Opera Composers and Librettists Relationship Term Paper

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Guglielmo tries to comfort Ferrando, but he himself is thankful that his lady, Fiordiligi, seems to be strong. In one last attempt to prove both of the ladies fickle, Ferrando threatens suicide, and Fiordiligi gives in to him. Just as a double wedding is being arranged, Guglielmo and Ferrando enter, pretending to be returning from their regiment. When the women discover that they have been wooed by their lovers instead of Albanians, they despair as Alfonso explains the deception and goes on to say that, "true happiness lies not in romantic illusion but in accepting things as they are" (2006).

The combination of Da Ponte's frivolity and Mozart's ponderousness created these three distinct operas similar in their use of theatrical conventions and each gradually advancing to simpler, but also more poignant plots. Mozart and Da Ponte were eager to work together (Bakshian, 1978), despite the fact that Da Ponte was new to the field, having written "his first original libretto in 1784" while Mozart had already composed a dozen operas by the time they began their work on the Marriage of Figaro (Keller, 2006). It would seem that they took hold of a fruitful opportunity when they developed their partnership, as it has been said that "the operas the two men produced together are among the greatest in the international repertory" (Acocella, 2007) and that "together, they took the erstwhile knockabout conventions of opera buffa and invested them with a new seriousness. They created characters of rare depth and psychological richness, and infused comic plots with a worldly, humane and compassionate view of human frailty (Porterfield, 2006). After the debut of their first opera together, the Marriage of Figaro, "Mozart was well-launched as a master opera composer and Da Ponte as a master librettist" (Bakshian, 1978, p. 166).

There has been a question, however, about who controlled the production of the operas, or whose contribution was greater. It is obvious that the two worked very well together, but it might do to take a closer look at their collaboration on the operas. The Marriage of Figaro, firstly, would never have been performed without the wit and cleverness of Da Ponte in his composition of the libretto or in his proposal to Emperor Joseph who had banned the French play of the same name, upon which the opera was based. Da Ponte "hacked away subplots and sub-themes, and he cut the number of characters from sixteen to eleven," (Acocella, 2007) and presented it to Emperor Joseph as a play so altered that it could not possibly offend (Bakshian, 1978). In all three plays, "the accepted order of things is undermined by trickery, by seduction, by savvy manipulation; in each opera too, there are scenes of masquerade and confusion," (Rothstein, 2006) which seems to incorporate Da Ponte's way of life. While these plays are considered comedies, they also have serious characters and resounding moral messages that echo in the audience's heart and mind. Each play ends, not in a happy marriage the way most comedies do, but in a ponderous suggestion. This seriousness can more easily be attributed to Mozart since "there is abundant evidence, both in Mozart's music and in his life, that he had a deep understanding of the human heart, and a tragic bent" (Acocella, 2007). Looking closely at the libretto for Cosi Fan Tutte, there is an element of internal conflict as Fiordiligi fights the urge to succumb to Ferrando's affections. "This wrenching business is generally attributed to Mozart, because he gave it such lovely music," (Acocella, 2007) despite the fact that the moral dilemma comes through the plot, not the music.

It is unnecessary to try to label one contributor as the greater of the two, as he in whom all the success lies for their collaborative achievements. It is just as well to say that their success lies in their mutual compromise and partnership, which may be the case, especially because it would seem that so many scholars seem unable to come to an agreement on this particular point, and therefore the roles of the two artists seem to roll into one. Each artist contributed his own special gift while acquiescing to suggestions of the other. Their mutual compromise is evident upon examination of their opera librettos, when in the one hand, "Da Ponte's texts for Mozart . . . show a higher proportion of ensemble singing -- Mozart's preference -- over solo," and in the other hand the librettos "show a detailed knowledge of the Italian literary tradition and a familiarity with Italian colloquial speech, two things that Da Ponte had and Mozart didn't" (Acocella, 2007).

Regardless of whether one artist directed production or not, what is important is that these two artists developed a partnership that would help them both achieve a master status, with the final assessment by Tchaikovsky that the pair had produced, "the most beautiful opera ever written" (Bakshian, 1978). According to biographer Sheila Hodges, the debate is pointless, as it would seem that Da Ponte "did his best work with the best composers, and they with him" (Acocella, 2007). Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte are credited by many to have written some of the finest operatic works ever created, incorporating Da Ponte's witty words and clever plot points with Mozart's elegant, soaring scores.


Acocella, Joan. (2007). Nights at the opera. New Yorker, 82(44), 70-76.

Bakshian, Jr., Aram. (1978). Lorenzo Da Ponte: Mozart's librettist. History Today,…

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