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  • Mozart22: A DVD Review Portfolio Musical Revisionism in Mozart22
  • Adeline Mueller (bio)

What's in a recitative? For two productions in Mozart22, the answer is a resounding "not much." The directorial teams behind La finta semplice and Ascanio in Alba dispense with their operas' recitatives altogether, replacing them with newly written dialogue spoken by interpolated characters, metatheatrical narrator figures who mediate self-consciously between the work and "us." It is difficult to imagine a similar level of musical intervention being tolerated with one of the late operas. Although Stefan Herheim's controversial Die Entführung aus dem Serail, with its overhaul of the dialogue, represents a comparable level of gutting of spoken text, and additional characters (speaking or mute) are a common feature in Mozart22, the largely conservative approach to the music of the late works suggests that there is still, after all these years, something sacrosanct about Mozart's late scores.1 As Ascanio in Alba's conductor, Adam Fischer, casually put it in an interview for the DVD's behind-the-scenes featurette, "One could do Don Giovanni with the same freedom, but no one dares. We're all cowards."2

The productions of Ascanio in Alba and La finta semplice, then, represent something both more and less audacious. The missing recitatives and new dialogue are not isolated but recurring, insistent ruptures in the works' theatrical illusion, a clear expansion of the scope of the directorial intervention beyond the visual to the realm of the aural. On the other hand, as encapsulated in Fischer's pithy comment, the less canonical status of these early operas makes it far easier for audiences (and festival directors) to sanction such interventions. Don Giovanni is, in fact, produced with a certain freedom, but that freedom is nearly invisible to audiences, circumscribed as it is by traditions going back for decades. Like Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni exists in essentially two versions (Prague 1787 and Vienna 1788), and in keeping with longstanding production convention, the Mozart22 version is neither wholly one nor the other. Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Martin Kušej retain two of the three Vienna additions—Don Ottavio's aria "Dalla sua pace" and Donna Elvira's accompanied recitative and aria "In quali eccessi, o Numi/Mi tradì quell'alma ingrata"—but omit the Vienna duet for Zerlina and Leporello, "Per queste tue manine," while retaining the Prague aria for Don Ottavio, "Il mio tesoro intanto."3 Mozart22's production of Idomeneo is even more assertively tweaked, in keeping with Mozart's own restless tinkering with the opera up to and after its premiere. But there is precedent here as well: performing versions of Mozart operas by the likes of Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss [End Page 46] constitute a kind of para-repertory in their own right, one that was recognized in the 2006 Salzburg Festival with a concert performance of Strauss's 1931 version of Idomeneo for Vienna.4 Finally, all these large-scale forms of musical intervention coexist with a more subtle, but no less pervasive or meaningful, level of intervention—the casting of castrate roles, tempos, cadenzas, ornamentation, and the like—that goes by the umbrella term "performance practice" and that has itself a long and variegated history at the Salzburg Festival.5

When musical interventions of any kind are familiar in themselves, or imposed on unfamiliar works, they can be easier to overlook than visual interventions or performer idiosyncrasies. Neither the La finta semplice nor the Ascanio in Alba productions identified their elimination of the recitatives as musical alterations, but rather as an "adaptation of the libretto." But several productions in Mozart22 were more self-conscious about their interpolations, emendations, and deletions of Mozart's music. The resulting works were even identified in one case as a unique "version," and in another as a new entity altogether. This illustrates the "revisionism" of my title: an approach to operatic production that thematizes the kind of musical revision that has been tracked by scholars such as Roger Parker and Hilary Poriss, in the process elevating it to parity with revisionist staging—both equally available, and equally crucial, in "making opera modern."6

Parker and Poriss discuss the case...


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