Happy Birthday, Wolfgang: We Miss Your “Falstaff”

Happy birthday, Wolfgang. Today is the 250th anniversary of your birth, and October 25th of this year is the 50th anniversary of my first time experiencing a live performance of one of your operas (Cosi Fan Tutte) with a wonderful Mozartean cast of Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Nell Rankin, Patrice Munsel, Richard Lewis, Frank Guarrera and Lorenzo Alvary. This website will join in the year-long celebration of your birth and of your inestimable contributions to opera.

[Below: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at the clavier in 1782-83, age 28 painted by his brother-in-law, Joseph Lange; edited image of a photograph of Lange’s unfinished painting.]

History, it is said, does not reveal its alternatives, and no one would know what it would have been like if your life and creative energy lasted as long as that of Giuseppe Verdi, who, at 80, composed the operatic masterpiece “Falstaff”. You should have had the opportunity to create your own “Falstaff” at age 80. I can imagine you, in the mid-1830s, as the eminence among opera composers, having encouraged Beethoven on “Fidelio” and sitting with him both at its original premiere and that of its revision. I can imagine you finding Rossini to be charming, and enjoying, as Beethoven did, his “Barber of Seville”, which, after all, is the prequel to another of your own masterworks.

I suspect that you would have toured America to great acclaim, avoided France during its revolutionary years, and spent your time in triumph between London and Vienna, with close friendships among the bright lights of all the arts. Opera would continue to have been a major activity of yours. You would have known Donizetti from his boyhood as the child prodigy pupil of the Bavarian opera composer Giovanni Simone Mayr, a strong advocate for producing your operas in Italy. Bellini would have been a friend of yours and you would have wished to travel to Paris to participate in a commemoration of Bellini’s tragic death.

[Below: Germany’s 1991 stamp and commemorative block observing the 200th anniversary of “Die Zauberfloete” and of Mozart’s death; resized image, based on the photograph of a Deutsche Bundespost stamp.]

You would have been a profound influence on Carl Maria von Weber, now dead almost a decade, whose music fascinated you, as did the non-operatic music of many of his Romantic contemporaries. A couple of youngsters interested in learning how to compose opera, Verdi and Richard Wagner, would have sought you out, and valued every moment you would spend with them. You would have found the innovations in Italian and German opera (and some of the French, such as Berlioz’) not only to be interesting, but tempting you to write in newer styles, always achieving an undisputed “personal best” in every format you chose to assay.

It is a bittersweet fact that you and other operatic composers who died young — Bellini, Weber, Donizetti, Bizet — produced so much to cherish in the brief time you were each with us.