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Al desio di chi t’adoro

September 27, 2009 – Danielle de Niese, soprano; Ken Noda, piano

The Marriage of Figaro received a decidedly positive reception at its Viennese premiere in 1786. The cast was strong and the audience so enthusiastic that almost every piece had to be encored, effectively doubling the opera’s already considerable length. In order to ensure reasonable ending times at subsequent performances, Emperor Joseph decreed that only the solo arias could be repeated.

Despite its initial success with the public, Figaro was dropped from the Burgtheater repertoire after only nine performances, not return to Vienna for another three years. Mozart had powerful competitors in the court’s musical establishment, Antonio Salieri among them, and these politically savvy rivals may have contributed to the opera’s disappointingly short initial run. Although the performances of The Marriage of Figaro were an artistic and public triumph, they did not constitute the financial success that Mozart had hoped for.

In 1789, Figaro returned to Vienna with a greatly altered cast. Perhaps the most significant change was the loss of Nancy Storace, the enchanting English/Italian soprano for whom Mozart had created the role of Susanna. Storace’s replacement was Adriana Ferrarese, one of the most successful sopranos of the day but a singer of very different vocal and dramatic strengths. Storace was known for the subtlety of her singing and the wit and flexibility of her acting. Ferrarese, by contrast, was reared in the more formal world of Opera Seria and was known for her dramatic gravitas, formidable power and coloratura agility. In order to ensure the success of the all-important second Viennese run of Figaro, Mozart felt that some musical adjustments should be made in the role of Susanna.

Mozart liked to boast that he could make an aria fit a singer like a well-made garment. Here he outfitted Ferrarese with music designed to highlight her particular blend of dignity and virtuosity. In the fourth act he abandoned Susannas’s subtly seductive aria, Deh vieni non tardar, and replaced it with Al desio di chi t’adoro, a more extroverted work tailored around Farrarese’s strengths. Al desio is written in the form of a two-movement (slow/fast) rondó concertante, the longest and most aristocratic type of aria then in vogue. Accompanied by an unusual complement of solo woodwind instruments (including basset horns, French horns, and bassoons), the aria evokes the sufferings of a tragic heroine. The aria is extremely expressive and provides opportunities for the soprano to display her dramatic temperament and vocal agility. Although rarely included in modern day performances of The Marriage of Figaro, Al desio has taken its rightful place as a favorite concert aria in the Mozartian soprano repertoire.

By Michael Parloff

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