<< -- 3 -- Roderic Dunnett WIT AND ORIGINALITY
However operas like The Philosophers' Stone and The Magnificent Dervish, like Mozart's The Magic Flute, represent both a related and a very different tradition from Figaro. Grand opera and opera buffa in Vienna had more or less fallen into a tradition inherited from Italy, thanks to a bevy of Italian (or Italian-trained) composers from Naples and elsewhere. They included, notably, Cimarosa, Paisiello, Salieri, and Martin y Soler (whose The Taming of the Shrew, to a Da Ponte libretto, is shortly to be staged outdoors by Bampton Classical Opera, at or around Oxford on 21, 22 and 29 July 2006), something else was happening down the road at the playhouse known as the Freihaus-Theater, or the Theater auf der Wieden, whose resident suburban company would some years later transfer to the newly built Theater an der Wien (in the area of the modern Vienna Volksoper).
Here was the brilliantly talented team with which Mozart would ally himself in the last year of his life. It was run by the actor-composer-singer-manager and ingenious entrepreneur Emanuel Schikaneder (born 1751), then in his late thirties, who had finally moved the widely travelled troupe run by himself and his actress wife -- they toured throughout the Austrian provinces, including Graz, Budapest and Ljubljana, and widely in Germany) to the Austrian Capital in 1789. They relaunched the company that summer, at this out-of-town theatre on which they had taken a lease, with a comic Singspiel entitled Der dumme Gärtner ('The Silly Gardener'). It wasn't Schikaneder's first such work: at least five comic operas masterminded or written by him preceded it between 1785 and 1789, including such titles as The Air Balloon and The Cabbage-Chopper. They were the Bohemian Girls, the popular smash-hits, of their day. In 1789 and 1790, even before The Philosophers' Stone emerged, there had appeared six more, such as The Afflicted Husbands and (shades of Il Seraglio and later, Abu Hassan) The Mufti of Samarkand. So successful were some of the operas that Schikaneder and his team even began serialising them. The doting public could go back for a second, and even a third, instalment.
Copyright © 9 July 2006
Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK