In a letter to his father on 13 October 1781, Mozart wrote, ‘Why do Italian comic operas give such pleasure everywhere – in spite of their miserable libretti…?’ Because the music reigns supreme: when one listens to it all else is forgotten. Why an opera is sure of success when the plot is well worked out, the words written solely for the music and not shoved in here and there to suit some miserable rhyme… The best thing of all is when a good composer, who understands the stage and is talented enough to make sound suggestions, meets an able poet, that true phoenix.’Two years before he had met Lorenzo da Ponte, Mozart’s frustration with the present condition of opera had reached boiling point. The collaboration between the two men produced three of the greatest operas in the repertoire – Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte. Adapting the second play in Beaumarchais’ trilogy, da Ponte skilfully navigated a risky path through the plot that had lead to Emperor Joseph II (da Ponte had become court poet thanks to an introduction from Antonio Salieri) banning it.
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