Tuesday 11 May 2010


Today we should receive finished copies of our first Overture Opera Guide. It's a shame they didn't arrive yesterday before I left for Italy. It's been a pleasure to work with Gary Kahn and Philip Reed on the first two titles of the series, and I am currently immersed in Mozart's Idomeneo, an opera whose existence I did not even suspect a few months ago.

Reading the informative articles at the front of the book and working on the Thematic Guide, I realized how ignorant I am in terms of music. Julian Rushton's musical analysis of Mozart's opera was just about as intelligible as a page of Arabic script. But it's delightful to be immersed in a completely different world, time and genre, and I look forward to going with Elisabetta to the premiere of Tosca at the Coliseum on Tuesday.

In our Idomeneo volume, there's a brilliant selection from the letters exchanged between Mozart and his father Leopold. I have always heard that Leopold was quite dispotic and "used" his son's talents for his own advantage and advancement. But reading these letters a complete different relationship seems to emerge, at least at the time of Idomeneo's composition. Leopold offers sound and practical compositional advice to the twenty-four-year-old exuberant genius, who responds with great brio and wit to his father's prompting.

There's many bits I loved, such as when Mozart says: "Tell me, don't you think the speech of the subterranean voice is too long? Consider it carefully . . . If the Ghost's speech in Hamlet weren't so long, it would be even more effective." Priceless.

But the passage I loved most is when Leopold says to his son: "I advise you when working on the score to consider not only the musical but also the unmusical public. You know that for every 10 real connoisseurs there are 100 ignoramuses. So don't forget what's called the popular style, which tickles long ears." Mozart was quick to pick on that and replied in this next letter: "As for what is called popular taste, don't worry, for my opera contains music for all kinds of people, not just for those with long ears."

It's particularly moving to read this exchange, as Idomeneo was only performed twice during the author's lifetime - although Mozart was always very attached to it - and it has been reappraised by critics as one of his masterpieces only in recent years. A sign that the Salzburg genius was not really writing for those "with long ears" . . .


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