful tone that Mozart preferred for these arias. Immediately, Mozart’s interpolated notes are heard on the last syllable of d’onde and the first ofviene. The strings enter with a warning tremolo-like character, and a Harmonie accompanies them apace. The orchestra has a line or two to restate the main thematic material. At this point, the fully decorated version of the first section of the aria is sung twice, in earnest. The tension builds throughout to a stratospheric ending eruption, which seems to be foretold by the coloratura attached to each major word. Futral’s vibrato is particularly noticeable, but it is an intelligent warble, considerate of the broader rhythm. Almost every phrase gets an appoggiatura. The words with featured ‘o’ sounds—moto, ignote, petto—are all decorated with building trio of portato notes. Futral dotes on these in a high romance, and after the penultimate line, Quel gel che la vene, the violins, playing sul ponticello, announce the coda. It is a full-bodied elaboration of scorrendo—‘my veins,’ where previously ice, now love, courses—and it is sung con moto. Both singers, of course, accomplish this, as it is written into both editions of the score. Futral, however, avoids the accidental glissandito which Sieden falls victim. This is not a function of Mozart’s written embellishments, but it is the result of Mackerras having carefully chosen his musical forces to reflect the mores of Mozart’s day, where resolution in all instruments, the voice included, was preferred.
II. Martern Aller Arten, Die Entführung aus dem Serial
Drop the name Katherine Kavalier amid a crowd of eighteenth century operagoers and it may not raise any special reaction. Caterina Cavalieri is another matter entirely. Music lovers would drip with adulation, so exalted was her name. And so exacting was the Viennese opera industry that even native singers like Kavalier were virtually forced to Italianize their names before being taken seriously. It was also de rigueur for a girl to have some kind of a keeper in the musical firmament. Cavalieri’s was court composer Antonio Salieri, who adored her graces both physical and vocal. (It goes without saying that she was an exceptional singer: Mozart wrote some of his most difficult arias for her, and her range was reported as extending to d3... But everything in context: Aloysia Weber received music with notes as high as g3.) Cavalieri became, perhaps more than any other artist, the toast of Vienna. She commanded stages, audiences, and eventually composers. Her stardom and her brand were bright. Her fame was reinforced with custom-written roles and opera-stopping arias complete with the most glistening decorative additions thinkable. It was through Cavalieri—“my darling girl,” playwright Peter Schafer has Antonio Salieri say of her—that the perennial tension between Salieri and Mozart peaked above the surface, through two masterful bravura arias.
On April 30, 1781, Salieri’s Rauchfangkehrer permiered at the Burgtheater. Cavalieri was its leading lady. For Cavalieri’s character Nannette—but really for Cavalieri herself—Salieri penned Wenn dem Adler das Gefieder, a brilliant bravura aria which constituted a formidable showpiece: it was fully orchestrated, had a significant twenty-eight measure prelude, and contained demanding coloratura music with copious high notes and dotted rhythms. It was a popular hit for both Salieri and Cavalieri. So it should be no surprise that one year later, Mozart plucked Salieri’s darling from the nest and cast her as the original Konstanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serial, which premiered on July 16, 1782 at the Burgtheater. Buried in that opera was a shard of an aria—whether Mozart intended it so or not—which tore the gossiping, niggling, possessive Salieri in its leviathan scale, its gaping breadth, and in the stratospheric power Mozart was able to coax out of Cavalieri.Martern aller arten is, ironically, one of Mozart’s most criticized arias, although not for any of the usual reasons. Some critics, notably Edward Dent, have opined that it doesn’t belong in the opera at all: It is too vasty, too insular, too massive. And those critics are not wholly wrong: Martern carries with it a sixty-bar introductory passage and even after that is a seven minute piece, and what’s more it follows directly another Konstanze aria in the opera, giving the singer’s voice (and the audience’s ears) no time to rest. “Ghastly scales,” Schafer’s Salieri says of Martern. Yet they are hardly ghastly: The aria has become a favorite for lovers of Mozart’s operas, for concertgoers—for the piece is, truly, a concert aria—and for budding singers eager to pass one of the ultimate benchmarks in the soprano pantheon.
