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Operas of Mozart

Operas of Mozart

Professor Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances

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Operas of Mozart

Course No. 780
Professor Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
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4.6 out of 5
40 Reviews
70% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 780
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  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version features more than 150 visuals, including images of people and events and illustrations reflecting Mozart's early life, career, and performances. There are also on-screen spellings and definitions to help reinforce material for visual learners.
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Course Overview

By December 1791, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had written the defining compositions in every available musical genre of his time: symphony, chamber music, masses, and—above all—opera. Opera was the prestige genre of the time, and Mozart loved it dearly and counted on it heavily for personal, professional, artistic, and financial reasons. Just the thought of opera, as Mozart wrote, made him "beside myself at once."

The world of the operatic stage spoke deeply to his primal instinct for play, his taste for fantasy, and his restless creative imagination.

Mozart's operas vie with each other to be considered among the greatest achievements of human artistic striving: Idomeneo, The Abduction from the Harem, The Marriage of Figaro, Così fan tutte, Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute.

On September 30, 1791, the last of his masterpieces, The Magic Flute, had premiered in Vienna. Ten weeks later, on December 5, 1791, at the age of 35—when most of us are still hoping for one great accomplishment in our lives—Mozart was dead.

What Did Mozart Do? And How Did He Do It?

In this course with Professor Robert Greenberg, we are summoned to understand more fully the height of Mozart's operatic achievement by analyzing two masterpieces closely. The course also invites us to fathom the enigma of Mozart's meteoric genius by studying his career and development.

Professor Greenberg is not an idolator—he reminds us that Mozart was a man, a human, working to make a name and a living. Professor Greenberg shows that Mozart was an "irreverent revolutionary" who did not worship the past. Accordingly, says Professor Greenberg, "This course is somewhat different from what you might expect. It brings Mozart's art refreshingly down to earth. It does not trivialize opera, nor does it put it on a pedestal."

The structure of the course is somewhat unusual. The 24 lectures are in three parts of eight lectures each. The first and third parts concentrate your attention on two works of surpassing beauty and accomplishment, Così fan tutte and The Magic Flute.

The middle eight lectures of the course study Mozart's early life and development from the first opera he wrote (when he was 11 years old) to Don Giovanni, completed when he was 31.

A Brief Tour of the Course: A Genius in Three Acts

PART I: Così fan tutte

In his early years in Vienna (1781–1785), Mozart enjoyed considerable success as a composer and performer. By 1785, when he was 29, he was among the highest-paid musicians in Europe, and he and his wife Constanze lived very well.

From 1786 onwards, however, he received fewer commissions and opportunities to perform. This was in part because he fell out of favor with any number of Viennese aristocrats as a result of the pointed satire in The Marriage of Figaro of 1786 and partly because of a war with the Ottoman Empire that by 1788 brought austerity to Vienna.

In 1789, Mozart and master librettist Lorenzo da Ponte (a Jewish-born, Italian ex-priest) wrote Così fan tutte (All Women Behave Like This). Imperial court composer Antonio Salieri had rejected this project because the libretto dealt with sexual infidelity. By then, both Wolfgang and Constanze had been coping for some time with illness, financial anxieties, family tragedy, and distrust and strife within their marriage.

Così fan tutte is one of three operas—the others are The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni—that Mozart wrote with da Ponte. Their collaboration can rightly be considered one of the greatest in the history of opera. Così is a masterpiece of comic opera—opera buffa—and this study of it will establish an operatic vocabulary with which to measure and study Mozart's other operas.

PART II: Early Life, Singspiel, and Mastery of the Form

Mozart had a lifelong love of the opera, having written his first opera-like composition by the age of 11. A few weeks after that he composed the music for his first opera, Apollo et Hyacinthus.

The operatic genre favored by the aristocracy was a type of opera called "heroic" or "serious" opera (opera seria). In 1780, Mozart, then 24, received a commission from Munich to write the opera seria Idomeneo, rè di Creta, based on a character from Homeric myth.

