This is an astonishing discovery. The sparkling, sunny music of a young boy prodigy who is also a completely professional composer and who produces an opera that is enchanting and amusing.
AT AGE 12, BOY MOZART IS ALREADY WRITING IN THE UNMISTAKABLE MOZARTIAN STYLE
It is absurd to always keep complaining about the young Mozart that he is not up to the level of the so-called "mature" operas, the 4 or 5, or 7 "late" operas of the 1781-1791 period, Mozart's final decade in Vienna.
The music in "LA FINTA SEMPLICE" is easily recognizable as Mozart's style -- Mozart "tout craché" (unmistakeable, as if simply "spit out").
Its neglect by opera reviewers and theaters is unjustified. It can be only explained as a glib dismissal by a few experts, used as authorities by every writer. First, like Otto Jahn, and then Hermann Abert, who rewrote Jahn's work and produced the final in-depth analysis of all 700 Mozart works in his monumental "W.A. MOZART" (1919, transl. 2007, 1515 pages). Neither of them had ever heard the music performed nor studied the score with a sympathetic bias. Influenced by the grandiose music of the 19th c. German Romantics such as Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Wagner, Strauss, or Mahler, both Jahn and Abert tended to devalue the "light" music of 18th c. Italian buffa.
The Mozart literature has kept repeating the same glib, limited views.
But the music of LA FINTA SEMPLICE is continuously beautiful, filled with Mozart's typical signatures and motifs.
In fact, if you care to listen attentively, you discover that already at 12, Mozart's style is already shaped and recognizable. It's not the "early" operas that offer "echoes" of the late operas, but the complete reverse: it's the so-called "mature" operas, better labeled "late" operas, that develop and amplify the syncopated style and mannerisms, the obsessive, passionate delight in orchestral sound effects and cute musical jokes, the emotional use of winds, the emphatic brass sonorities, and the energy and power of the young Mozart -- all signatures that we'll recognize in future works.
The late operas are in fact echoes of the early works. Mozart's music grew up organically, and there's no break between the "young" Mozart and the "adult" Mozart, even though things changed when he arrived in Vienna in 1781, as they had changed before, and they were bound to keep changing.
"The child is father of the man," reminded us William Wordsworth in his famous 1802 poem (" My heart leaps up when I behold/A rainbow in the sky"), not especially thinking about Mozart, although this continuity applies so well to Mozart's organic musical growth.
In LA FINTA SEMPLICE, written in 1768 in Vienna, when Mozart was just 12 years old, with Leopold networking as hard as he could to promote his son as a recognized opera composer, we already get a full-fledged opera with dynamic, brilliant Mozart music.
In fact we are lucky, since most opera composers have produced their music with the feelings and psychology of adults or old men, whereas with Mozart, we have access to the charming, budding, feelings of a young boy, something truly unique in the annals of music.
A COMPLEX LIBRETTO
The box cover is rather amusing, but has little relevance to the love stories of the libretto. Why did the producers choose a lascivious Boucher picture, except for its marketing shock value? It might have been perhaps more appropriate if the Mozarts had been in Paris at the time. As such, it's incongruous.
This libretto is complex, and it is not possible to appreciate the richness of Mozart's music without a good understanding of the libretto, its characters, and the dizzying succession of scenes, in authentic buffa tradition.
The original is a brilliant text by an Italian master of the genre, Goldoni, slightly modified by Coltellini, who was making his mark in Vienna as an Italian "poet" in residence.
The plot is presented as a jousting between two teams, with all 7 characters taken straight from opera buffa.
- A house team, with 4 characters: The two brothers, Cassandro and Polidoro, their sister, Giacinta, and their chambermaid, Ninetta.
- A visitors's team: the Hungarian captain Fracasso, his sergeant Simone, and the captain's sister, Rosina, who happens to be "visiting".
