“Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio,” K. 418

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            Today, in the performance of, let us say, a Bartok string quartet, if a movement by some other composer were added in the middle, the audience would understandably be astounded.  But, until the twentieth century the practice of adding an aria by another composer to an opera was not only accepted, but also almost expected.   These additional arias were called “insertion” arias, and were chosen by star performers to showcase their virtuosity, or particular skills.  To be sure, the practice was subject to rampant abuse, but, on the whole, performers generally chose arias that more or less served the plot in some way, and which seemed to be vaguely appropriate.  And that is exactly the case with “Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio.”  Mozart composed it (and two others) in 1783 for his sister-in-law, Aloysia Weber, who was performing in a production of Pasquale Anfossi’s opera, Il curioso indiscreto.  The text is yet another example of eighteenth-century librettists’ obsession—and society at large, no doubt—of “testing” the fidelity of women.  As if men never were afflicted by that “curious indiscretion.”  One will remember that was the basic conceit of Mozart’s later masterpiece, Cosi fan tutte (often translated as something like “Thus do they all” or “Women are like that”).  Well.

            In this particular case, in Anfossi’s opera, we have the rather outrageous situation where one man persuades a friend to try to win away the love of his bride to try her affection.  She succumbs, but has strong second thoughts, and sings this aria wherein she emotes over her predicament between the two men, and finally decides that the seducer should return to his own bride.  Ah, the eternal dilemma, but virtue triumphs in the end!  Anfossi’s opera sank into obscurity, but Mozart’s “insertion” aria endured, and has justifiably entered the standard repertoire.

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2016 William E. Runyan