Idomeneo premiered on January 29, 1781. It is generally considered the greatest opera seria ever written. Its dramatic momentum sweeps away the traditional rituals of opera seria; the characters are given depth and substance that transcend their archetypes, and Mozart's compositional technique reaches an unprecedented level of mastery.

In 1781, Mozart's unhappiness in the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg brought about his dismissal.

His musical genius quickly found an appreciative audience in the Habsburg capital of Vienna, where he was invited to write an opera for the new Imperial German Theater.

The result was The Abduction from the Harem of 1782. It was, in Mozart's lifetime, his most popular work.

After The Abduction, Mozart did not complete and produce another opera until 1786—The Marriage of Figaro. Lorenzo da Ponte wrote the libretto for what would be his and Mozart's first and greatest masterwork.

The next year, Mozart collaborated again with da Ponte, and Don Giovanni was the result. The libretto recounts the ancient morality tale of Don Juan, whose lack of conscience and restraint doom him.

You hear how Mozart imbued Don Giovanni with an extraordinary degree of momentum and dramatic interaction, all the while using the orchestra to knit together and give context to the vocal parts. The second act finale is one of the greatest conclusions in all of opera.

PART III: The Magic Flute

In 1791, Mozart and fellow Mason Emanuel Schikaneder collaborated on a singspiel that premiered on September 30, 1791.

The Magic Flute was immensely popular, and history has shown it to be one of the most successful operas ever written.

Its libretto, on the surface, is a farrago of obscure Masonic lore that has been injected into a standard boy-meets-girl fairy tale plot, set against a faux-Egyptian background, and relieved by the low-comedy antics of a character resembling an 18th-century Austrian Big Bird.

But when Mozart took hold of the material, the result was something transcendent, not just because the music was superb but because Mozart used it to illustrate character, to reveal emotion, to propel action, and to weave a world on stage as fully realized and fascinatingly imagined as anything in the dramatic repertoire.

Ironically, with money finally coming in, Mozart died just 10 weeks after The Magic Flute's premiere.

Works you'll hear in the lectures are excerpted from:

Apollo et Hyacinthus, K. 38 (1767)
Bastien und Bastienne, K. 50 [K. 46b] (1768)
La finta semplice, K. 51 [K 46a] (1769)
Lucio Silla, K. 135 (1772)
La finta giardiniera, K. 196 (1775)
Il rè pastore, K. 208 (1775)
Idomeneo, rè di Creta, K. 366 (1781)
The Abduction from the Harem, K. 384 (1782)
The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492 (1786)
Don Giovanni, K. 527 (1787)
Così fan tutte, K. 588 (1789)
The Magic Flute, K. 620 (1791)

