Bartoli Cecilia - mezzo-soprano
Italian was the primary language in which Mozart composed. He acquired it very early and he absorbed a subtle understanding of its inflections. Paradoxically, it is rare for Mozart to be sung by a born Italian, but the distinction between a well-studied foreigner singing Mozart and a musical Italian doing the same is fundamental. Furthermore, Mozart delineated character superbly: with an artist who is on the one hand an expressive actress and on the other an Italian, performances can acquire an added dimension.
The arias sung here were written during the final five years of Mozart's life, most of them for his last four Italian operas. He usually knew the singers for whom he created the roles; we know that both Nancy Storace and Dorothea Bussani were lively performers, and one can certainly presume the same about Louise Villeneuve on the evidence of the role of Dorabella and the two occasional arias he wrote for her. One can also find an interesting thread between the pieces in range and style when he wrote for a particular singer.
Dorothea Bussani was the first Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro (she later created Despina in Cos/ fan tutte), and she also sang Zerlina in Vienna, though the first production of Don Giovanni had taken place in Prague two years earlier.
'Non so piu' is the young page Cherubino's first aria, describing his feelings on falling in love. Da Ponte had drawn upon Beaumarchais' description of Cherubin in his preface to the play. The basis of his character is an undefined and restless desire. He is entering on adolescence all unheeding and with no understanding of what is happening to him, and throws himself eagerly into everything that comes along.
'Voi che sapete' is a formal song Cherubino sings to the Countess, again about love.
Louise Villeneuve was a young singer who joined the Vienna Burgtheater Company in 1789. Mozart not only wrote the role of Dorabella in Cos/ fan tutte for her, but also a pair of arias to be inserted into two operas in the repertory by other composers.
'Chi sa, chi sa, qual sia' comes from Martin y Soler's II burbero di buon cuore. The heroine Madama Lucilla is puzzled by the churlishness of her suitor, who unbeknownst to her is hopelessly in debt. Excitedly and without giving reason, he has forbidden her to mix in his personal affairs. She wonders what the cause of his wrath can be, and whether she is unwittingly to blame.
The one complete role Mozart wrote for Villeneuve was Dorabella, the more flirtatious of the two sisters in Cos/ fan tutte. In her aria 'E' amore un ladroncello' she advises her sister to abandon her convictions about fidelity and follow the dictates of Cupid.
'Alma grande' was written to be inserted in a revival of Cimarosa's I due baroni di Rocca Azzura. It was performed just after the 1789 revival of Figaro and six months prior to Cosi fan tutte. Donna Laura has been promised to Baron Totaro, but he has not seen her and is duped into believing that Sandra is his future bricfe. When the Baron ignores her, Donna Laura sings the indignant aria 'Alma grande' in which she tells Sandra that her noble heart and great soul are worthy of respect, and that she will be revenged on the Baron.
In 'Vedrai, carino' from Don Giovanni, Zerlina is reconciled with her peasant lover, Masetto, and comforts him after he has been beaten by the disguised Don Giovanni. The comforting is a thinly veiled seduction where she invites Masetto to put his hand on her beating heart.
Nancy Storace was a very lively member of the Vienna Company, who could count among her admirers the Emperor Joseph II, her leading baritone and the first Figaro, Francesco Benucci with whom she had an attachment, and Mozart himself. The character of Susanna, though based by Da Ponte on his Beaumarchais source, must have owed a considerable amount to Storace's personality.
Her Act IV aria 'Deh vieni, non tardar' is written as a piece to deceive Figaro, who overhears it, into thinking that she has an unknown lover. Although it has a double entendre in the action of the opera, Mozart wrote it as a deeply romantic aria without a shade of satire.
La clemenza di Tito was Mozart's final opera seria, and the role of Sesto is probably the last great operatic role written for a castrate, in this case Domenico Bedini. Its important predecessor was Idamante in Idomeneo also for castrato. Mozart tended to give these young classical heroes an impetuosity, nevertheless retaining the dignified nobility of character. The writing for Sesto is a far cry from the feminine passion of Elettraor or Vitellia.
In 'Parto, parto' Sesto replies to Vitellia who has blamed him for not carrying out a-conspiracy against the Emperor Tito. He agrees to go as she asks, but protests his love for her and promises to avenge her. The obbligato for basset clarinet was written for Anton Stadler who had invented the instrument. It has an extended lower range and warmer tone than the conventional clarinet. Mozart had already written the Clarinet Quintet for this instrument, and the Concerto came directly after Tito.
In Act II Sesto has been captured and is sentenced to death for betraying the Emperor. Tito tries to persuade Sesto into implicating Vitellia; he refuses, but asks Tito in 'Deh per questo' not to forget their former friendship. For him death holds no terror and he only regrets his betrayal of Tito.
The final great scena in La clemenza di Tito belongs to Vitellia. She realises that Sesto will die because she has used him for her evil machinations against Tito. Having earlier been spurred on by jealousy and ambition, she is now consumed with remorse. The role of Vitellia is musically a puzzle. First sung by Maria Marchetti Fantozzi the role has a generally high tessitura, but 'Non piu di fiori' with its low range does not fit into the expected pattern, and there is evidence to suggest that Mozart may have composed it earlier as a concert aria for Josepha Dusek. There is an obbligato part for basset horn, of course written for Stadler.
'Ch' io mi scordi di te,' also in the opera seria tradition, is the only non-operatic aria included here. Arguably the greatest concert aria ever composed, it has the added delight of an obbligato piano part. In his catalogue of works Mozart describes it as being written 'for Mile Storace and myself. Nancy Storace had created the role of Susanna in May 1786 and this aria was composed in the following December. She probably sang it with Mozart at her farewell concert on 23 February 1787 when she finally left Vienna. She had been one of the brightest stars on the operatic firmament in Vienna and this masterpiece was a fitting farewell to her public there and to Mozart himself.