The three women are going to attract men in the opposite team, to form three couples:
- the "primo" couple, Cassandro-Rosina;
- the secondary couple, Fracasso-Giacinta;
- and the tertiary couple: Simone-Ninetta.
Only Polidoro, the odd man out, will be left out in the cold.
The monkey wrench in the romantic mechanism is the antipathy of both brothers to women, and their opposition to the lovers' unions.
To move the action, a plan is concocted by the wily soubrette Ninetta (a set character of "commedia dell'arte" and "opera buffa"), for Rosina to make the brothers fall in love with her to make them agree with the marriages of Giacinta to Fracasso and Ninetta to Simone. Rosina is going to pose as a naive country girl -- "finta", fake, feigned; "semplice", not "simpleton", but naive and innocent of the devious ways of the world -- who will disarm the brothers' spontaneous distrust of women.
Polidoro needs no prompting, falls in love immediately and proposes. Cassandro is lured by Rosina's feigned ignorance, and reluctantly falls in love as well. The two brothers become two rivals for Rosina's hand. Rosina makes the final decision (Cassandro, of course).
The libretto offers a cynical look at love's machinations and games. It is nearly Machiavellian in spirit. There are three potential couples who are thwarted in their desires to get married. All subterfuges are good, in fact deception and discretion are the only way to get one's goal in love.
In the first scene of Act. I, Ninetta explains that the brute force of Fracasso is not the right method: "What is needed is not courage, but deception" ("Che per queste nozze, Non val bravura, e furberia ci vuole".)
The theme is bluntly repeated in the final "Tutti": "No point in complaining any further, those are the innocent stratagems of sexual affairs" ("E inutile adesso Di far piu lamenti. Gia queste del sesso Son l'arti innocenti".) This message is close to the wisdom of "Cosi Fan Tutte".
The driving engine is Rosina's skilled manipulations, as she claims to be "semplice", but is only "finta", only acting, and shows herself, in fact, a shrewd manipulator, fully aware of the psychology of men's emotions.
The plot is full of unexpected, often artificial, events that lead to a huge variety of reactions and emotions, but which, eventually, end with a happy ending for the three couples.
Hermann Abert distinguishes the traditions embodied in this libretto:
- The bourgeois "comédie larmoyante" (weepy comedy) of Piccini's "La buona figliuola".
- The tradition of "opera buffa" "aimed at pure comedy", a burlesque series of "beatings, drunken excesses, and duels".
- The parody of "opera seria" with (mocking) allusions to pseudo-erudite mentions of classical literature.
- The "crudely drawn" masks of the older "commedia dell'arte", where characters are one-dimensional caricatures of types of behavior: Cassandro, the old rich bachelor who's a woman-hater; his brother, Polidoro, the fool; Fracasso, the bragging captain; Ninetta, the wily scheming maid; etc.
SUPERLATIVE SINGING BY A SUPERB CAST
Boy Mozart had to render the intricate twists of the action and the palette of conflicting emotions into appealing music. He succeeds beyond any expectation. Abert does not render justice to the immense flexibility and haunting beauty of invention shown by the boy composer.
Since the music is unfailingly ravishing, the appeal of this Nov. 1989 recording hinges on the quality of the singing. In one word, it is ravishing, gorgeous. All the singers deliver high-quality performances. Here we have a real balance between male and female voices: four male singers, all top-drawer, two tenors and two basses (who add a lot of weight to the feel of the performance), facing three top female singers, each one with a voice as adorable as the others.
Peter Schreier, who started as a fine Mozart tenor, developed also into a fine Mozart conductor, rivaling Leopold Hager in promoting early Mozart music. Like Hager, Schreier is careful in his productions of Mozart's early operas to use only the very best singers available in the opera community, as a caring parent anxious to give his children the best chance to impress when getting out in the world.
The plot is presented as a jousting between two teams, with all 7 characters straight from opera buffa. Boy Mozart had no trouble dealing with such a complex cast, displaying his supreme mastery in the ensembles of 7 voices.
