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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed dozens and dozens of works for solo voice and orchestra often lumped together today as his "Concert Arias." The label is useful as shorthand, but it obscures as much as it tells. He wrote these works for a variety of different reasons, some as occasional pieces, some for insertion into his own and others' operas, and some, such as the present work, for actual concert performance.
"Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio!" was one of two arias Mozart wrote for his sister-in-law Aloysia Weber Lange to interpolate into a now-forgotten comic opera in which she appeared in Vienna in June 1783. Mozart had once hoped to win Aloysia, but ended up marrying her sister Constanze instead; the two remained friendly, and Aloysia's husband Joseph painted what many who knew Mozart considered to be the most accurate likeness of the composer in 1789-90. Singers often interpolated different arias into operas in the 18th century, hoping to show off their own abilities. Aloysia was known for her expressive gifts, as well as her ability to hit the high notes, and this is exactly what Mozart showcases in "Vorrei spiegarvi." In the opening cantilena, the soprano unfurls the melody over pizzicato strings, with strings and solo oboe coloring the vocal line, while the faster closing section features more acrobatic writing for the voice.
"Ch'io mi scordi di te?" grew out of the collaboration between Mozart and the English soprano Nancy Storace (1765-1817), who made her Vienna debut in 1783 and created the role of Susanna there in the first production of The Marriage of Figaro in 1786. Mozart wrote the aria for Storace's Vienna farewell concert at the Kärntnertor Theater on February 23, 1787. (She was returning to London, where she would continue to champion Mozart's music until her retirement in 1808.) The work begins operatically, with a dramatic recitative whose shifting moods are underpinned by the orchestra. But the real surprise comes at the beginning of the aria proper, before the words "Non temere, amato bene," when Mozart introduces a solo part for the piano, which he would have played himself at the 1787 concert. It's as elaborate and demanding as anything in his concertos, especially during the aria's faster second half (beginning at "Alme belle"), and it underlines the close connection between the expressive world of his purely orchestral music and his works for the stage, something already apparent from the dramatic slow movement of K. 271.
- John Mangum is the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association's Program Designer/Annotator.