The Culture of Opera Buffa in Mozart's Vienna

The Culture of Opera Buffa in Mozart's Vienna: A Poetics of Entertainment

Mary Hunter
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 312
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7rwmh
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  • Book Info
    The Culture of Opera Buffa in Mozart's Vienna
    Book Description:

    Mozart's comic operas are among the masterworks of Western civilization, and yet the musical environment in which Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo da Ponte wrote these now-popular operas has received little critical attention. In this richly detailed book, Mary Hunter offers a sweeping, synthetic view of opera buffa in the lively theatrical world of late-eighteenth-century Vienna. Opera buffa (Italian-language comic opera) persistently entertained audiences at a time when Joseph was striving for a German national theater. Hunter attributes opera buffa's success to its ability to provide "sheer" pleasure and hence explores how the genre functioned as entertainment. She argues that opera buffa, like mainstream film today, projects a social world both recognizable and distinct from reality. It raises important issues while containing them in the "merely entertaining" frame of the occasion, as well as presenting them as a series of easily identifiable dramatic and musical conventions.

    Exploring nearly eighty comic operas, Hunter shows how the arias and ensembles convey a multifaceted picture of the repertory's social values and habits. In a concluding chapter, she discussesCos" fan tutteas a work profoundly concerned with the conventions of its repertory and with the larger idea of convention itself and reveals the ways Mozart and da Ponte pointedly converse with their immediate contemporaries.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2275-1
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. EDITORIAL POLICIES
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xvii-2)
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-24)

    To the Burgtheater audience watching Da Ponte and Mozart’sLe nozze di Figaroin the spring of 1786, the spectacle of Susanna fending off the unwelcome advances of the Count and finally achieving happiness with Figaro would have seemed quite familiar, notwithstanding the many and well-advertised novelties of the work.¹ Many, if not most, audience members would have knownLe mariage de Figaro, the play by Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais on which the opera is based, as by the end of 1785 it had been published in German translation and was in any case something of a cause célèbre.²...

  7. Part One: Opera Buffa as Entertainment
    • Chapter One OPERA BUFFA AS SHEER PLEASURE
      (pp. 27-51)

      If the intellectual context of opera buffa in Vienna suggests that its occasion was understood as being “about” pleasure, the theatrical context of operatic performance did not gainsay this.¹ The Viennese theatres, like opera theatres all over Europe, provided a variety of pleasures in addition to the show: cards were played,² with card tables and lights rentable;³ snacks and drinks were sold during the performance itself by roving vendors, orNumeri;[FB-INCORRECT ENTITY]⁴ and especially for the first aristocracy, whose box-subscriptions allowed them to go night after night to repeat-performances of operas, those boxes functioned as publicly visible salons, where social...

    • Chapter Two OPERA BUFFA’S CONSERVATIVE FRAMEWORKS
      (pp. 52-70)

      Although opera buffa clearly asserts that sheer pleasure is its function, and although its context seems to support the genre’s self-representation, these works do in fact regularly address some of the social and ideological changes working their way through Europe during the eighteenth century. Questions of social mobility, pretension, inner and “outer” nobility, the limits, benefits, and obligations of power, and the changing relations between the genders are all integral to these operas. One could reasonably argue that the strength of the repertory’s frame as mere entertainment and sheer pleasure contains and neutralizes the potentially problematic representations of socially sensitive...

    • Chapter Three OPERA BUFFA’S SOCIAL REVERSALS
      (pp. 71-92)

      If the outermost framework of opera buffa is its reception and self-presentation as sheer pleasure, the inner frame, so to speak, is its representation of immutable hierarchy as the social fundament of the genre. However, opera buffa would not be comedy if it did not routinely test and stress those conservative frames with a variety of disruptive elements. Appealing alternatives to the framing order arise (inCosì fan tutte, for example, the “wrong” lovers might marry); normally subordinate characters occupy the center of attention and sympathy for considerable stretches of time (Susanna is a classic example); structurally powerful characters are...