On one side, 4 voices in the house team:
- The great baritone Siegfried Lorenz (then 44) in the key character of the imperious master of his castle of Cremona ("Grand'uomo che son io"), Don Cassandro ("primo uomo"). The libretto casts a bass, as is used in the Hager version;
- Douglas Johnson, a tenor, (then 30) as the timid and weak-in-the-head innocent younger brother Don Polidoro;
- Ann Murray, (then 40), a superbly seductive mezzo, as their glamorous sister Giacinta;
- and Eva Lind, (then 24), a soprano, as the adorable soubrette Ninetta, with the right ring of wily mockery and impish malice.
On the visitors' side, a team of 3 voices:
- Hans Peter Blochwitz, (then 40) always an excellent tenor in Mozart, as Fracasso, the dashing Hungarian captain, stationed near Cremona, but lodging in Cassandro's house;
- the superb Andreas Schmidt, a bass-baritone, (then 29), as the devoted, no-nonsense, sergeant Simone;
- and Barbara Hendricks, (then 41), with her iridescent soprano voice, is the captain's seductive sister Rosina (the "prima donna"), the "Baronessa" who's disguising herself into the "FINTA SEMPLICE", but is in fact a smart lady who knows how to move the world of men around her. (Still, one keeps wondering: Why on earth is she visiting her military brother -- except for the need of the plot?).
Bravo Schreier for putting together such a great cast, with many young voices. LA FINTA SEMPLICE then can show off all its scintillating facets.
Peter Schreier, along with Leopold Hager, is sure to get a huge warm hug from Mozart when he gets to meeting him on his cloud, where he's become the music director for God's orchestra and his choir of angels, who now sing only Mozart's music!
NUMBERS & ARIAS
There are 26 numbers:
1 Coro: the very No. 1 of Act I
1 Duetto: No. 19, between Cassandro and Fracasso
3 Ensembles as "Finales" of each act: No. 11, No. 21, No. 26
21 arias, distributed as follows:
Cassandro, 3 arias -- No. 4, No. 8, No. 16
Polidoro, 2 arias -- No. 7, No. 17
Giacinta, 3 arias -- No. 3, No. 14, No. 24
Ninetta, 3 arias -- No. 10, No. 12, No. 23
Fracasso, 3 arias -- No. 5, No. 20, No. 25
Simone, 3 arias -- No. 2, No. 13, No. 22
Rosina, 4 arias -- No. 6, No. 9, No. 15, No. 18
LIST OF NUMBERS & ARIAS OF THE GOLDONI/COLTELLINI LIBRETTO, AS USED IN PETER SCHREIER'S NOV. 1989 RECORDING
Sc. 1: No. 1 Coro: "Bella cosa e far l'amore" (Giacinta, Ninetta, Fracasso, Simone) **
Sc. 1: No. 2 Aria: "Troppo briga a prender moglie" (Simone = ANDREAS SCHMIDT)
Sc. 2: No. 3 Aria: "Marito io vorrei" (Giacinta = ANN MURRAY) **
Sc. 3: No. 4 Aria: "Non c'e al mondo altro che donne" (Cassandro = SIEGFRIED LORENZ)
Sc. 3: No. 5 Aria: "Guarda la donna in viso" (Fracasso = HANS PETER BLOCHWITZ)***
Sc. 4: No. 6 Aria: "Colla bocca, e non col core" (Rosina = BARBARA HENDRICKS)***
Sc. 5: No. 7 Aria: "Cosa ha mai la donna indosso" (Polidoro = DOUGLAS JOHNSON)
Sc. 6: No. 8 Aria: "Ella vuole ed io vorrei" (Cassandro)
Sc. 7: No. 9 Aria: "Senti l'eco, ove t'aggiri" (Rosina)***
Sc. 8: No. 10 Aria: "Chi mi vuol bene, presto mel dica" (Ninetta = EVA LIND)
Sc. 9: No. 11 Finale: "Dove avete la creanza?" (all 7, in turn) ***
....................Tutti: "Dunque a pranzo in compagnia" (all 7)
Sc. 1: No. 12 Aria: "Un marito, donne care" (Ninetta)
Sc. 2: No. 13 Aria: "Con certe persone Vuol essere bastone" (Simone)***
Sc. 3: No. 14 Aria: "Se a martarmi arrivo" (Giacinta)
Sc. 5: No. 15 Aria: "Amoretti,che ascosi qui siete" (Rosina)***
Sc. 6: No. 16 Aria: Ubriaco non son io" (Cassandro) **
Sc. 6: No. 17 Aria: "Sposa cara, sposa bella" (Polidoro)
Sc. 7: No. 18 Aria: "Ho sentito a dir da tutte" (Rosina)
Sc. 8: No. 19 Duetto: "Cospetton, cospettonaccio!" (Cassandro, Fracasso) ***
Sc. 11: No. 20 Aria: "In voi, belle, e leggiadria" (Fracasso)
Sc. 13: No. 21 Finale: "T'ho, detto, buffone" (all 6, without Giacinta) ***
......................Tutti: "Venga prestissimo, Venga quel giorno" (all 6)
Sc. 1: No. 22 Aria: "Vieni, vieni, oh mia Ninetta" (Simone)*
Sc. 1: No. 23 Aria: "Sono in amore" (Ninetta)**
Sc. 2: No. 24 Aria: "Che scompiglio, che flagello" (Giacinta)***
Sc. 2: No. 25 Aria: "Nelle guerre d'amore Non val sempre il valore" (Fracasso)***
Sc. 5: No. 26 Finale: "Se le pupille io giro" (Rosina, Polidoro, Cassandro) ***
Sc. 6 (scena "ultima") Ensemble: "Nozze, nozze, evviva, evviva" (all 7) ***
.........................................."Tutti": "E inutile adesso di far piu lamenti" (all 7)
THE RESULT IS AN ADORABLE OPERA BY BOY MOZART WITH ENCHANTING MUSIC THAT CONTAINS ALL THE SEEDS OF HIS FUTURE OPERAS
What is not enough emphasized is that this opera by a 12-year old is mind-boggling. It is beyond comprehension that a young boy would have the polished technical skills and the full-range sensitivity to put so many emotions and feelings in music.
It's a sheer miracle. His father Leopold knew it, and was convinced that his son was a true miracle in the human species, writing from Vienna in July 1768, "It is ever to be my duty to convince the world of this miracle, it is so now, when people are ridiculing whatever is called a miracle and denying all miracles. That is why they must be convinced...But because the miracle is so obvious and, therefore, not to be denied, they want to suppress it."
And LA FINTA SEMPLICE does explain why the same boy was able to grow and write later the stunning marvels of the 1780's. All the "seeds" of the future Mozart are already in LA FINTA SEMPLICE, his first full-scale opera, lasting 2h 45'. The original manuscript counted 558 pages filled with Mozart's tiny handwriting -- An extraordinary tour-de-force.
Music writers who complacently write this early opera off as negligible and a simple curiosity, ("worth a listen"), are making a fundamental mistake. They misrepresent Mozart's evolution: he did not develop in disjointed phases, "early", "middle", "mature", but in a continuous, organic stream of music and expressiveness.
Whenever Mozart composed music, it came spontaneously as an immediate flow from his unconscious, his mind connected to the immense store of musical impressions accumulated in memory since infancy, his own musical phrases as well as all those he had heard throughout his life.
As his store grew in memory, his compositions kept changing. But all his previous music remained the anchor, existing in a latent form in memory, for his new compositions -- never radical departures, but inserted in Mozart's whole organic development.
