Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Singspiel Double-Bill: The Impresario (1786) and Bastian und Bastienne (1890)

I’ve wanted to do some Mozart for a very long time. There is no other Germanic composer who is as light and delicate as Mozart. I favour his Italian works, especially Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Tito. 

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THE IMPRESARIO:

Singspiel in one act. Running Time: 39 minutes.

Joseph II must have been a very odd fellow. Other royals had commissioned operas, even operas from Mozart, but to commission a comic play with incidental music? Huh? Incidentally the recording is in English, hence why I used the translation of the original German title.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3sNPmK-Ywg

LOOK OUT FOR:

0: The overture *** is famous, catchy, and I like it. Although too slight to be on par with the overtures to Figaro, Don Giovanni, or Zauberflote, it is definitely ahead of Cosi, Tito, or Entfuhrung. 

10: Sit back and enjoy six solid minutes of spoken dialogue which introduces the concept: Frank is an impresario and he is casting for a new opera to be going into rehearsals in two weeks time. He discusses this with Buff, a comic bass. There are to be two sopranos, a deadly combination. The first Madame Silverklang, sings a long and interestingly chromatic song ** about how she gave herself to a banker Herr Eiler at the age of nineteen in order to establish her singing career. She now has a lot of regrets.

18: The second prima donna, Madame Sweetsong  gives us her number about how men take advantage of her **. Unlike Silverklang, Sweetsong provides us with some lovely coloratura. She offers to work for nothing, but is told to not allow herself to be taken advantage of.

22: The two sopranos torment each other ** with Eiler trying to control them. Sweetsong gives us some more coloratura and Eiler congratulates her to the wrong Italian term– “bravissimo” only applies to males. Herr Frank leaves and Buff takes over the production.

33: The finale, all five or so minutes of it, consists of a quartet ** in which the four compromise.

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BASTIEN UND BASTIENNE:

Singspiel in one act. Running Time: 39.5 minutes.

This was probably Mozart’s first opera, at any rate he was only twelve when he wrote it. It was apparently commissioned by a Dr. Franz Mesmer and was supposedly performed in the garden of his mansion in 1768, although this is only reported by a single source, hence the late dating as 1890 was the first time it was performed otherwise. The plot is taken from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Le devin du village. Basically this is a parody of its French sources, but remember, the composer was only twelve. The opera consists of an miniature overture and fourteen numbers (eleven of which are arias) The Bastienne in this recording is Edita Gruberova, the celebrated coloratura soprano, in her prime (1990).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtUrnFTnnro&t=647s

LOOK OUT FOR:

0: The overture * begins with the same tune as Beethoven’s Eroica although this is surely just a co-incidence. It’s just cute pastorale music.

2: Bastienne’s opening aria **, in the style of a German lied. She tells us the scenario, Bastien no longer loves her nor comes to her meadow as she tends the sheep.

3: Bastienne’s second aria is cute although strangely more jovial than her first as she decides to find comfort in her sheep *.

4: The arrival of Colas and his aria *. He is a quack magician.

7: Bastienne’s third aria *, in which she explains her problem: she thinks Bastien has gone off her.

10: Bastienne’s fourth aria *.

11: The Bastienne-Colas duet *. Colas’ advice is to act hard to get with Bastien in order to bring him back from the “lady of the manor”.

13: Bastien’s entrance aria ** is oddly better than the previous numbers, either that or I have a thing for tenors.

15: Bastien’s second aria **.

17: Colas’ magic aria *** is entirely made up of gibberish words but has a surprising serious and striking mood to it, totally different from the other numbers. Supposedly this is done to make Bastienne love Bastien again.

19: Bastien’s third aria **.

21: Bastienne’s fifth aria ** in which she tries to be indifferent to her beloved Bastien (apparently the magic didn’t work).

24: Bastien’s hurt aria ***

25: Bastienne’s response is to very similar music but not as surprising **.

27: A recitative and aria Bastien then Bastienne **

29: Bastien threatens to commit suicide *** and we are off in the long Bastien-Bastienne duet. She eventually breaks down as he pushes this dire possibility.

36: The show ends with the return of Colas for a final trio ** in praise of love and fake magic.

COMMENTS:

I am not a fan of singspiel. To me it is the illegitimate child of opera seria and German folk plays that was allowed to reproduce and birthed those most dire of musical theatre genres, operetta and Andrew Lloyd Weber. The Impresario is very obviously a German operetta, a stage play with an amazing overture and four magnificent singing numbers to justify hiring an orchestra. For what it is, it is excellent, although if the dialogue isn’t ultra-witty and in the audience’s language, I am certain it can be rather boring while we wait for the songs. Bastien und Bastienne on the other hand is something quite different. In some ways this earlier work is closer to a proper opera than its genre would allude. The spiel  is very limited and tends to flow immediately into the sing bits without noticing too much of a difference. The only odd thing (other than Colas’ gibberish magic aria) is that Bastienne has to tee-up for four mini-arias in less than ten minutes. The score in general has an amazing sense of maturity and the pathos the young Mozart brings to Bastien’s threat of suicide and Bastienne’s reaction is striking. Both are mini-alphas.

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