The Marriage of Figaro
from the memoirs of Lorenzo Da Ponte
In conversation with me one day in this connection, Mozart asked me whether I could easily make an opera from a comedy by Beaumarchais's Le Mariage de Figaro. I liked the suggestion very much, and promised him to write one. But there was a very great difficulty to overcome. A few days previous, the Emperor had forbidden the company at the German theatre to perform that comedy, which was too licentiously written, he thought, for a self-respecting audience: how then propose it to him for an opera? Baron Vetzlar offered, with noble generosity to pay me a handsome price for the words, and then should we fail of production in Vienna, to have the opera presented in London, or in France. But I refused this offer and proposed writing the words and the music secretly and awaiting then a favourable opportunity to show them to the Directors, or to the Emperor himself, for which step I confidently volunteered to assume the responsibility. Martini was the only one who learned of the beautiful secret from me, and he, with laudable high-mindedness, and because of his esteem for Mozart, agreed that I should delay working for him until I should have finished the libretto for Figaro. I set to work, accordingly, and as fast as I wrote the words, Mozart set them to music. In six weeks everything was in order. Mozart's lucky star ordained that the Opera should fail of scores at just that moment. Seizing that opportunity, I went, without saying a word to a living person, to offer Figaro to the Emperor.
'What?' he said. 'Don't you know that Mozart, though a wonder at instrumental music, has written only one opera, and nothing remarkable at that?'
'Yes, Sire,' I replied quietly, 'but without Your Majesty's clemency I would have written but one drama in Vienna!'
That may be true,' he answered, 'but this Mariage de Figaro — I have just forbidden the German troupe to use it!'
Yes. Sire,' I rejoined, 'but I was writing an opera, and not a comedy. I had to omit many scenes and to cut others quite considerably. I have omitted or cut anything that might offend good taste or public decency at a performance over which the Sovereign Majesty might preside. The music. I may add, as far as I may judge of it, seems to me marvellously beautiful.'
'Good! If that be the case, I will rely on your good taste as to the music and on your wisdom as to the morality. Send the score to the copyist.'
I ran straight to Mozart, but I had not yet finished imparting the good news when a page of the Emperor's came and handed him a note, wherein he was commanded to present himself at once at the Palace, bringing his score. He obeyed the royal order, allowed the Emperor to hear various selections, which pleased him immensely; or, to tell the truth without exaggeration, astounded him. Joseph had an exquisite taste in music, as indeed he had in all the arts. The great success this opera had throughout the civilized world was soon to show that he had not been mistaken in his judgement.
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