Mozart’s operas

Here’s my list of the operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), including a few that were never completed or are sometimes listed as something else.

As on my Verdi list, I have listed the opera titles in different colors:

  • Red means I have seen the opera at least once in a staged performance, with costumes, stage sets, lighting, acting, etc. — usually lots more than just once!
  • Green means I have only seen it in concert, but currently there are no green listings on my Mozart list, only red and black ones.
  • Black means I’ve never seen it at all.

For each opera I have added the year of completion or first performance — as well as Mozart’s age in square brackets, since he started composing them at age 11. The original libretti are in Italian unless otherwise noted.

Program booklet from Darmstadt

Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots, in German, 1767 Salzburg [age 11]. Mozart had just returned to Salzburg from a three-year European tour as a child prodigy musician when he was commissioned by the ruling Prince-Archbishop Sigismund von Schrattenbach to compose the first part of a three-part oratorio on the subject of the First Commandment. Tradition has it that the Prince-Archbishop locked the boy in a room to ensure that he composed it all by himself, with no help from his father. The German text was by Ignatz Anton von Weiser (1701-1785), a dramatist, poet, mayor of Salzburg and friend of the Mozart family. I saw this piece at the State Theater in Darmstadt in 2007, in a double bill with Apollo et Hyacinthus.

Apollo et Hyacinthus, in Latin, 1767 Salzburg [age 11]. This opera was commissioned by the University of Salzburg, with a libretto by a Benedictine friar named Rufinus Widl. The director John Dew staged Mozart’s first two operas for the Salzburg Festival in 2006, and then brought them to Darmstadt the following year. (Here’s the trailer from Salzburg.)

Bastien und Bastienne, in German, 1768 in Vienna [age 12].

La finta semplice, 1769 Salzburg [age 13]. I still tend to get the two “fintas” mixed up, since I saw them both in lively productions in the Bockenheimer Depot in Frankfurt in June of two different years, both using the same stage set by Herbert Murauer. Finta in Italian means fake, and semplice means simpleton. The Frankfurt production of La finta semplice in 2006 was conducted by Julia Jones and directed by Christoph Loy. Among the singers were Jenny Carlstedt, Britta Stallmeister and Florian Plock.

Mitridate, Rè di Ponto, 1770 Milan [age 14]. This was the first of three operas that Mozart composed for the Regio Ducal Teatro in Milan. See my posts Mozart in Cremona and Mozart in Milan.

Ascanio in Alba, 1771 Milan [age 15].

Program booklet for La Betulia liberata in Frankfurt

La Betulia liberata, 1771 [age 15]. This one was intended as an oratorio, but was never performed in Mozart’s lifetime. It was based on the Book of Judith, which I’m afraid I tend to confuse with the Book of Esther (am I the only one who does this?) — see my post Racine’s Esther in Saint-Cyr. I saw La Betulia liberata in 2017 at the Bockenheimer Depot in Frankfurt, in a lively staging by Jan Philipp Gloger. The singers included soprano Sydney Mancasola and tenor Theo Lebow (both pictured on the cover of the program booklet), as well as Ezgi Kutlu, Karen Vuong and Brandon Cedel. (Betulia is a city, by the way, not a woman.)

Il sogno di Scipione, 1772 Salzburg (age 16].

Lucio Silla, 1772 Milan [age 16]. We had a beautiful production of Lucio Silla in Frankfurt from 1993 to 1995, and I saw it again in a different staging in Aachen in 2009. The title character is a tyrannical Roman emperor who has a sudden change of heart towards the end and pardons everyone who was trying to kill him. As I noted in my Aachen post Singing in the reign: “This was a common ending for opera plots in the 17th and 18th centuries, since the local rulers were often the ones who paid for the operas — but today it’s difficult for the stage director to make the ruler’s sudden change of heart appear plausible on stage!”

Applause after La finta giardiniera at the Bockenheimer Depot 2009

La finta giardiniera, 1775 Munich [age 19]. The title figure in this buffo-opera is a countess disguised as a gardener, played and sung in this production by Brenda Rae (fifth from left). The cast list helpfully explained who was in love with whom, who had been jilted by whom, etc., and at the end most of the right couples got back together again. It took me a while to realize that I had seen the same opera once before, in a quite different production in Darmstadt in 1999.

Innsbruck Festival poster 2006

Il rè pastore (The Shepard King), 1775 Salzburg [age 19]. This is a traditional opera seria using a libretto by Pietro Metastasio that had already been set to music by at least fifteen other composers before Mozart wrote his version. But even within the constraints of this already-outmoded form, Mozart managed to breathe life into the characters and the story. I saw Il rè pastore in Innsbruck, Austria, during their Festival of Early Music in 2006.

Zaide, composed in 1779 [age 23] but not performed until 1866.

Idomeneo, 1781 Munich [age 25]. Of all his operas, this was Mozart’s personal favorite. It is also probably the best documented, because he composed it mainly during the rehearsals in Munich, but wanted numerous changes from the touchy librettist in Salzburg. So he wrote more or less daily letters to his father, who was also in Salzburg and had the delicate task of negotiating the changes with the librettist. I have seen Idomeneo several times in two very different productions in Frankfurt, and once in Bremen.

