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Dueling Divas

One-act operas by Mozart and Salieri,
reviewed by KELLY FERJUTZ


It is entirely possible that the real rivalry at the time of Mozart and Salieri was whether Italian or German opera was the better linguistic choice. Could this be the reason behind Austrian Emperor Joseph II asking the two composers -- the Italian Antonio Salieri and the Austrian Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart -- to each write a short opera in their respective languages? The Emperor was hosting an important state reception for a visiting dignitary of the Netherlands on 7 February 1786, and needed an after-dinner entertainment. However, in addition to specifying the languages to be used by his two composers, he also specified the theme.

Mozart was busily working on The Marriage of Figaro, but interrupted himself to produce the brief Der Schauspieldirektor ('The Impresario'), K486, with a libretto by Gottlieb Stephanie, who had also been the author of Abduction from the Seraglio. It's a Singspiel or 'play with music' and was of course, in German. It had singing roles for a vocal quartet, plus seven non-singing speaking -- only acting parts. Salieri produced Prima la Musica, Poi le Parole ('First the Music, Then the Words') -- a Divertimento teatrale (theatrical divertimento) -- for a vocal quartet that sings in Italian. And the common theme? Both are back-stage operas that feature opera singers auditioning for the same roles. Ready? Let the fun begin!

And fun it was, at the Cleveland Institute of Music on Wednesday evening 1 March 2006, where these two one-act operas were staged back-to-back. David Bamberger, who retired from Cleveland Opera last year after thirty years as its founder/director, and was immediately hired as Artistic Director of CIM's Opera Department, kept the action snappy and light-hearted in a way that suited both the operas and his young talent.

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Copyright © 4 March 2006 Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland USA


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