Why is Munich messing around with Mozart?

Why is Munich messing around with Mozart?


norman lebrecht

July 18, 2018

The Bavarian State Opera has inserted an unrelated aria – Abendempfindung – into the Marriage of Figaro.

Why on earth?


  • R. Brite says:

    Ack, as if Figaro wasn’t long enough already. Cuts elsewhere, perhaps?

  • Michael Hurshell says:

    Surely a purely rhetorical question, considering the conductor…?

  • Olassus says:

    Because it is better music than what it replaces, fits dramatically (even with the change of language), and you have Anne Sofie to sing it.

    • Gillian says:

      But that is dull!

    • Caravaggio says:

      Really? How so? So now we have assumed the authority to fiddle around at will, capriciously, with works that don’t need help only so we can self congratulate for our presumed cleverness? About ASvO, this writer finds her one of the most boring and unimaginative singers imaginable, right up there with Garanca.

  • Sina says:

    Who cares? The opera is set anyway in a wrong period….

  • Nik says:

    Last year’s Tito in Salzburg was a mash-up with the C minor Mass. Why? Dunno, why not? I enjoyed it.

  • Caravaggio says:

    It is hard to understand what the hell is going on at the Bavarian SO but didn’t they also replace the ballet music in Verdi’s Les Vespres Siciliannes with electronic/disco crap in their recent production that bombed out? It appears to be a free for all over there. And not just there.

  • George says:

    Maybe it was a tribute to her husband.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It was inserted to give Masetto the opportunity to quickly release himself since he had indigestion problems.

  • Quodlibet says:

    It was common practice in Mozart’s own time to insert unrelated songs and arias into operas, often to showcase a particular singer’s voice. Mozart wrote a large collection of arias for that purpose (what we now call the “concert arias”) – surely sometimes a lied might have been used, especially one like “Abendempfindung,” which is distinguished from Mozart’s other lieder by being more of a dramatic scene rather than a song (it is through-composed rather than strophic)? The use of substitute arias was widely practiced, widely expected, and widely accepted. So why the furor now over an occasional example of the same practice? At least it was by Mozart! In Mozart’s time, substitute arias were not even always by the same composer as the opera into which they were inserted.


    • msc says:

      I would like to know what it replaced, since there are no bad arias in The marriage….
      R. Brite: played even virtually complete, a good performance is not ling enough.

    • steven holloway says:

      Quite right. But your link is to a musicological article. Norman doesn’t like Musicology and nor do a lot of his followers, as we’ve read often enough, so I fear your venture into serious musical discussion may be in vain. A very enjoyable article, though, and I thank you.

      • Brettermeier says:

        And I always thought that if I know that, everybody knows that. Especially here.

        Replacing / scrapping / transposing arias was common practice, yes. When in a baroque opera some woman sings out of context that she’s sailing away to conquer stuff and she’ll miss her wife, then the original aria most likely sucked, was rejected by the audience and replaced for something more agreeable. Or the singer had to be replaced for some reason. Plague, who knows.

  • Bruce says:

    I remember seeing Le Nozze from the Met on TV approx. 15 years ago with Bartoli as Susanna. She sang a different aria in Act IV instead of “Deh vieni non tardar.” I think it was Mozart but I didn’t recognize it. Nobody seemed to mind. It was lovely.

    • George says:

      In 1789, for the Vienna revival of Figaro, Mozart wrote a few new pieces for the opera. Among them was a Rondo aria called “Al desio di chi t’adora K577”, which replaced “Al desio di chi t’adora.” The 1789 Susanna was played by Da Ponte’s mistress Adriana Ferrarese, who would premiere the role of Fiordiligi the following year. Mozart complained that she lacked the dramatic ability of Nancy Storace. “Al desio” is brilliant as a concert aria and a paragon of Mozart’s late style – majestic with a hint of nostalgia – replete with obligati for horns and basset horns. But, it lacks the dramatic simplicity of “Deh vieni”, thus destroying the dramatic irony of the situation.

  • Stuart says:

    It was 1998 and the director, Jonathan Miller, did seem to mind. From the NY Times: “Ms. Bartoli’s strongly expressed her desire to perform Susanna using two alternative arias, composed by Mozart, in place of the familiar arias from the original 1786 Vienna production. Evidently, she insisted that her contract stipulate that she had the right to sing them, at least in some performances. The Met’s artistic director, James Levine, agreed, apparently annoying Mr. Miller, who had staged the two arias with the original music and refused at first to stage the substitutes, finding them inferior.”

  • Ozan K. says:

    Is opera a museum thing? Yes! Simply because ‘museum’ and ‘music’ are basically the same word.

    Whenever I hear the inexhaustable threat question: ‘Do you want opera to turn into a museum thing?’, I reply ‘Sure, and why not make museums more of a part of everyday life? It will be a win win situation’. We have a political choice and politics will always be a two-way traffic…

    Just as museums are not just tourist attractions, there is no futuristic determination which dictates that preserving the integrity of a historical art form (with components varying from literature to architecture) is to isolate it or send it to the bin (the museum).

    • Ozan K. says:

      P.S. Unfortunately, no one can argue that a libretto is a part of opera performance practice in the 21st century. Unless it is a contemporary work, libretto is a dead aspect.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I agree that there is nothing wrong with a museum. It is a sign of ignorance to think that a museum is ‘dead’. But there is everything wrong with the idea that a libretto of ‘old’ – i.e. non-contemporary – works, is a dead aspect. In opera, the text is the bottle for the wine and hence, a very important structural aspect. It is the story where the whole thing is about, after all. Don Giovanni or Tristan und Isolde are not about the director or the conductor or the singers or the orchestra or the house, but about what happens in the story.

        • Ozan K. says:

          I fully agree. What I meant by ‘dead’ was killed/completely disregarded by directors.

        • Brettermeier says:

          “In opera, the text is the bottle for the wine and hence, a very important structural aspect. It is the story where the whole thing is about, after all.”

          Tell that to 17th century private opera houses in Italy. They happily replaced arias (while sacrificing the (most likely dim-witted) story) that were rejected by the audience.

        • George says:

          Mozart said that the libretto was the servant to the music. However, just as Mozart often used the libretto as a source for musical opportunity, Mozart’s musical imagination is always used to dramatic function to represent/organize both the text and the action. This applies not only to specific aspects within self-contained units (arias, ensembles, finales, etc.), such as rhythm, phrasing, and harmony, but to the choice and positioning of these elements as well – things as general as tonality, style, and tempo.
          Therefore, to interpolate or substitute extra arias into the score, even if they’re by Mozart, is not only dramatically disruptive, but it undermines Mozart’s profound dramatic genius. The opera as a unified whole can be considered as much Mozart’s musical vision as the individual numbers.
          This practice, which is indeed authentic to the 18th century, is proof the authenticity is not always a good thing particularly with regard to the worst aspects of performance practice. Regardless of the fact that the substitution is still by Mozart, only the composer himself would have the proper authority to make such a decision. The fact is that whenever Mozart did such things, it was always out of necessity. Mozart’s own substitutions for later performances of both Figaro and Don Giovanni are certainly less effective dramatically than the former versions, regardless of how beautiful the music is.

  • Martin says:

    How many of those commenting here saw it live? I did last Sunday and the Lied works perfectly instead of the aria. Obviously you need to understand how the characters are being portrayed in this production, if you do you get. „Abendempfindung“ works so well here for Marcellina.

  • Pavlos says:

    Maybe it’s because “Il capro e la capretta” is too difficult for ms Von Otter to sing nowadays…She sounds great here though