DVD with Diana Damrau and Christoph Quest

Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Serail), in German, 1782 Vienna [age 26]. In addition to Mozart’s highly dramatic arias and ensembles, this opera includes extensive spoken dialogues in German, which makes it hard for international ensembles to perform. These dialogues are often drastically shortened, to the point where the whole story seems illogical. But in Frankfurt in 2003, stage director Christof Loy took the dialogues seriously, kept them intact and had a prominent German actor, Christoph Quest, for the crucial speaking role of Bassa Selim. The result was a stunning production that was filmed for television and once even shown on a huge screen in the middle of the Main River during the football (aka soccer) championships of 2006, on an evening where there was no football match to show.

L’oca del Cairo, a fragment, was composed in 1784 [age 28] but not performed until 1860.

Lo sposo deluso, another fragment from 1784.

Der Schauspieldirektor, in German, 1786 Vienna [age 30]. This “comedy with music in one act“ also includes extensive spoken dialogues in German. I saw it in 1999 in a campy production in Frankfurt, staged by Bettina Giese and conducted by Catherine Rückwardt.

Beaumarchais, Le mariage de Figaro

Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), 1786 Vienna [age 30]. Three of Mozart’s most popular operas are those he composed in his thirties to libretti by Lorenzo da Ponte. The first was based on the French play Le mariage de Figaro by Beaumarchais (1732-1799). I once saw the play at a small theater called Théâtre Espace Marais in Paris, and once in German translation at the city theater in Kempton, Bavaria. And I’ve seen the opera numerous times in Berlin, Hannover, Munich, Pforzheim, Bonn and Stuttgart, and in two different productions in Frankfurt.

Don Giovanni, 1787 Prague [age 31]. Mozart’s ever-popular Don Juan opera, again with a text by Lorenzo da Ponte, is about a licentious Spanish nobleman who claimed to have seduced 2,063 women: 640 in Italy, 230 in Germany, 100 in France, 90 in Turkey and 1003 in Spain. We know these exact numbers because Leporello, his servant, sings them in his famous ‘register aria’ in the first act. I’ve seen Don Giovanni in Hamburg, Mannheim and Bad Orb, in two different productions in Frankfurt (by Peter Mussbach and Christof Loy) and in two different productions at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris.
(In one of my Prague posts I have written about the world premiere of Don Giovanniclick here and scroll down to ‘The Estates Theater’.)

Così fan tutte, 1790 Vienna [age 34]. Mozart’s third and last opera with a text by Lorenzo da Ponte has always been controversial. The title means roughly “That’s what they (feminine) all do.” One of the characters, the “old philosopher” Don Alfonso, sets out to prove that all women will be unfaithful to their husbands or fiancés if given the chance, but whether or not he has proved this at the end is a still a matter of debate, as it has been for over two centuries, since a high degree of persuasion was applied. The libretto isn’t based on any particular play, but I think Lorenzo da Ponte might have known the French play La Double Inconstance by Marivaux (1688-1763). I’ve seen Così fan tutte in Hildesheim, Darmstadt, Freiberg, Bad Orb and Bad Hersfeld, and in two different productions in Frankfurt. After one Frankfurt performance, in 2010, I noted: “There were lots of youngish couples in the audience tonight. In the intermission they all seemed to be part of the show (isn’t he giving her a skeptical look? isn’t she glancing around furtively?) — a sure sign of a really good Così performance!”

La Clemenza di Tito, 1791 Praha [age 35]. In the last year of his life, Mozart was commissioned to compose an old-fashioned opera seria, and he succeeded brilliantly. This long-neglected opera is now re-claiming its rightful place in the repertoire. So far I’ve seen it once in Munich and several times in Frankfurt.

Poster at the Massy Opera

Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), in German, 1791 Vienna [age 35]. Mozart’s last opera is also his most popular, at least in the German-speaking countries.

I’ve seen it in Dresden, Mannheim, Düsseldorf, Leipzig, Bielefeld, Stuttgart, two different productions in Vienna, two different productions in Munich and two in Frankfurt.

And I’ve even seen it twice in France, once in an open-air performance in Paris and once in the Opéra de Massy.

 


The 2019/2020 opera season has been cut short, worldwide, by the coronavirus pandemic, but according to the statistics currently available on operabase.com, Mozart’s Don Giovanni is now the world’s fourth most-often-performed opera (after Verdi’s La Traviata, Bizet’s Carmen and Puccini’s La Bohème). Mozart’s Magic Flute is sixth on the list, and his Marriage of Figaro is ninth.

My photos in this post are from 2009 and 2016. I revised the text in 2020.

See more posts on the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).
See more opera lists by composer.

7 thoughts on “Mozart’s operas”

  1. I’ve seen a lot of Mozart operas too, and every time I thought the music was gorgeous. Some of the plots have run together, though. It seems like all of them have a boring part in the 3rd act where everyone goes out and sings a song in the garden about how sad they are.

    1. You must be thinking of The Marriage of Figaro, where even the most minor characters get fantastic arias to sing. Nowadays these are usually omitted, however, so you must have seen a rare unabridged production somewhere.

        1. No, that’s the Magic Flute.
          The Marriage of Figaro is the one where the Count apologizes to the Countess at the end: “Contessa, perdona…”

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