Mozart, 18th century, opera, theatre
Mozart's opera Don Giovanni performed at Covent Garden Theatre, 1963
Mozart's opera Don Giovanni
Covent Garden Theatre, London
Black and white photograph
This photograph of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni records the 1963 production at Covent Garden with Cesare Siepi in the title role. Critics felt that Siepi was at his best in the famous scene, shown here, where the sexually insatiable Giovanni seduces the peasant girl Zerlina, sung by Mirella Freni, on her wedding day. The production was directed and designed by Franco Zeffirelli in rich, romantic style with stiffened, encrusted and bejewelled dresses set against backgrounds of pale gold, russet and dark browns. Accurate period reconstruction was not the aim, and though styles ranged over three centuries, it could be argued that this helped stress the timelessness of the theme. It was harder to explain how the simple peasant girl, Zerlina, could afford this very grand wedding dress. There is a legend that Mozart wrote the overture to Don Giovanni the night before the first performance. His wife kept him awake by telling him fairy tales, interspersed with endless cups of coffee.
Janet Baker as Vitellia in Mozart’s opera La Clemenza di Tito, 1974
Janet Baker as Vitellia in Mozart’s opera La Clemenza di Tito
Royal Opera House, London
Black and white photograph
This photograph is of Janet Baker in Mozart’s opera La Clemenza di Tito at Covent Garden in 1974. Her performance as the scheming Roman aristocrat Vitellia created a sensation. Her skills as an actress and singer were so complete that the critic Stanley Sadie wrote ‘verbal description falters before the power of Janet Baker’s Vitellia, a performance which compels sympathy for what has been called the nastiest villainess in all opera, so impassioned is the acting, so noble and so delicate the singing’. Although Mozart was a major force in freeing opera from the rigid conventions of opera seria, he never abandoned the form. He used it for his penultimate opera La Clemenza di Tito, which he wrote in eighteen days, while he also working on The Magic Flute and the Requiem. Three weeks after the premiere of La Clemenza di Tito, The Magic Flute had its first performance. Nine weeeks later, Mozart was dead.
Glyndebourne's production of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, 1938
Glyndebourne's production of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro
Black and white photograph
During the 1930s, Glyndebourne had an unrivalled reputation for its productions of Mozart’s operas. They can be swamped in the traditional grand opera houses and Glyndebourne, being a gracious country house in its own right, was an ideal setting for Mozart’s elegant and intimate studies of human nature. Under the baton of the great Fritz Busch and the stage direction of Carl Ebert, the productions achieved a perfection that can still be heard on recordings made at the time. The first Glyndebourne festival opened in 1934 with The Marriage of Figaro. This photograph shows the 1938 revival, with Audrey Mildmay as Susanna, Aulikki Rautawara as the Countess and John Brownlee, who had sung with Melba, as Count Almaviva. Audrey Mildmay had been a singer with the Carl Rosa Opera company when she first met John Christie, owner of the Glyndebourne estate. He was 48 and she was 30. They fell in love and he built the first theatre at Glyndebourne for her.
Giuseppe Naldi as Figaro in Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro, February 1818
Giuseppe Naldi as Figaro in Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro
This print shows Giuseppe Naldi as Figaro, the role he sang in the first London performance of Mozart’s masterpiece The Marriage of Figaro in 1812. In fact, London was already familiar with parts of the opera as arias and scenes had been incorporated into other productions. ‘Non più andrai’ had been the slow march of the Coldstream Guards since 1787 and the whole opera had already been performed by amateurs about 1810. Naldi was a regular performer in London, singing over 35 different operas over twelve seasons. He was something of a Mozart specialist and besides being London’s first Figaro, was London’s first Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte, Papageno in The Magic Flute and Leporello in Don Giovanni. Opinion was divided about the quality of his voice, but everyone warmed to his sense of humour and his acting ability. He was killed in an accident at the home of the great tenor Manuel García.
Fanny Persiani as Zerlina in Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, June 1838
Fanny Persiani as Zerlina in Mozart's opera Don Giovanni
Persiani was one of the most popular sopranos of the 1830s. Her frail and sickly looks conformed with the new ideal of ethereal femininity popularised by the Romantic ballet. Her voice, pure but lacking emotion, was perfect for the operatic heroines of the time, sweet-tempered, innocent victims, easily manipulated by unscrupulous men. Zerlina, the peasant girl who succumbs to the charms of the insatiable Giovanni on her wedding day, is such a heroine. So is Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor, which Donizetti wrote especially for Persiani. Such heroines were a far cry from the strong women who usually feature in Mozart’s operas, and roles like Norma or Semiramide admired by audiences in the 1820s.