Mozart Minute Podcast: Fiordiligi

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Catch The Mozart Minute every Friday at noon during the Amadeus Deli, and listen to the podcast at wosu.org/podcasts.(Photo: Wikipedia)
Catch The Mozart Minute every Friday at noon during the Amadeus Deli, and listen to the podcast at wosu.org/podcasts.(Photo: Wikipedia)

The role of Fiordiligi in the opera Così fan tutte is one of Mozart’s most vocally demanding soprano roles. It exploits the voice’s entire range – especially the chest voice – and requires the singer to sing large leaps across registers and to manage both sustained and coloratura passages.

You’d think an opera composer as great as Mozart was would write such demanding music only for a top-notch singer. But did he?

Mozart penned the role of Fiordiligi for Adriana Ferrarese del Bene, a singer known for her agile voice and strong low notes. Ferrarese’s singing garnered praise from many of her day, including Count Karl Zinzendorff, an insider at the Hapsburg court, who wrote that she “sang marvellously.”

But Mozart’s own words also suggest a certain dissatisfaction with Ferrarese’s singing. In a letter of April 1789 to his wife, Constanze, Mozart wrote of hearing a performance by the soprano Maddalena Allegranti, who as Mozart put it, “is far better than Madame Ferrarese, which, I admit, is not saying very much.”

At some point a perhaps apocryphal story emerged that Mozart composed the large leaps in Fiordiligi’s role to exploit to comic effect Ferrarese’s habit of dropping her head for low notes and raising it again for high notes. Mozart wasn’t exactly a fan of Ferrarese’s difficult personality, so in the end it could be that his unflattering remarks about Ferrarese’s singing had less to do with her voice than with her volatile temperament.

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