We don't hear "echoes" of "Entführung" or "Cosi" in LA FINTA SEMPLICE, (an absurd concept, the illusion of looking retrospectively), on the contrary, when writing his later operas, Mozart mined all his stock of musical phrases already available in his unconscious memory. He could thus copy himself in his later works, partially of course, always while modifying and amplifying his past music to transform it into a new-sounding piece.
The psychological reality is that, in "Entführung" and "Cosi", the adult Mozart immediately lifted music already sketched or developed previously, be it in LA FINTA SEMPLICE, or LA FINTA GIARDINIERA, for instance, even if this happened totally unconsciously, which was often the case with him.
MOZART DOES NOT HESITATE ON OCCASION TO CONSCIOUSLY RECYCLE, ADAPT, AND ENLARGE HIS PAST MUSIC
But there were cases too, and pretty often, that Mozart explicitly went to past works to strengthen or amplify a current work.
For instance, in this very opera, for the overture, Mozart borrowed most of the music from a symphony he had already written, the 7th symphony in D major, K 45, of the same year, Jan 16, 1768, while modifying it and giving it more body with exciting wind contributions.
For Polidoro's first aria, No. 7, "Cosa ha mai la donna indosso" ("What does a woman have that I like her so much?"), Mozart adapted an aria from his first opera "Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebotes" K 35, (written the year before), "Manches Übel will zuweilen". There, the music described Christianity, disguised as a doctor, trying to save Christian's vacillating soul from the temptations of the world by recommending painful surgery as being necessary to cure Christian's illness. Now, the same music is used in Polidoro's aria for his words "E che caldo ella mi fa!" ("How hot she makes me!"), describing "the first stirrings of love in the heart of a foolish old bachelor"!
Mozart always made fond comments about reminiscences of his early childhood musical compositions. He often requested of Leopold to send him copies from Salzburg, as he loved to revisit them, and didn't hesitate to recycle them with appropriate modifications and enlargements if needed.
LA FINTA SEMPLICE IS THE BEST EXAMPLE IN OPERA OF THE AUTHENTIC MUSIC OF YOUTH
The last phase of his short life, the one we know too well, of the 1786-1791 period, and which has become the basis of his enshrinment as an iconic statue, may not even have been his so-called "mature" one, as Mozart at 35 was still a young man.
Mozart's "maturity" was possibly still in the making, and not yet in its final form and shape, to come in his 40s and 50s, one period of "maturity" that we, inconsolably, will never know. No more than we shall ever glimpse at his "old" phase, that of his potential 60s and 70s, which remains even more unknowable.
So, let's savor what we do have, Mozart's "early" music, that of his youth, in the late 1760s and the full decade of the 1770s. It is an eternal regret that we never had the late-age and even old-age music of this phenomenon. But at least we have the sparkling opera music of youth, something that is not available from any other composer, and LA FINTA SEMPLICE is the best illustration of its extraordinary beauty and irresistible charm.
After so many listens, I remain dumbfounded by the brilliance and the professionalism of this music, in turns supercharged or aethereally beautiful. It is adorable and exciting throughout. This opera is more of a miracle than anything else composed by Mozart. It made possible all the marvelous music that was to come later.
NOTE ON MOZART'S "DEMONIC SIDE"
This is what Abert calls Mozart's extreme passionate side, which is coming again to the fore in full force in the No. 24 Aria: "Che scompiglio, che flagello" (Giacinta), a tragic C minor explosion of rage, to which Berganza's dramatic mezzo lends particular conviction.
We must remember that Daines Barrington, the London lawyer/naturalist who made a scientific examination of child Mozart in 1764 (age 8) -- reported to the Royal Society as an "Account of a very remarkable young musician" (Jan 1770) -- had already noted the young boy's extreme passion in improvising music on the theme of "a Song of Rage, such as might be proper for the opera stage...and in the middle of it he had worked himself up to such a pitch, that he beat his harpsichord like a person possessed, rising sometimes in his chair. The word he pitched upon for this second extemporary composition was, Perfido."
