Mozart delighted in portraying themes dealing with the inspired ideals of the Enlightenment. He was living and composing during a monumental historical period of social upheaval and ideological transition. It was a time in which the common man struggled for his rights against the tyranny and oppression of his aristocratic master. In particular, The Marriage of Figaro contains all of the era’s social and political conflicts and tensions: its primary theme is its portrayal of servants who are cleverer than their selfish, unscrupulous, and arrogant masters. Because of the comic effectiveness of its underlying political and social themes, The Marriage of Figaro has earned the accolade of the perfect opera buffa. Napoleon would later conclude that The Marriage of Figaro, both the Mozart opera and Beaumarchais’s original play, represented the “Revolution in action.”
Mozart’s opere buffe range from his youthful works, La Finta Semplici (1768) and La Finta Giardineria (1775), to his monumental buffe classics composed with the renowned librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte. The Mozart-Da Ponte collaboration produced The Marriage of Figaro (“Le Nozze di Figaro”) (1786), described by both composer and librettist as a “commedia per musica” (“comedy with music”); Don Giovanni (1787), technically an opera buffa but designated a “dramma giocoso” (“humorous drama” or “playful play”), that is essentially a combination of both the opera buffa and opera seria genres; and Così fan tutte, (“Thus do all women behave”) (1789), another blend of genres for which nothing could be more laudatory than the renowned musicologist William Mann’s conclusion that Così fan tutte contains “the most captivating music ever composed.”
Nevertheless, although Mozart was writing in the Italian opera buffa genre and in the Italian language, Italians have historically shunned his Italian works, claiming that they were not “Italian” enough; contemporary productions of Mozart “Italian” operas in Italy are rare events. Mozart also composed operas in the German singspiel genre, a style that generally defines an opera containing spoken dialogue instead of accompanied recitative. Mozart’s most popular German singspiel operas are: Die Zauberflöte (“The Magic Flute”) and Die Entführung aus dem Serail (“The Abduction from the Seraglio.”)
Mozart wrote over 18 operas, among them: Bastien and Bastienne (1768); La Finta Semplice (1768); Mitridate, Rè di Ponto (1770); Ascanio in Alba (1771); Il Sogno di Scipione (1772); Lucio Silla (1772); La Finta Giardiniera (1774); Idomeneo, Rè di Creta (1781); Die Entführung aus dem Serail (“The Abduction from the Seraglio”) (1782); Der Schauspieldirektor (1786); Le Nozze di Figaro, (“The Marriage of Figaro”) (1786); Don Giovanni (1787); Così fan tutte (1790); Die Zauberflöte (“The Magic Flute”) (1791); La Clemenza di Tito (1791).