Dorothea Link’s collection of arias sung by the famous buffo baritone Stefano Mandini—the first Count Almaviva in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro—is the fourth volume in her series of collections devoted to original Mozart singers, all published in piano reductions by A-R Editions in the series Recent Researches in the Music of the Classical Era. Previous volumes have featured arias written for Nancy Storace, the original Susanna (2002); Francesco Benucci, the original Figaro and Guglielmo in Così fan tutte (2004); and Vincenzo Calvesi, the original Ferrando (2011). Like the earlier volumes, this one may serve not only as inspiration for performers who want to explore the repertory surrounding Mozart’s masterpieces, or the artistic personality of one of the great singers of the past. Not least thanks to Link’s rich scholarly introduction, full of excerpted material from historical sources, it is also valuable as a reference book for scholars and students of eighteenth-century opera and vocal performance practice.
Link’s list of roles that Mandini sang between his debut in 1774 and his disappearance from historical records after 1799 [End Page 339] (p. [xxiv–xxx]) shows that music was written for him by Pasquale Anfossi, Domenico Cimarosa, Giovanni Paisiello, Stephen Storace, Antonio Salieri, Vicente Martín y Soler, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf, Leopold Koželuch, Pietro Alessandro Guglielmi, Niccolò Piccinni, Giuseppe Sarti, and a host of lesser-known maestri di cappella. In fact, Link lists no fewer than thirty-eight works, in which a role is known to have been written for him: a rich bank of material, surely, even if many of the scores are lost or lack extractable arias. So how does one make a representative selection?
One option might have been to select arias from across Mandini’s long and illustrious career, which took him to Vienna, Paris, Madrid, St. Petersburg, Moscow, and all the Italian centers, and during which he mainly sang in opera buffa, but also in other genres, such as oratorio, cantata and opéra comique (I find it particularly intriguing that Martín y Soler wrote a role for him in his 1796 opéra comique, Camille, ou Le souterrain, an early romantic rescue opera in which Mandini was required to sing and speak in French). The apparent drawback of this approach is that the drammi giocosi, intermezzi and farse composed for Italian theaters were churned out at an excessive speed, to the detriment of dramatic and musical complexity and innovation. This may be one reason why the arias in Link’s volume are all from operas Mandini sang between 1783 and 1788, roughly coinciding with his employment in Joseph II’s opera buffa company in Vienna, which arguably marked the highpoint of his career. Not only did the emperor and his advisors have the funds and the insight to employ the best librettists, composers, and singers available, and to offer them superior working conditions, but Vienna also boasted the most cosmopolitan and discerning opera audience in Europe, which prompted artists to develop, experiment, and generally give their best. While this high artistic level is reflected in the selected arias, Link may also have chosen to focus on this period in order to establish an immediate context around Mandini’s creation of Count Almaviva in 1786. In fact, five of the thirteen arias in the volume were not even written for him, but are taken from roles in which he was particularly admired during his first year in the city.
So who was the performer for whom Mozart wrote one of his most famous male roles, and of whom Arias for Stefano Mandini can be regarded as a kind of musical portrait? When he first sang the...