In fact, young Mozart's first preserved vocal composition was an aria of anger, "Va dal furor portata, palesa il tradimento" K. 21 ("Go, transported by fury, reveal the treachery") written in London at age 9 in 1765. His second aria, "Conservati fedele" K. 23 ("Be faithful"), written shortly after the same year in The Hague, was a song of sadness and remembrance. When the Mozarts went briefly through Paris, Grimm commented on the two new vocal works that the boy should soon see some opera of his performed on stage. It happened the year after, in 1767, back in Salzburg, with Mozart's first two operas, "Die Schuldigkeit des Ersten Gebotes" K. 35, and "Apollo et Hyacinthus" K. 38.
Mozart continually excelled in tempestuous and violent arias of rage, anger, vengeance, threats, and death. Opera was the ideal medium for him to express this powerful side of his passionate character.
POST-SCRIPTUM: LA FINTA SEMPLICE GOT ONLY ONE PERFORMANCE IN SALZBURG ON MAY 1, 1769
La finta semplice was rehearsed in Vienna in 1768 but never performed there, rejected by the establishment. The only known performance took place in Salzburg, at the Palace of the Archbishop, on May 1, 1769, the Archbishop being curious about the work that had raised so many hackles. It was performed with local singers, including Michael Haydn's wife Maria Magdalena Lipp, who played Rosina. She had already sung Mercy in "Die Schuldigkeit des Ersten Gebotes" K 35 (Mozart and His Operas, Stanley Sadie, 2000). It was never revived until modern times. It is certainty that Hermann Abert never heard it sung.
MORE IMPORTANT ORCHESTRAL PRESENCE THAN IN TRADITIONAL ITALIAN OPERA
What is distinctive about Mozart's opera music is that the Italian preference for an overriding vocal line, keeping the orchestra as a secondary background, is not respected by Mozart. Here and always, in the Northern tradition of orchestral music, Mozart likes to give a rich partition to the instruments, not just as the discreet support of the singers, Italian style, but as an independent contributor to the dialogue with the voices, holding its own in questioning and commenting on the action and feelings.
This luscious orchestration may have seemed untraditional, intrusive, even annoying, to an audience accustomed to the exclusive attention paid to singing in Italian operas, in which only arias and singers are worthy of notice.
Hermann Abert keeps complaining about this predilection of Mozart and sees it as a negative mark in his "Italian" operas. But modern audiences, raised in appreciation of Mozart's brilliant instrumental music, are, on the contrary, delighted by the amazing inventiveness deployed by his orchestra, which seems to be animated by its own life force.
What Abert fails to realize is that, in listening to LA FINTA SEMPLICE, we're not just interested in another example of buffa, or a libretto by Coltellini, but we are irresistibly attracted to Mozart's passionate youthful music.
This young Mozart did not follow all the rules and precepts of the time, (imposed only by tradition, and not written out in any manual of buffa composition), but those engraved in his memory during his continual visits to theaters and opera houses during his European trips and filtered through his sensitivity.
It is simply remarkable how well the young boy of 12 was able to absorb all the examples of contemporary opera composers he was being exposed to -- Haendel, Leonardo Vinci, Johann A. Hasse, Pergolesi, Gluck, Jommelli, Anfossi, Traetta, Piccini, Gassmann, Johann Christian Bach, Paisiello -- and produce a work of ravishing music and entertaining stage action.
A compilation on YouTube offers a version of the Peter Schreier version of LA FINTA SEMPLICE that omits all recitatives. The implicit claim is that getting rid of all recitatives allows us to get directly to the core of the opera, its very essence, the arias themselves.
But cutting out the recitatives in Mozart is a horrendous mistake. They're needed to advance the action. Moreover, the original Italian dialogue of the libretto is humorous, farcical, always great fun to follow (translation needed for most audiences).
