Is there any Italian opera libretto without a complicated plot? A straightforward love story, a cloak-and-dagger story, a simple lost bride drama – is that asking too much? Apparently. I love Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera “La finta giardiniera” (The Disguised Gardener, KV 196), but when I had a look at the libretto – oh boy! Intertwined romantic liaisons, disguises, wedding plans – I always find life at Italian courts rather confusing. Anyway, the less known opera that Mozart wrote in 1774 for the carnival in Munich is a worthwhile experience. The music is just lovely and foreshadows both Mozart’s dramatic genius and his late operas “Le nozze di Figaro” and “Don Giovanni”.
I don’t want to live in a world where the political agenda is dictated by ideology, populism, superstition or religious dogmatism. I don’t want to be governed by politicians guided by their emotions, their so-called “instincts” or their beliefs. I consider rationalism as the foundation of democracy and the state of law. Anything else will lead to autocratic forms of government or worse. And I am afraid of an evolution where haters repudiate, abuse of or physically attack what they call “the elites”, social, economical or scientific experts. People do not become suspect or evil because they have a higher education. Much to the contrary. But what happened to rationalism? What happened to the Enlightenment?
A man in love. A man mourning his deceased wife. Paul and Marie. Paul has transformed his house into a shrine with pictures and other souvenirs of Marie and is completely absorbed by his memories of her. Frank, Paul’s friend, tries to reason with his him, to make him overcome his sorrow – and fails. Paul feels erotically attracted to another woman, the dancer Marietta, which he confuses with Marie, at the same time he feels guilt. Then his fantasies take control of him, and he sees the ghost of Marie stepping out of her portrait and he believes that a song sung by Marietta is actually performed by Marie.
Oriental exotics and intrigue, power struggles, impossible love, betrayal and reconciliation – those ingredients have tempted librettists and opera composers alike. How they dealt with it, had very much to do with the conventions of the time, the taste of the audience, and the availability of good singers. When Johann Christian Bach, the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach, made his debut in London, he was appalled by the lack of good singers, and though the King’s Theatre asked him in 1762 to write two operas, he initially refused. However, after the audition of several singers, he agreed, and in 1763, he presented an opera that had long been forgotten, and that I have discovered myself only very recently: Zanaida.