Music by Mozart
New libretto by Tom Boyd
Mozart's comic one-act opera was first performed as a Singspiel entertainment for the Emporer Joseph II and his dinner guests at Schönbrun Palace in 1786. Mozart's aim was to satirise the monstrous egos of prima donnas and send up the Viennese operatic scene of the day. His music long outlived the topical references and the weak and stodgey libretto by Gottlieb Stephanie, which is quite unsuitable for a modern performance.
There are a number of revised or re-written libretti published in print and many more unpublished versions scattered around the world that have been re-worked for the use of particular opera companies or productions, but most versions remain set in Austria at the time of Mozart, with laboured Germanic humour and turgid pseudo-18th century dialogue.
If Mozart's intention was to mock the foibles of opera singers of his day and comment amusingly on his own contemporary musical scene, Tom Boyd felt that his purpose would be best served by re-setting the Impresario in "the present" and take advantage of the comic possibilities offered by topical references, as Mozart had done. The basic bones of the slight plot about a harried impresario trying to assuage two bitchy prima donnas vying for the same role are preserved, but beyond that the Bel Canto libretto is completely original - a 20th century variation on Mozart's timeless theme of duelling divas.
The Bel Canto version is for 5 characters (two sopranos, a baritone and 2 non-singing roles) and plays for about one hour.
L to R: Joan Self as Natalia Slavinska, David Purcell as Lord Penhurst, Josephine Williamson as Lina Palucci and Henry Bilborough as Henry Asherton, the impresario
Bel Canto Opera production, 1997, directed by Tom Boyd
Time: the present
Jethro Lambert, the financial director, whom Asherton calls Figaro, tells Asherton the company is in debt from the previous season and sees no way of mounting a new Mozart production, but Asherton refuses to be defeated, and has a plan which involves employing the cheap (he thinks) services of Natalia Slavinska, former diva with the Bulgarian State Opera, who defected to the West during the cold war and is now well over the hill. She auditions for him and he signs her up as Prima Donna, even though her financial demands are beyond his means.
Then Lord Penhurst arrives announcing that he is prepared to bankroll a new production, if his mistress, Signorina Palucci, is made Prima Donna of the company. Two prima donnas? Needless to say, war breaks out between Slavinska and Palucci, and Asherton and Figaro have to find a way to placate both sopranos in order to save the production and secure Lord Penhursts financial backing. With the help of "Wolfie" (the bust of Mozart), they manage to come up with a Pirandello-esque twist that affords a satisfactory solution; the two divas finally agree to share the honours in a production of der Schauspieldirektor, which offers two equally important roles for two equally temperamental prima donnas. The happy finale salutes the genius of Mozart .
The opera contains five major musical set-pieces:
Madame Slavinskas audition piece (The Arietta)
Lina Paluccis audtition piece (the Rondo)
The cat-fight between Palucci & Slavinska, mediated by Penhurst (The Trio)
The toast to the genius of Mozart (The Finale)
The orchestral score is for strings, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 French horns, 2 trumpets & timpani.
Send for full printed libretto text - £3.00 sterling or $5.50 US + p & p
The Mozart score with full orchestral parts, and the English libretto by Tom Boyd are available as a package for hire to amateur groups or professional companies. For information about hire charges and copyright royalties, contact Tom Boyd - email: email@example.com