  8. Part Two: The Closed Musical Numbers of Opera Buffa and Their Social Implications
    • Chapter Four ARIAS: SOME ISSUES
      (pp. 95-109)

      There are several reasons for looking closely at arias in the course of a study of opera buffa as entertainment. The crudest is that the aria is by far the most common closed musical number in opera buffa, and any consideration of how the genre presents its meanings has to take the aria—the basis of the dramaturgy—into account. Every character with any part in the plot gets at least one aria, and anyone of significance gets two or three or more. The numbers of arias in individual operas decrease somewhat between 1770 and 1790, partly because of the...

    • Chapter Five CLASS AND GENDER IN ARIAS: FIVE ARIA TYPES
      (pp. 110-155)

      Although this chapter covers the social and dramatic range of arias in this repertory, from the most comic to the most sentimental, from the lowest to the highest, it does justice neither to the incredible variety of arias nor to the virtuosity with which stereotypes and conventions are combined and reconfigured. Rather, it attempts, in examining the most characteristic sorts of utterances for the most conventional sorts of characters, to give a sense of the framework within which authors, singers, and audiences could have worked. This framework is dramatic, in the sense that certain characters tend to function in particular...

    • Chapter Six ENSEMBLES
      (pp. 156-195)

      Ensembles are often taken to exemplify the spirit of opera buffa. This is partly because they are more numerous in, and more characteristic of, the genre than opera seria,¹ partly because they focus on groups rather than individuals and are thus felt to embody the spirit of comedy more fully than the seriatim statements of personal positions represented by arias, and partly because their flexible forms and various textures allow an apparent “naturalness” of interaction that contrasts with the supposed “stiff artificiality” of opera seria. Ensembles have also traditionally been taken as the element of opera buffa closest to the...

    • Chapter Seven BEGINNING AND ENDING TOGETHER: INTRODUZIONI AND FINALES
      (pp. 196-244)

      Ensembleintroduzioniand finales are among the most universal and durable features of Goldonian and post-Goldonian opera buffa. As ensembles, they frame each work with assertions about the primacy of groups and social processes. They also encapsulate the tension between individual self-determination and group conformity characteristic of the genre as a whole. On a more particular level,introduzioniand finales also typically convey something in miniature about the work in which they occur. For example,introduzionioften prefigure the overarching feel, or ethos, of the work: the multisectional form of the introduction toFra i due litiganti,with its late...

  9. Part Three: Così Fan Tutte le Opere?: A Masterwork in Context
    • Chapter Eight COSÌ FAN TUTTE IN CONVERSATION
      (pp. 247-272)

      I began this book with a partial re-creation of the operatic “conversation” in whichLe nozze di Figaroparticipated: a conversation involving other works, both operatic and literary, other local composers and librettists, the continuing relationship between the performers and the audience, and the broader cultural context.Così fan tutte,not surprisingly, also participated in this kind of conversation—usingFigaroitself (and its web of references) among its interlocutors, as Bruce Alan Brown has recently shown.¹ LikeFigaro, Cosìplays on continuities in the Burgtheater’s performance personnel, it connects in a variety of ways to other works in the...

    • Chapter Nine COSÌ FAN TUTTE AND CONVENTION
      (pp. 273-298)

      Così fan tutte’spointed dialogue withLa grotta di Trofoniosuggests how its specific intertextual references shade into less palpable, if more deeply meaningful, references to and discussions of convention. Moreover, just as the opera’s intertextual references are astonishingly various and convey multiple meanings on many levels, so the conventions it puts up for discussion also range widely and signify on various levels. These conventions range from those as specific as Despina’scommedia dell’artedisguises and tricks or Fiordiligi’s simile aria, to those as pervasive as the “pastoral mode” or “sentimentality”; and from those as formal as the strettas of...

  10. Appendix One OPERAS CONSULTED
    (pp. 299-304)
  11. Appendix Two MUSICAL FORMS IN OPERA BUFFA ARIAS
    (pp. 305-308)
  12. Appendix Three PLOT SUMMARIES FOR I FINTI EREDI, LE GARE GENEROSE, AND L’INCOGNITA PERSEGUITATA
    (pp. 309-312)
  13. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 313-322)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 323-331)