Compare and Contrast an Opera Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Mozart Arias

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is universally considered to be a musical genius because he is so great in his work. During his short time on the earth because he died very young, he was responsible for the writing of some of the most beautiful works of music ever written. He wrote symphonies and stand alone pieces too. His work has been put to ballets and other plays and in movies. In addition to these, he also wrote some of the world's most beautiful and emotional operas. Each opera is built around unique and fully-developed characterizations especially of the women characters. Remarkably even though the language may not be understood because the operas are sung in foreign languages, the music and the voices which sing each song of the opera perfectly convey the meaning and the emotional core that Mozart intended to express in the opera. Two distinct examples of the emotional and narrative power of a Mozart aria can be found in scenes from The Marriage of Figaro and in the opera Don Giovanni. Countess Almiviva and Donna Elvira, the main female roles in Mozart's operas Nozze di Figaro or The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni respectively, are both roles for sopranos singers, but the narrative of the operas shows the Countess to be an intelligent woman in a sort of a comedic situation who is able to outwit her husband's amorous attentions to another girl who is going to be married while Donna Elvira is a wretched creature who seeks vengeance from the man who hurt her and is ultimately a doomed character in that she is not going to be happy; the music and lyrics supporting the individual characters, their differences, their emotions, and their respective purposes.

Countess Almiviva:

In The Marriage of Figaro, the character of Countess Almiviva is very unhappy as a person because of her life. A long ritornello opens the aria why the Countess sings about her new husband the Count is unfaithful to her and wants to be some more beginning with mm. 1. The singing is actually only about half of the aria beginning at mm. 18. Before this is only music. It is a short aria and so every choice of Mozart is important to understanding the song. After the Countess starts singing, the music becomes somewhat quieter, allowing the voice to become central. In terms of the story, even worse than his infidelity is the fact that he intends to seduce a companion of the Countess, the beautiful and young Susanna who is supposed to be a good girl and only because of that is he not cheating already.

During the aria "Porgi Amor," the Countess sings of her sadness in a slow, melodic tempo. This emotion is captured in the music that accompanies the lyrics. In addition to the regular instruments which have been heard already so far in the opera, a deep note in G flat is heard played on the bassoon (Cairns 125). Her sound is distinct in the opera and sets her apart from the other female characters. Even though it is a short song, the piece is musically interesting. For one thing, there is little repetition of phrases but instead each part of the piece is written in an individual way but each use middle to high notes. Using many sharps in A and B. keeps the underlying feeling sad but positive.

Despite the fact that the Count has been unfaithful and plans to continue to be so, she loves her husband and so she wants to fix things if she can (Carter 110). Her emotions regarding his betrayal are mixed with the feeling that she does not want him killed or otherwise harmed for him actions. In English, the lyrics to "Porgi Amor" translate to mean that she needs peace from the torment that his adultery is putting her through. If he is not going to love her, then she asks that God allow her to die, wishing violence upon herself and not on the false lover. This is when the soprano sings her highest note, a sharp A and it makes this part very potent. So she is sad but she is not so angry with him and this is heard in the music. It's sad. The decision she makes to try to keep her husband is shown in the music in an interesting way. There is a pause between the part of the aria where she complains and the part where she makes her decision which is mm. 26-27.

Donna Elvira:

The aria that is sung by Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni also concerns infidelity and betrayal of a woman by the man that she loves and, of course, her emotional response to this act of betrayal. However, in the aria "Ah, Chi Mi Dice Mai," Donna Elvira is in her pain but also that above everything she wants and even demands revenge for the betrayal of her lover. She does not start singing until the 13th bar of the song, allowing instruments to introduce her. In English, the aria translates into "Who will ever tell me?" Within the song, the character is full of emotion and is confused about what she wants, until she decides herself on revenge. If he will not return to her, then she will kill him or get him killed. This is stated in the lines "E a me non-torna ancor / Vo' farne orrendo scempio" or "And he still will not come back to me, / I will destroy him." That moment of decision is punctuated musically, as is the rest of the aria. The instruments which accompany the character's feelings are full of the anger and rage which she herself is experiencing and when the final decision is made, the instruments act like a period (Hunter 145). When she herself is at her most emotional music grows more violent as her temper gets worse. Looking at the very notes of the song, this is made clear. Until mm. 25, all of the notes are relatively high. But when the aria reaches the 25th measure, the notes are lower and deeper, reflecting the negative emotion of the woman singing the aria.

Differences in the two characters:

Even though the two arias have the same function, there is a definitive difference in the emotion that the individual songs are showing. Each woman is beside herself because of the betrayal of the person she loved, the Count in The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni in the Don Giovanni. However, the emotions behind the arias are extremely different. Whereas Countess Almiviva is sad but intends of keeping her marriage together and protecting her adulterous husband, Donna Elvira is consumed with rage over the way she was treated. "Porgi Amor" is a song that is sad about the Countess's situation but also it is hopeful because the character hopes the situation can be happily resolved. "Ah, Chi Mi Dice Mai" is also a song of despair, but it is equally one of anger. This woman does not care if Don Giovanni is harmed; rather she wants him to be hurt. Instead of keeping her love, all Donna Elvira wants is vengeance. The tone of the aria and the emotion behind the song illustrates the character's personality and the core of the character herself. Countess Almiviva is at her heart a loving woman who cares more about others than herself. She is willing to forgive and expects the best in others. Donna Elvira has a much harsher center at her being. The woman is controlled by her emotion, love when she felt that, and now anger since the object of her beloved has proven false. She has only extremes of emotion and within her heart there is no place for forgiveness and she does not believe people can be redeemed. It is interesting that both arias use a rest between the sadness and resolution of the singer, mm. 26-27 in "Ah, Chi Mi Dice Mai" and mm. 26-27 also in "Porgi Amor." The pause is used in the same way in both pieces so the listener can assume it is absolutely intentional. However, in Donna Elvira's case there are fewer rests. There is another one in the Countess's song, at mm. 31. Then she continues singing through the rest of the aria until mm. 49.


The methods used by Mozart allow the viewer of the opera to understand the different characterizations of these two female characters. Countess Almiviva in her aria shows herself to be a loving woman who will fight her amorous husband through her intelligence and cunning. The music is designed so that the viewer empathizes with her. Within this character we can witness pain and the desire to thwart his seduction of another. She is relatable and only because of her attitude which is both sad and mischievous, the viewer can feel the play to be a comedy. Donna Elvira who does…

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