And Mozart manages to make the recitatives musically attractive and worth listening to. In many passages, the orchestra enhances the voices with very exciting themes or motifs, which I would not like to do without, for instance, the tender and subdued music during the pantomime in Act 2/Sc. 7, when Rosina and Cassandro communicate silently by signs, as part of the recitative, "L'ho fatta grossa assai" (Cassandro, Rosina). In fact, one of the joys of listening to Mozart's opera music is to pay attention to the lively participation of the orchestra and its beguiling themes or surprising interjections. Mozart was a supreme master of sound effects.
LEOPOLD'S OBSESSIVE DESIRE TO ESTABLISH YOUNG MOZART AS A COMPETENT OPERA COMPOSER
Leopold's ambition for his son's miraculous talent was to get him recognized as a brilliant opera composer, the royal road to musical success in the 18th c., as proved by Haendel, Johann Christian Bach, and Haydn.
Leopold efficiently managed his son's travels and provided the assistance needed for his unstoppable composing creativity. He saved his manuscripts and forwarded them to Salzburg for safekeeping.
Leopold is not given credit enough for his dogged persistence in trying, against all odds and over so many disappointments, to have his son's phenomenal talent -- which he considered a true miracle in modern times -- sanctioned with a court position as opera composer. He lost in Vienna with LA FINTA SEMPLICE, but didn't give up, and saw his attempt in Vienna as "no more than a staging post on the road to Italy."
He prepared his move to Italy very carefully, where he won in Milan with the successes of MITRIDATE (Carnival of Dec. 1770-Jan. 1771), and ASCANIO IN ALBA, a pastoral serenata performed for the wedding of Archduke Ferdinand (Oct. 15, 1771).
By contrast, the main opera for the wedding, "Ruggiero", by Hasse, on a Metastasio libretto, generated no enthusiasm. Maria Theresa had herself commissioned the libretto and composition. Hasse had been her music teacher 38 years earlier, and had remained her favorite musician and personal friend. But he now was 71, suffering of gout, and could barely travel to Milan.
The Empress was embittered by Hasse's lack of success, and consoled him, back in Vienna, with rich presents. This may have contributed to her growing resentment against the Mozarts.
After the success of LUCIO SILLA (Carnival of Dec. 1772-Jan.1773), Leopold, overstayed his visit in Milan by a few months, until he was advised that no position would be offered to Mozart. He had to leave empty-handed.
The Empress Maria-Theresa's behind-the-scene objection to Mozart was revealed much later, when her son, Archduke Ferdinand in Milan, delighted by Mozart's MITRIDATE, and his wedding serenata, ASCANIO IN ALBA, had expressed his desire to employ young Mozart in his court. Maria Theresa answered in a famous letter of Dec. 12, 1771:
"You ask me to take the young Salzburger into your service. I do not know why, not believing that you have need of a composer or of useless people. If however it would give you pleasure, I have no wish to hinder you. What I say is intended only to prevent your burdening yourself with useless people and giving titles to people of that sort. If they are in your service it degrades that service when these people go about the world like beggars. Besides, he has a large family." (Abert, p. 147).
Historian Derek Beales called Maria-Theresa "monstrously unfair to Mozart." Mozart never became a court-appointed opera composer, and remained a free-lancer opera writer all his life.
Leopold was aware that a success in Vienna would have been a jumping-board for soliciting a position in another court. Many writers blame Leopold's persistence in Vienna in pushing LA FINTA SEMPLICE for jeopardizing Mozart's chances with other royal courts. But this is an illusion of retrospection -- a post-mortem after the hands have been played.
Leopold had to get young Mozart out of Salzburg, and did a great job with his plan. His failure in Vienna must be attributed to the bad luck he encountered there, and the lack of understanding and sympathy from the Habsburg family for his boy's unique genius.
Bluntly speaking, the Austrians of the 1768 Vienna torpedoed the chances of Mozart becoming the prolific opera composer he should have become, as he would have been good for 2 or 3 operas a year.