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24 lectures
 |  45 minutes each
  • 1
    1789
    In his early years in Vienna (1781–85), Mozart enjoyed considerable success as a composer and performer. By 1785 he was among the best-paid musicians in Europe and he and his wife Constanze lived high and well. x
  • 2
    Così fan tutte, Part One
    In his early years in Vienna (1781–85), Mozart enjoyed considerable success as a composer and performer. By 1785 he was among the best-paid musicians in Europe and he and his wife Constanze lived high and well. x
  • 3
    Così fan tutte, Part Two
    From 1786 on, however, his income began to drop. There were fewer commissions, fewer opportunities for performing, and less demand for his music. He had fallen out of favor with Viennese aristocrats due to the pointed satire of The Marriage of Figaro of 1786, and war with the Ottoman Empire forced austerity measures in Vienna. x
  • 4
    Così fan tutte, Part Three
    From 1786 on, however, his income began to drop. There were fewer commissions, fewer opportunities for performing, and less demand for his music. He had fallen out of favor with Viennese aristocrats due to the pointed satire of The Marriage of Figaro of 1786, and war with the Ottoman Empire forced austerity measures in Vienna. x
  • 5
    Così fan tutte, Part Four
    In 1789, Mozart and librettist Lorenzo da Ponte began work on Così fan tutte (All Women Behave Like This)—a project that Imperial court composer Antonio Salieri had rejected due to the libretto's scandalous theme of sexual infidelity. By then, both Wolfgang and Constanze had been coping with illness, financial anxieties, family tragedy, and distrust and strife in their marriage. x
  • 6
    Così fan tutte, Part Five
    In 1789, Mozart and librettist Lorenzo da Ponte began work on Così fan tutte (All Women Behave Like This)—a project that Imperial court composer Antonio Salieri had rejected due to the libretto's scandalous theme of sexual infidelity. By then, both Wolfgang and Constanze had been coping with illness, financial anxieties, family tragedy, and distrust and strife in their marriage. x
  • 7
    Così fan tutte, Part Six
    Was Mozart drawn to a work on the difficulties in relations between the sexes because it mirrored his personal life? The breathtaking virtuosity with which he uses music to show character, explore feelings, and move dramatic action speaks for itself. Così also marked the last of the three superb operas on which Mozart worked with gifted collaborator Da Ponte. x
  • 8
    Così fan tutte, Part Seven
    Was Mozart drawn to a work on the difficulties in relations between the sexes because it mirrored his personal life? The breathtaking virtuosity with which he uses music to show character, explore feelings, and move dramatic action speaks for itself. Così also marked the last of the three superb operas on which Mozart worked with gifted collaborator Da Ponte. x
  • 9
    The First Works
    Mozart had a life-long love of opera, having written his first operalike composition at age 10. By age 11 he composed the music for his first opera, Apollo et Hyacinthus. In 1768 Emperor Joseph II commissioned him to write La finta semplice (The Pretended Simpleton); after that, he wrote Bastien und Bastienne, a charming rustic singspiel—his first thoroughly "Mozartean" work for the operatic stage. These three early and very different operas reflect Mozart's ability to absorb and synthesize the myriad musical influences to which he was exposed on his trips across Europe. x
  • 10
    The Italian Apprenticeship
    In Mozart's day the aristocracy favored a type of opera called "heroic" or "serious" opera (opera seria). Between 1769 and 1773, Mozart and his father took three trips to Italy, which produced three "serious" operas: Mitridate, rè di Ponte (1770), Ascanio in Alba (1771), and Lucio Silla (1772). Each one reflects Mozart's development as a composer and dramatist, and Mozart and his father's desire to curry favor with the Italian aristocracy. x
  • 11
    The Professional, Part One
    By age 16, Mozart was a full-fledged opera composer whose works ranked with the very best operas of his day. Between Lucio Silla (1772) and Idomeneo (1781), Mozart continued to develop his skills. These years included the production of the comic opera, La finta giardiniera (The Pretended Garden Maid, 1775), which despite its inferior libretto signaled to Mozart's contemporaries his emergence as a composer with superior talent. x
  • 12
    The Professional, Part Two
    For four years after Il rè pastore (1775) Mozart received no commissions to write operas. Finally in 1780, Mozart received a commission from Munich to write the opera seria Idomeneo, rè di Creta, based on a Homeric myth. This opera, too radical to enjoy popularity in Mozart's day, is now recognized as the greatest "heroic" opera. x
  • 13
    Vienna and Abduction
    In 1781, Mozart was dismissed from the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg. He became a freelance composer in a society where those who wrote music professionally were treated as artisans in the service of aristocrats. His musical genius, however, quickly found an appreciative audience in Vienna, where he was invited to write an opera for the new Imperial German Theater. The result was The Abduction from the Harem of 1782. x
