“Madame Mozart told me that great as his genius was, [Mozart] was an enthusiast in dancing, and often said that his taste lay in that art, rather than in music.”
Michael Kelly (the first Don Basilio)
Mozart’s love of dance manifested itself in many ways. He studied ballet with the revered noble style dancer Gaétan Vestris, and was very eager, as a young man, to collaborate with the famous choreographer, Noverre. His notes regarding the dances in his opera-ballet Idomeneo bear witness to his intense involvement in the choreographic aspect of the production.
Mozart wrote two dances for The Marriage of Figaro (1786): The Hunter’s Dance, and the Fandango – in keeping with the opera’s Spanish setting. There are also incidental opportunities for dancing to further the action of the piece. We learn from the journals of Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, that the Lord Chamberlain of Vienna (who was not kindly disposed towards Mozart) ordered the dances to be removed from the opera just before its première. Mozart was furious and devastated but Da Ponte saved the day by inviting the Emperor himself to the dress rehearsal. Half the aristocracy of Vienna accompanied their Sovereign, who inquired why there were no dances in the opera. The Lord Chamberlain mumbled something about the theatre not having its own troupe of dancers. “Are there any,” the Emperor asked, “in the other theatres?”. He was told that there were. “Good, then let Da Ponte have as many as he needs!”. The dances were re-inserted in their proper place and much applauded by the audience.
The Hunter’s Dance is choreographed using the step vocabulary of mid to late 18th century theatrical dances. There is added emphasis on virtuosic male dancing as a result of the talents and influence of Auguste Vestris (1760-1842, son of Gaétan). The Fandango belongs to the Bolero School of Spanish dance, which was established in the 18th century, incorporating some techniques of the French ballet into Spanish forms. The arm positions should be fluid and rounded, and the castanets played throughout.
The dances are absolutely essential to the plot in Figaro – Mozart brilliantly added recitative for the singers during sections of the ballet – thus further integrating dance with dramatic action.
–Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg
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