Martern is divinely decorated, and was done so very specifically for Caterina Cavalieri just after, as Charles Mackerras has discovered, Mozart added the decorations to Johan Christian Bach’s similar aria, Infelice in van m’affanno, also an Italianate bravura showpiece from one of those precious few Bach operas, La clemenza di Scipone. It was a London opera which Mozart did not see, but Adamberger had the tenor lead in it, as he then did some months later in the first Entführung. Mackerras presumes he carried the score from London to Vienna to show Mozart. And, indeed, Mozart duplicates much from the Bach: the same four obbligatoinstruments, a substantial instrumental prelude, and a very technically difficult vocal line. In an interview with the Grammophone magazine, Mackerras says “Christian Bach's aria is beautiful but what Mozart makes out of that aria, a sort of da capo aria, with his ornamentation - he turns it into a great Mozart aria.” And, of course, Mozart turns the melodically and orchestrally stunning Martern into a piece of vocal greatness with his ornamentation—ornamentation which is so crucial to the aria that, wherever the singer can execute it properly, is still used today. Mackerras and his soprano Elizabeth Futral record a historically accurate performance of both the Entführung aria and Bach’s similar one from Scipone; both ornamented by Mozart. As the topic at hand is Mozart’s work and Mozart’s singers, however, it will suffice to look at Martern.
All of the selections below are from the Mackerras account.
[Play] It has been said that Martern is effectively a sinfonia concertante, and this it is; it begins with a lengthy instrumental introduction not reproduced here, and in general the aria is not dramatically key—Konstanze’s intent to remain in fidelity to Belmonte is rather obvious. Yet it does serve the important purpose of pleasing the royal retinue with its fiery defense of monogamy, and of etching more than a few résumé points for Cavalieri. The vocal part begins modestly enough; Martern aller arten sung without any decoration. The “ghastly scales” begin at once, though, on a vowel rung between the two syllables of verlache; the scales break down into a cadence, each ending with a quick-clipped vibrato and the whole series culminating in und Pein, sung staccato. The brusque treatment given the first section of the libretto makes sense—Konstanza is singing about the dire consequences of her refusing the Pasha, which range all the way to torture.
[Play] The line Des Himmels Segen belohne dich (Heaven’s blessing will reward you) plays an important role in the aria: it is the anchor of the middle section, which occurs after Konstanze acknowledges the woes that could befall her if she remains faithful, and before she recounts those woes again in high drama. In the middle, she appeals to God. As the thoughts in the libretto develop, and Mozart’s music swells to reach the heights necessary for the return of Pein (pain), there is a brief island of cantabile. Futral sings the line twice in a relatively dry way, and it is then expanded into a broken series of vowels, each set high and articulated with music which forsees the Queen’s aria in Mozart’s final singspiel. The staccato singing resolves once again to scales, these ones ending in more elaborate cadenzas than before, but also cadenced, this time so that Konstanze joins in a conversation with the flute and oboe. In duet, the two winds and then the violin give the first airing of the theme which occupied the second half of the libretto: A scale, played with crescendo, precisely on the word Segen (blessing), as if the word itself could reach skyward. The middle passage is then repeated, set even higher, and Futral unleashes a heavier vibrato. A grand cadenza is given to the finalBelohne (reward).
[Play] With three tuttis, the quartet announces the true woof of this aria: martial, stout, stalwart. “If you are resigned and cannot be persuaded”—Konstanze is now addressing the Pasha, her heart having been steeled by God—“then I choose any pain and anguish.” This is the first instance of the music that fills the intensely vertical finale of the aria, so a comparison between this selection and the coda will be useful. As makes sense, the coloratura is restrained in this first instance.
[Play] Mozart now returns to the earlier anchor line, Konstanze’s prayer, before finally setting loose the lady’s full fury. The words are now heavily embellished and key vowels given the aria’s very highest notes, thebravura provoking the violin into playing echo. A timpani suddenly enters the soundstage, and as the flute flourishes, as the oboe provides rhythm, and as the violin again parrots Konstanze, some of the more impressive coloratura is done. The obbligato quartet begins foreshadowing the heavenly scales which Konstanze then adopts, leading her straight into the coda—a decorated recapitulation of the martial Pein und Not. Futral executes with aplomb what may be the most beautiful compound embellishment of the aria: Near the end of this selection, the last syllable of Belohne is sung at full force as a scale. Half-way through, it is picked up by the violin, and suddenly the whole of the instrumental forces enter, including timpani, and over muted winds, Futral reemerges on the very same syllable, singing an extended crescendo in perfect dynamic concert with the obbligato ensemble; she now has a new, flightier vibrato, and it all culminates in a massive cadenza sung first in solo and then atop the rapidly pulsating accompaniment.
[Play] “Pain and Anguish” now return, as before, with all decorations applied: Futral’s enunciation is now twice what it was in the middle of the aria, with consonants receiving hard, discrete endings. The rhythm is dotted, single syllables are given two notes. The action words—Lärme, tobe, wüte—are sung legato, almost as an arc. Fiortura possess the final vocal line, and Futral checks out, finally able to breathe, with a hard-kneedTod (death)!