  • 14
    Salieri, Da Ponte and The Marriage of Figaro
    In his first years in Vienna, Mozart enjoyed success as both a performer and composer. But breaking into the charmed circle of favored opera composers was no easy thing. After The Abduction, Mozart did not complete and produce another opera until 1786—The Marriage of Figaro, which marks Mozart's mastery of the genre. x
  • 15
    Don Giovanni, Part One
    Mozart was invited to compose an opera for production in Bohemia in 1787. Again Mozart collaborated with Da Ponte, and Don Giovanni was the result. Da Ponte's libretto recounts the ancient morality tale of Don Juan, whose lack of conscience proves fatal to his life and his soul. Don Giovanni was praised at its premiere in Prague but criticized in Vienna a year later. x
  • 16
    Don Giovanni, Part Two
    In Lecture 16 we reach the Act II finale of Don Giovanni. We hear how Mozart has mastered an array of compositional and dramatic challenges, imbuing his music with momentum and dramatic interaction, while using the orchestra to knit together and give context to the vocal parts. The second act finale is an amazing display of musical, dramatic, and psychological mastery. x
  • 17
    Mozart, Masonry and The Magic Flute
    The Magic Flute (1791) quickly proved itself to be one of the most successful operas ever written. Inspired by Oriental fairy tales and imbued with Masonic lore and imagery, it is a love story, a feminist tract, and a test-and-quest coming-of-age tale. Whatever weaknesses exist in the libretto are utterly transcended by Mozart's musical genius. Ironically, with money finally coming in, Mozart died just three weeks after The Magic Flute debut. x
  • 18
    The Magic Flute, Part Two
    The Magic Flute (1791) quickly proved itself to be one of the most successful operas ever written. Inspired by Oriental fairy tales and imbued with Masonic lore and imagery, it is a love story, a feminist tract, and a test-and-quest coming-of-age tale. Whatever weaknesses exist in the libretto are utterly transcended by Mozart's musical genius. Ironically, with money finally coming in, Mozart died just three weeks after The Magic Flute debut. x
  • 19
    The Magic Flute, Part Three
    The Magic Flute (1791) quickly proved itself to be one of the most successful operas ever written. Inspired by Oriental fairy tales and imbued with Masonic lore and imagery, it is a love story, a feminist tract, and a test-and-quest coming-of-age tale. Whatever weaknesses exist in the libretto are utterly transcended by Mozart's musical genius. Ironically, with money finally coming in, Mozart died just three weeks after The Magic Flute debut. x
  • 20
    The Magic Flute, Part Four
    The Magic Flute (1791) quickly proved itself to be one of the most successful operas ever written. Inspired by Oriental fairy tales and imbued with Masonic lore and imagery, it is a love story, a feminist tract, and a test-and-quest coming-of-age tale. Whatever weaknesses exist in the libretto are utterly transcended by Mozart's musical genius. Ironically, with money finally coming in, Mozart died just three weeks after The Magic Flute debut. x
  • 21
    The Magic Flute, Part Five
    The Magic Flute (1791) quickly proved itself to be one of the most successful operas ever written. Inspired by Oriental fairy tales and imbued with Masonic lore and imagery, it is a love story, a feminist tract, and a test-and-quest coming-of-age tale. Whatever weaknesses exist in the libretto are utterly transcended by Mozart's musical genius. Ironically, with money finally coming in, Mozart died just three weeks after The Magic Flute debut. x
  • 22
    The Magic Flute, Part Six
    The Magic Flute (1791) quickly proved itself to be one of the most successful operas ever written. Inspired by Oriental fairy tales and imbued with Masonic lore and imagery, it is a love story, a feminist tract, and a test-and-quest coming-of-age tale. Whatever weaknesses exist in the libretto are utterly transcended by Mozart's musical genius. Ironically, with money finally coming in, Mozart died just three weeks after The Magic Flute debut. x
  • 23
    The Magic Flute, Part Seven
    The Magic Flute (1791) quickly proved itself to be one of the most successful operas ever written. Inspired by Oriental fairy tales and imbued with Masonic lore and imagery, it is a love story, a feminist tract, and a test-and-quest coming-of-age tale. Whatever weaknesses exist in the libretto are utterly transcended by Mozart's musical genius. Ironically, with money finally coming in, Mozart died just three weeks after The Magic Flute debut. x
  • 24
    The Magic Flute, Part Eight
    The Magic Flute (1791) quickly proved itself to be one of the most successful operas ever written. Inspired by Oriental fairy tales and imbued with Masonic lore and imagery, it is a love story, a feminist tract, and a test-and-quest coming-of-age tale. Whatever weaknesses exist in the libretto are utterly transcended by Mozart's musical genius. Ironically, with money finally coming in, Mozart died just three weeks after The Magic Flute debut. x

