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Un bacio di mano. K. 541, Mentre ti lascio, o figlia, K. 513

May 15, 2016: James Morris, bass-baritone; Ken Noda, piano

Mozart frequently composed separate arias on short notice, not only as additions or substitutions for existing operas, but for formal occasions involving a patron, for benefit concerts being given by one of his favorite singers, or simply for private occasions with friends. He composed “Un bacio di mano” (A kiss on the hand) in May 1788 for Francesco Albertarelli, who on May 7 had sung the title role in the first Viennese performance of Don Giovanni and who was particularly known for his stylish performances of comic roles. Mozart contributed this aria for him to sing as the buffo character Monsieur Girò in the Viennese version of Pasquale Anfossi’s comic opera Le gelosie fortunate (Jealousy rewarded), which opened the following month on June 2.

Tradition has it that Lorenzo da Ponte—Mozart’s librettist not only for Don Giovanni but Le nozze di Figaro and Cosí fan tutte—adapted Filippo Livigni’s libretto for the Viennese stage, though no proof has surfaced. The replacement of Girò’s aria “Del gran mondo” with “Un bacio di mano” shows just the kind of ironic touches for which da Ponte was known. The worldly Frenchman Girò gives witty courtship advice to the naive, enraged Don Pompeo, who has caught him kissing a lady’s hand. Brief, lively, and masterfully theatrical, this aria has become especially noteworthy for the theme that appears at “Voi siete in po’ tondo” (You’re a little dull), which Mozart famously recycled three months later in the first movement of his Jupiter Symphony.

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During initial work on Don Giovanni, Mozart composed “Mentre ti lascio, o figlia” (As I leave you, o daughter) on March 23, 1787, for one of his closest friends in Vienna, Gottfied von Jacquin, a good amateur bass. Jacquin’s musical skills were so highly regarded, in fact, that for a time it was believed that he was the composer of some of five vocal Notturni (short ensemble love songs) that Mozart had written for him. Mozart took the text for “Mentre ti lascio” from Sant’Angiolo-Morbilli’s libretto for Paisiello’s 1777 opera La disfatta di Dario (The defeat of Darius), about Alexander the Great’s conquest of King Darius of Persia. The grieving Darius bids a heartrending farewell to his daughter, which Mozart depicts with phrases of tender mourning and a faster section that mounts in great agitation, all colored by a rich, imaginative accompaniment (originally for orchestra).

© Jane Vial Jaffe

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