III. Voi Che Sapete, Le Nozze di Figaro
Few human makings are invested with such strength and consequence that they may seriously be called immortal, but Le Nozze di Figaro is one of them. All of the standard operatic superlatives—most-performed, best-loved, widely-heard—are eternally linked to Mozart’s masterpiece. Writing in 1946, Alfred Einstein surveyed Mozart's brilliantly successful year 1785 and proclaimed that at its end “All Mozart’s musical forces were gathering for an outburst.” It was Figaro. Of course, as was fate’s wont for Mozart, the initial production was not an entire success. Though well-liked and, as it always was with Mozart, well-loved after a few more performances, some aspects of the complex opera resulted in mountainous production problems. One was the Romeoic palace page Cherubino, a soprano trouser role.
The first Cherubino was a relatively inexperienced girl called Dorotea Bussani, who in the meager rehearsal time the court schedule afforded Mozart created more headaches than he needed. Bussani, born Sardi, was the 23-year-old wife of stage manager Francesco Bussani, who was tasked with scouting for stage talent and had trouble filling the roles which required female singers. He eventually resolved on his own wife. She was a trove of problems, not least of which was her inability to commit music to memory and her tendency to drift from the melody when the orchestra was playing anything other than it. In fact, Boris Goldovsky speculates that Mozart initiated private rehearsals with Bussani and re-wrote at least one of the arias in trio form, so that she could memorize the music without being distracted by hearing the full orchestration. Though she was a pretty girl, it is certain that Da Ponte put Bussani in low esteem: He wrote in his memoirs that she was “vulgar and of little merit,” and could attract the glances only of other theatre folk and various lackeys. And Goldovsky in The Adult Mozart places blame on Bussani for possibly causing Non so piu to be cut from the premiere performance.
None of the above is to suggest that Bussani was daft, homely, or an untalented singer. She was praised for her silken voice and fine figure; moreover her acting ability seems to have been widely applauded. At issue was her want of creative ability: she could not improvise, could not interpret. For this reason, out of true exasperation, Mozart himself penned the ornamentation, including the cadenzas, for both Cherubino arias: Non so piu and Voi che sapete.
But embellishment can be overdone. Mozart, in his time, proved that decorating an aria is an art, and not a science. Perhaps chiefest among dissenters on that point was the English composer and musicologist Domenico Corri. Corri had not seen Figaro—indeed had scarcely heard much of the opera—before he re-setVoi che sapete with his own ornamentation pursuant to his essays on ornamentation. His theories would culminate in a vast and generally authoritative treatise “The Singer’s Preceptor,” which would be published in London in 1810 and is now sold only bundled with Corri’s “Most Admired Songs.” But even before its publication, Corri had his science: his feeling was that there was always a “proper” ornamentation for any piece of music, and that to deduce it all a composer needed to do was employ a quasi-static set of correlations. His devotion to this hard and fast method was laid out in the introduction of his book: “When a person has purchased a book, would it not appear very extraordinary, if he should be under the necessity of applying to a master of language to correct the orthography, and to distinguish the members of every sentence by proper stops, in order to render the author’s meaning intelligible? Just such an absurdity appears in written music...” In other words, how dare composers not write-in their vocal embellishments according to his rules. An aria communicates nothing without them!
The fact that Corri ignored context—this is a simple, sweet, hopeless love song from an immature boy to the palace’s ruling lady—is made too clear in the decorations he gave to Mozart’s Voi che sapete. Presented here are two accounts of the beautiful aria: The first [Play] from Agnes Basta, under Sir Neville Marriner’s baton and using Mozart’s embellishments, and the second [Play] from Diana Montague under Mackerras, using Corri’s. The different is immediate.
Par Finirla Lieramente, Un'Azion Matrimoniale
It should hardly be a tremendous thing to ask that modern artists berth their pretensions backstage. Though Mozart is gone, his specter remains—and the sheer volume of written material left behind, not to mention the peculiar purity of his work, has inspired an authoritative ghost. Mozart’s shadow can and should manage performers now, as Mozart himself did more than two centuries ago. Today’s leading sopranos, precisely like those of Mozart’s time, are in point of fact seconda donnas. They stand behind Susanna and Cherubino and Servillia and Konstanze and Cecilio and all of the personages invested by Mozart with divine and definite music; only through these fictional ladies, whom we now know are designed more intricately and specifically than previously thought, can sopranos pursue their craft with due reverence for its master.
With the “Supreme Decorator” project Charles Mackerras has demonstrated that much has been lost in the listless, historically divorced performances that fill some concert halls and opera houses today. Moreover, he has shown that there are volumes of discovery to be made by remarrying Mozart’s original embellishments with the performance score. Corriamo, voliamo, le nozze a compir!