Program Notes | Jan 9–12, 2020

Mozart’s Don Giovanni & Figaro
By Laurie Shulman ©2019

Mozart: Exsultate, jubilate

Exsultate, jubilate is a sacred motet written in Italian operatic style. The structure resembles a solo cantata, with three movements and one recitative. Mozart’s concluding Alleluia is a dazzling vocal tour de force.

Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 4

Mozart’s Fourth Violin Concerto is the type of work that induces non-music lovers to become enamored of Mozart first, then classical music second. Melodious and sunny, it is the quintessential celebration of the major triad, whose glorious clarity is proclaimed in the exuberant opening fanfare.

Mozart: Scenes from Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro

Don Giovanni is Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte’s brilliant fusion of opera buffa and operatic tragedy. The overture foreshadows both the dramatic and comic content. This timeless version of the adventures of Don Juan is chockablock with delicious and memorable melodies for the six major characters.

The Marriage of Figaro is arguably Mozart’s finest comic opera. Aristocrats, servants and peasants are the principal characters, in an unusual mixing of social classes. Seduction, mistaken identity and quick wit characterize the libretto. The music is pure bliss.

MOZART: Exsultate, jubilate, K. 165


Born: January 27, 1756, in Salzburg, Austria
Died: December 5, 1791, in Vienna, Austria
Composed: January 1773 in Milan
World Premiere: January 17, 1773, in Milan.
NJSO Premiere: 1972–73 season. Reri Grist was the soloist; Henry Lewis conducted.
Duration: 17 minutes

Although Mozart composed a considerable amount of sacred music, his church works are not well known. The motet Exsultate, jubilate is an exception: it is one of the composer’s most beloved works. Whereas most of the sacred music was composed for use in the Salzburg cathedral, this piece was written in Milan for an Italian singer. More like a concerto for soprano and orchestra than a sacred motet, Exsultate, jubilate is a brilliant Italianate tour de force.

Exsultate, jubilate is justly famous for its brilliant concluding Alleluia. The first movement is nearly as difficult, and the intervening Andante reverent and lovely. All of Exsultate, jubilate is distinctly more like Italian opera than like Mozart’s sacred music of the time. Nevertheless, it was initially conceived for performance as part of the celebration of the Catholic mass. The piece has received far greater exposure as a virtuoso concert vehicle than it ever would in the context of a church service, and it has become Mozart’s best known solo vocal work.

Instrumentation: The original score called for oboes and horns in addition to strings, organ and soprano soloist. Mozart later altered the scoring, replacing oboes with flutes. Most performances opt for the brighter oboes.

MOZART: Concerto No. 4 in D Major for violin and orchestra, K. 218


Composed: October 1775 in Salzburg
World Premiere: Undocumented, but we know that Antonio Brunetti performed it in October 1777.
NJSO Premiere: 1988–89 season. Joseph Silverstein was the soloist and conductor.
Duration: 26 minutes

In 1775, 17-year-old Wolfgang seemed to have the world in his pocket. He had written La finta giardiniera, an opera buffa, on commission for the Munich opera. It was well received at its January 1775 premiere, and the young prodigy made a fine impression on Munich society. Upon his return to Salzburg in March, the archbishop commissioned him to write another opera, this time on Metastasio’s libretto for Il rè pastore. Mozart was only beginning to feel constrained by the lack of long-range opportunities available to him in Salzburg, and these two operas provided him with a healthy outlet for the dramatic instincts that were already showing such astonishing maturity.

In between his labor on the two stage works, he composed four violin concertos: K. 211 in D, K. 216 in G, K. 219 in A and the work on this program. Although Mozart was himself a superior violinist, the concertos were apparently written for Antonio Brunetti, court concertmaster to the archbishop in Salzburg.

As a result of his extensive travels in Italy, Mozart had liberal exposure to the music of his Italian contemporaries. Italianate flavor spilled into in the four violin concerti, and K. 218 shows a pronounced dose of that style. Especially in the cantilena of the slow movement, the soloist is entrusted with a complex and delicate melodic line that is clearly related to Italian arias. The finale shares with its immediate predecessor, K. 216, a capricious and engaging set of switches in tempo and meter. These allow Mozart to introduce a number of new melodies. He presents them as a rondo in elegant, galant style.

