How Mozart completed the creation of his most beautiful opera

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In Munich, just after four o’clock every weekday afternoon, Bayerischer Rundfunk — Bavarian Radio — presents its cultural magazine, two hours of music and talk with the title Leporello. Opera lovers will recognize the name. He is Don Giovanni’s sidekick in Mozart’s opera, the comic counterpart of the licentious monster at the heart of the drama.

ut Leporello is like the narrator who leads us there, a key element in what is probably the greatest of all Mozart’s operas.

Set in Seville, Spain, it’s a morality tale recording the ultimate downfall of the ultimate libertine. Il Dissoluto Punito (The Reprobate Punished) is the subtitle.

It all starts when this Don Juan kills the father of his latest conquest. It ends when he gets his just merits. How this happens can only happen in an opera.

Don Giovanni and Leporello are in a cemetery, inspecting a statue of the victim. The statue speaks. He is invited to dinner. Arriving for the banquet, the statue, having become alive, orders Don Giovanni to renounce his evil ways. He refuses and is consumed by the flames on the spot.

The music, being Mozart, is one of the finest in all of opera. There’s Leporello’s opening song – Note e giorno faticar – about how he has to watch day and night in all weathers, because his boss is having fun inside. Then there is the one known as Catalog aira — Madame, il catalogo è questo — where Leporello enumerates all the women his master has seduced.

A particular favorite is the delicious duo Here I dare the manosung as Don Giovanni, in preparation for another conquest, tries to have his way with a bride right under his fiancé’s nose.

Of course, every opera must have its overture. But Don Giovanni almost didn’t have any.

The piece had been commissioned by the Prague Opera. Mozart was in town, putting the finishing touches on the score.

The initial performance, before an audience including Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria and Prince Anton Clemens of Saxony, on their way back to Vienna after their wedding in his hometown of Dresden, had to be postponed because the opera was not ready. The newlyweds could see Figaro’s wedding In place.

A new date for the premiere was proposed, but it had to be canceled because one of the lead actresses fell ill. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise, given what followed.

The day before the curtain rose (which was on that date in 1787), someone realized that there was no opening music. It seemed that Mozart had forgotten to compose an overture.

Video of the day

“Don’t worry,” they say, he replied, patting his head. “It’s all here.”

It was around midnight when he sat down, pen in hand, and began to fill in the notes for each instrument, one by one. His wife Constanze watched with him, giving him punch and reading him news.

The copyists worked feverishly throughout the next day, creating the manuscripts which were presented to the orchestra in the pit, with the ink barely dry. They read everything by sight. They hadn’t had time to repeat a single note.

George Hamilton presents “The Hamilton Scores” on RTÉ lyric fm from 10am every Saturday and Sunday.

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