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Your professor

Robert Greenberg

About Your Professor

Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions—which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles—performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles,...
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Reviews

Operas of Mozart is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 40.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greenberg is the best As with every one of the Dr. Greenberg's courses he is entertaining, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and makes you laugh.
Date published: 2017-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Hilarious! I have bought and listened to many of professor Greenberg's CD's and have consistently enjoyed his scholarly and entertaining approach, but I found this one particularly funny. While listening in the car to his description of the events that took place in Cosi Fan Tutti, admittedly already quite humorous, I was laughing so hard I may have temporarily been a driving hazard. I highly recommend this product!
Date published: 2017-05-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Operas of Mozart The presenter gives an amazing amount of background information that helps us to understand the opera content and music.
Date published: 2017-01-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exactly what we needed I bought this download specifically for the Don Giovanni lectures -- we were making a daylong drive to Santa Fe, and it seemed like a good way to get the most out of our tickets to Don G, which my wife had never seen. They were great -- very entertaining, and really enhanced our enjoyment of the performance. I'm not sure if/when I will listen to the rest of the course, but it's already given us our money's worth.
Date published: 2016-09-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from wonderful course Like all the Greenberg courses I have heard, this one is inspirational as well as informative. He would get enthusiastic interest from a rock!
Date published: 2016-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Operas of Mozart An excellent course with a detailed review of some of Mozart's most important operas combined with a detailed Mozart family history context. Professor Robert Greenberg presentation is interesting and full of amusing anecdotes on the life and times of Mozart.
Date published: 2016-07-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well worth the time and money I am wild about Mozart, and I adore Professor Greenberg, so you know I am gong to give this corurse a high rating. I enjoy Greenberg's humor (Wolfie Mozart, eschew to chew, studliness, road kill)), and I found great heaps of useful information in his comments on particular operas. I was impressedd by the number of letters and contemporary reviews he quoted; it is surprising how many critics didn't like what Mozart had done! One thing I found very helpful: i acquired an inexpensive set of the Mozart operas from Telarc, and after I finished the last lesson, I went back, relistened to the lessons on particular operas, read the guidebook, and then listened to the entire opera. Greenberg's coverage of the Magic Flute is particularly detailed, and the boys' trio is special. I wish (I have made this complaint about other music courses), that Breenberg could tell us who the performers are. I also have a complaint about the low volume of the recordings: one has to keep raising and lowering the volume, which is a nuisance. In sum, I found this set to be well worth the time and money I spent on it.
Date published: 2016-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This Course Will Make You a Mozart anp Opera Lover audio download version The 24 lectures are divided into three, eight lecture sections, bookended by examining two of Mozart's great operas in detail. Both "Cosi Fan Tutte" and "The Magic Flute" receive 8 lectures each, giving professor Greenberg ample time delve into the details of each opera and to also play almost all of the music. The middle 8 lectures are devoted to two lectures on "Don Giovanni", a one lecture nod to "The Marriage of Figaro" and 5 others that cover Mozart's musical development in writing operas, a bit of history and brief selections from Mozart's other, lesser-known operas. Going in I knew little about Cosi, having only seen it once and really never having having listened to it with any thought. Really I thought it was pretty silly, but Dr. Greenberg's detailed explanations enabled me to appreciate this music with new and grateful ears. On the other end of the spectrum, "The Magic Flute" was the first opera I ever saw performed and I have probably seen it again close to a dozen times and own at least two recordings. Therefore ±I thought that I knew it quite well. I was happily surprise to find that I had missed much of the reasons for the plot, due to my largely ignorance of Masons and Masonic rites. Thank you Dr. Greenberg. On a not so upbeat note, I found professor Greenberg's decision to translate the German of the Magic Flute into vernacular English to be off putting after a while. Even after his explanation as to the fact that it was in the language of the day so he would provide a very loose translation to accommodate the intent of the German. After about the fifth time that he referred to Tamino as"dude", I was ready for him to stop. But he did not. Mostly I like and appreciate Greenberg's stick, but this was over the top, even for me Otherwise, highly recommended.
Date published: 2016-03-25
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