Already at 12, he easily wrote 2 operas, as he had already done the year before in 1767. During his teens, in 8 years from 1767 to 1775, age 11 to 19, Mozart, still as a free-lancer, wrote ELEVEN operas.
In the next 16 years, from 1775 to 1791, Mozart composed only another EIGHT complete operas, for a life total of NINETEEN, plus 3 unfinished ones (all presented in the famous M-22 productions of the 2006 Salzburg festival).
This is not an impressive total compared to the considerable productivity of composers of Italian operas in the 18th c., many writing 50 or more operas (Alessandro Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Hasse, Gluck, Anfossi, Sarti), some nearly 100 or even more (Albinoni, Galuppi, Jommelli, Piccinni, Guglielmi, Paisiello, Cimarosa).
The Habsburgs -- Empress Maria Teresa, Emperor Joseph II, and Emperor Leopold II -- never offered any effective support to further Mozart's overriding desire to become an established opera composer, in spite of convincing demonstrations of his superior abilities.
Austrians later turned Mozart into a national treasure, but, in the balance of abstract justice, that will never make up for the indifference to his works and neglect when he was alive. As Joseph II was said to explain, in a likely apocryphal story: "I am afraid, my dear Mozart, that your music is too beautiful for the ears of my Viennese."
THE PETER SCHREIER VERSION WAS SELECTED FOR THE PHILIPS "COMPLETE MOZART EDITION" VOL. 28 OF 1991, OVER THE LEOPOLD HAGER VERSION IN ORFEO
I obtained my version of the Peter Schreier's production of Nov. 1989 in the Philips box #13 of Mozart's "Early Italian Operas", in the COMPLETE COMPACT MOZART EDITION of 2000 and 2006.
This box includes five operas -- "Finta Semplice", "Mitridate", "Ascanio", "Scipione", and "Lucio Silla" -- the last four all directed by Leopold Hager, but for LA FINTA SEMPLICE, it presents instead this version directed by Peter Schreier.
My box of 5 operas does not include a libretto, only a list of recitatives and arias, whereas the original Philips box, vol. 28 of 1991, does offer a full libretto with translations.
Note that the box set of the 5 "Early Italian Operas" (13 CDs) is incorporated in the new release by Decca of MOZART: THE COMPLETE OPERAS, of August 2009 (44 CDs).
The Philips vol. 28 Schreier version, at 147', (of Nov. 1989) is shorter than the 166' of the Hager CD in Orfeo (of Jan. 1983), which is probably complete, since Hager is always intransigent about producing reference recordings. But, Gott sei Dank, Peter Schreier retained all the 26 numbers, and, like a skillful surgeon, only shortened recitatives.
Both interpretations are excellent, and I am the happy owner of both versions of LA FINTA SEMPLICE. I must confess a predilection for the Orfeo/Hager recording because, like Hager, I prefer to have all the recitatives, with their humorous, farcical dialogue. I also have a secret love for the voices of Helen Donath and Teresa Berganza.
However, I have listened to both recordings many, many times -- for days on end. One cannot tire of them. Could one be a more addicted lover of Mozart's music? His music makes me feel vibrantly alive and I am always thrilled by his outbursts of rage or fear and his soaring, heartstring-pulling, flights of ineffable longing and yearning.
Now the new challenge is to find a decent staged interpretation among the too few DVD versions available.
This Philips recording by Peter Schreier is an excellent introduction to LA FINTA SEMPLICE. This opera by young Mozart is a marvelous example of buffa, very amusing, very farcical, with very beautiful music, a jewel of Mozart's operatic work, with a distinctive youthful freshness and enthusiasm that will not be found again in Mozart's later operas.
I am convinced that, once this entertaining opera gets better known by the public and opera house managers, it will eventually become part of the active repertory of major modern opera houses, including the Met in New York, with as top-class singers as Schreier and Hager have assembled in their superb recordings of LA FINTA SEMPLICE.