No cadenzas by Mozart have survived. For these performances, Eric Wyrick plays the cadenzas by Joseph Joachim, the 19th-century violinist for whom Brahms wrote his violin concerto.

Instrumentation: two oboes, two horns, strings and solo violin.

MOZART: Scenes from Don Giovanni, K. 527, and Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492


Composed: 1786 (Figaro) and 1787 (Don Giovanni)
World Premiere: Figaro: May 1, 1786 in Vienna; Don Giovanni: October 29, 1787, in Prague.
NJSO Premiere: Figaro: Summer 1984, featuring singers from the June Opera Festival of New Jersey. Michael Pratt conducted. Don Giovanni: Summer 1985, featuring singers from the June Opera Festival of New Jersey. Michael Pratt conducted.
Duration: 45 minutes

Mozart’s overture to The Marriage of Figaro contains no tunes from the opera. In spite of this thematic independence, the overture captures the opera’s comic, effervescent atmosphere with exquisite skill. Mozart—always a master of formal structures—wrote a tightly unified sonata form movement without an ounce of pedantry. To the contrary, his overture is brimful of joy and enthusiasm, sounding as spontaneous as if it were jotted down on the spur of the moment.

* * *

“Porgi amor” is one of the Countess’ great arias in The Marriage of Figaro. It opens Act II, where she reveals that, in her heart, she longs to regain her husband’s love, despite his philandering nature. Its very simplicity makes it a major challenge for the soprano.

Zerlina, an attractive peasant maiden, is awarded some of the choicest melodies in Don Giovanni. Mozart’s emphasis is noteworthy, because Zerlina is the least socially prominent of the three principal women in the opera (Donna Anna and Elvira are both noblewomen). From the standpoint of today’s political correctness, Zerlina is a very traditional, subservient wife-to-be. In “Batti, batti,” she placates Masetto, her betrothed, pleading with him to beat her if he must, but assuring him that she has not succumbed to Don Giovanni’s advances.

Throughout Don Giovanni, Don Ottavio professes his love to Donna Anna and pleads with her to marry him sooner rather than later. In “Crudele/Non mi dir” she demurs yet again, allowing that she does indeed love him, but asking for more time. One of Don Ottavio’s two big tenor arias, “Il mio tesoro,” focuses on his love for Donna Anna; his happiness depends on hers. The style is more opera seria, focusing on the character’s emotional state, rather than moving the action forward. Though absent of dramatic high notes, “Il mio tesoro” requires superior breath control, a sense of line and exceptional vocal technique for its coloratura runs.

* * *

“Voi che sapete” takes us back to Figaro. The page Cherubino is at that adolescent age with hormones raging. He has written this song, which he sings for the Countess and Susanna, musing on the mysteries of love. The tune has become one of Mozart’s most beloved.

“Sull aria/Che soave zeffiretto” is a sly move on Mozart’s part, for he shows the servant Susanna as literate, writing a letter with her “boss,” the Countess. How lucky the Countess is to have such a well-educated lady’s maid! In a mellifluous duet, the pair write a letter that will trap the faithless Count.

* * *

In “Mi tradi quell’alma ingrata,” Elvira describes the emotional pain that Don Giovanni’s infidelity has caused her, presenting an internal conflict because she still loves him in spite of his reprehensible behavior. The aria was added after the premiere for an Italian soprano, Caterina Cavalieri, who requested a second showcase aria in a subsequent production. Mozart delivered!

“Fuggi, crudele, fuggi!” from Giovanni closes this program, but it occurs early in the opera. Having discovered her murdered father’s body, Donna Anna beseeches her fiancé Don Ottavio to leave her alone to die, because her beloved father is forever gone. Ottavio comforts her, then promises to avenge the Commendatore’s death.

Instrumentation: woodwinds, horns and trumpets in pairs; three trombones, timpani, strings and six vocal soloists.