Analysis of Mozart’s Operas As an Extension from Gluck

As stated in The Metropolitan Opera Guide:

“In developing new dramatic methods, Mozart continued and enlarged upon a device that Gluck had introduced—the use of the orchestra as an expressive medium.  Equally at home in symphony and in opera, he developed the tonal palette of the opera orchestra sufficiently to incur the famous accusation, leveled by his rival Cimarosa, that ‘Mozart puts the statue in the orchestra pit and the pedestal on the stage.’ ”  

Perhaps the use of the terms “Grand Opera” and “Comic Opera” can be misleading.  They do not necessarily mean that one form is better than another.  Christoph von Gluck’s opera (Orfeo ed Euridice) is considered Grand Opera, while Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera (The Marriage of Figaro) is considered to be Opera Buffa (Comic Opera).  Yet, in terms of the quality of the music, Johannes Brahms said “In my opinion, each number in Figaro is a miracle; it is totally beyond me how anyone could create anything so perfect; nothing like it was ever done again, not even by Beethoven.”

Charles Rosen, American Author on Music

Charles Rosen

Charles Rosen (1927-2012), a gifted pianist and noted author, wrote his authoritative work, entitled The Classical Style, as a way of explaining the “nature and evolution of the style of the Classical period as it was developed by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.”  Rosen was impressed with the attempt by Lorenzo Da Ponte (Mozart’s librettist for The Marriage of Figaro) to create a more unified play that would highlight Mozart’s gifts as a composer.  As stated in the Critical Discussion of The Marriage of Figaro on Wikipedia:

Lorenzo da Ponte, European Opera Librettist

Lorenzo Da Ponte

“Charles Rosen (in The Classical Style) proposes to take Da Ponte’s words quite seriously, noting the ‘richness of the ensemble writing,’ which carries forward the action in a far more dramatic way than recitatives would. Rosen also suggests that the musical language of the classical style was adapted by Mozart to convey the drama: many sections of the opera musically resemble sonata form; by movement through a sequence of keys, they build up and resolve musical tension, providing a natural musical reflection of the drama. As Rosen writes:  ‘The synthesis of accelerating complexity and symmetrical resolution which was at the heart of Mozart’s style enabled him to find a musical equivalent for the great stage works which were his dramatic models. The Marriage of Figaro in Mozart’s version is the dramatic equal, and in many respects the superior, of Beaumarchais’s work.’ ”

We include the above lengthy quote because the use of music in a dramatic context has been debated over the centuries and is central to the question of the American musical.  Is it dramatic performance art or just a play interrupted by singing?

Mozart continued to amaze audiences and critics with Don Giovanni (1787), Cosi fan tutti (1790) and Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute, 1791).

In Don Giovanni, we have a beautiful and gentle seduction scene (“La ci darem la mano”) that will be anything but beautiful and gentle if the soprano gives in to the blandishments of the baritone.