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Subject: Mozart's Popularity
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Date:Sat, 31 Oct 1998 21:25:27 EST
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        Boy, there's nothing like a little Mozart-bashing to bring out the
Philistines on the List. As much as I love "La Gioconda" (which is quite a
lot), I think you can a pretty solid case for Mozart being a vastly superior
composer just on the level of craftsmanship, never mind the more elusive
quality known as genius, which some Listers have described so eloquently (as
does Peter Shaffer in "Amadeus"). Even after administrators of major opera
companies and active, professional opera singers have told us otherwise, the
"Mozart is Cheaper" canard keeps popping up. I strongly suggest one evaluate
the casting requirements for any of the major Mozart operas against those of
many popular operas that can get by at the box office (and, too often, *do*)
with one or two major voices, at best. "Cosi fan Tutte" has six demanding
principal roles and "Don Giovanni" requires eight front-line artists (and
weaknesses in the larger "Nozze di Figaro" ensemble are pretty hard to
mask--take it from someone who's seen it many times in the flesh).
        Even Homer nods, and IMO "La Clemenza di Tito" is a rare Mozartian turkey:
retrogressive in style (even--or especially--compared to "Idomeneo") and
saddled with one of the worst libretti ever foisted upon a major composer. I
often wonder how enthusiastic Mozart was with the commission or whether, like
most of us, he primarily needed the work, particularly given the straitened
circumstances of his final years. However, when the Met produced a "Clemenza"
revival last season with top-notch singers/vocal actors across the board, I
did get some sense of what the "Clemenza" enthusiasts hear in the piece.
        As for Mozart being more cheap than popular, I can offer a few homely facts
against that proposition. I live in an area where, since 1990, there have been
four productions of "Cosi fan Tutte", two of "Figaro", at least one each of
"Idomeneo," "Don Giovanni" and "The Magic Flute," plus concert performances of
"Figaro," "Giovanni," and "Flute." The stage production of "Giovanni" sold so
well--if memory serves--than an additional performance was scheduled . . . and
the Met's touring production of "Cosi" was the hottest ticket on the 1985
tour. In several of the above-cited performances, the level of casting was
comparable to (and occasionally better than) what New York was offering in the
same season . . . and when it wasn't the results were pretty gruesome (so much
for the "easy to cast" theory). These productions also demonstrated--too often
by negative example, I'm afraid--the top-notch/borderline-virtuosic orchestral
playing required.
        No, not every note that dripped from Mozart's pen was pure gold. In an output
that large there is a fair amount of dross, IMO. However, the ratio of gold-
to-dross is pretty darn enviable, especially from someone whose compositional
career was so foreshortened. Having taken the better part of my 37 years to
really 'dig' Mozart, I can understand where some of the people who dislike it
are coming from (Toscanini found it "too perfect"). If you'd rather hear
"Adriana Lecouvreur" more power to you: I'll be right behind you in the ticket
line. But don't give me a lot of phoney baloney arguments about Mozart being
performed because it's cheap and convenient. I suppose that's why the Met's
"Nozze" is one of the hottest tickets in NYC right now. Grrrrrrrrrrrr . . .

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