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Born on Jan. 27, 1756, in Salzburg, Austria, composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the only son born to Leopold and Anna Maria Mozart. His father, an eminent musician in his own right, began teaching him the harpsichord when he was only four years old.
He wrote minuets when he was five, a sonata at seven, a symphony at eight; and, at the suggestion of the Holy Roman Emperor, an opera, La finta semplice at 11.
At the age of six, he and his sister Maria Anna were taken by their father to the electoral court in Munich, where they were a huge success, and for the next several years, Leopold exhibited his children throughout Europe.
Mozart and his father embarked on an extended tour of Italy in 1770. For Milan, he wrote the opera, Mitridate, re di Ponto, which was first performed on Dec. 26, 1770.
From 1772 to 1777 Mozart resided in Salzburg, under unhappy conditions. The city’s new archbishop, Hieronymous von Colloredo failed to appreciate Mozart’s genius. The young man was treated as a servant, with imperious authority and personal abuse.
Finally, Mozart escaped Salzburg in 1777 setting off for Paris with his mother, hoping to find a more advantageous post. Unfortunately, his stay in Paris came to an abrupt end with the death of his mother and Mozart had to return to a drab existence in Salzburg.
In January 1781, Mozart was acclaimed for his new opera, Idomeneo. This was the first work that hinted at his developing powers as a composer for the stage. The permanent break with the archbishop of Salzburg came in 1782 when Mozart visited Vienna with the archbishop’s entourage. Denied permission to appear at some benefit concerts, Mozart denounced his employer, and was summarily dismissed. From then on Mozart resided in Vienna. There, the Holy Roman Emperor, Joseph II commissioned him to write a new opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio which premiered on July 16, 1782, and was a triumph.
Confident of his future, Mozart married Constanze Weber on Aug. 4, 1782. He expected a profitable position at court, but, although the Emperor was lavish with praise and commissions, no position appeared. To earn a living, Mozart gave lessons, which brought in only meagre earnings.
A 1785 meeting with Lorenzo da Ponte, who had recently been appointed poet of the Viennese court theatres, resulted in three of Mozart’s greatest operas. The first was The Marriage of Figaro in 1786, followed quickly by Don Giovanni in 1787: both were triumphs.
The last of their three collaborations was Così fan tutte in 1790. It was considered a failure and only received 10 performances before being dropped from the repertoire.
The final year of Mozart’s life brought no end to his continuing personal misfortunes. While he had finally received a permanent post as court composer and chamber musician, he received such a small salary that it neither relieved him of his debts nor provided for necessities. Yet 1791 was a period of brilliant creation, yielding two operas, La clemenza di Tito and The Magic Flute, and his great Requiem.
Mozart died at the age of 35 on Dec. 5, 1791 after a short and violent illness. His funeral was held at Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and his body was interred in a mass grave.
Born January 18, 1745 in Longarone in north-east Italy, Caterino Mazzolà became a well-known poet and librettist in Venetian society in his early life. His circle of friends included famed ladies man Casanova and fellow poet and librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, who wrote the librettos for Mozart’s Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro and Così fan tutte.
In his thirties, Mazzolà was appointed as poet to the court in Dresden, Germany, where he was introduced to Antonio Salieri, the famed Italian composer. There Mazzolà began a robust career as librettist for the Hapsburg empire, which hungered for Italian opera. After a time, he returned to Venice where he obtained a position as a diplomat through his connection to Frederick Augustus III, the last king of Saxony, who commanded that he continue to send his librettos to the Saxon court to be used in operas there.
Mazzolà was a master of the opera buffo – style the “comic opera”. His work for the Saxon courts led him to his introduction to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with whom he collaborated on adapting the poet Metastasio’s libretto for La clemenza di Tito, written a century earlier, for Prague in 1791. Although La clemenza di Tito is not an opera buffo – it is an opera seria, a serious opera – there is evidence that Mazzolà used his experience with comic operas to restructure Mozart’s masterpiece. A key trait of an opera buffo is to vividly reflect the contemporary trends of society within the opera, which Mazzolà wove into the ancient Roman Empire in the year 79 A.D. setting of La clemenza.
Renata Pokupic as Sesto in the Chicago Opera Theater production of La clemenza di Tito. Photo: Richard Hein © 2009