Mozart shook his head. "Some work, but not enough. I've this flute commission, and maybe a mass for the court chapel. Unfortuna...

The World Premiere of Marrying Mozart

Mozart shook his head. "Some work, but not enough. I've this flute commission, and maybe a mass for the court chapel. Unfortunately, I've grown up, and people still expect the darling prodigy. They don't know what to do with a man below middle height whose nose is too big. I'm to play at the Elector's palace in a week. God willing, he won't present me with another gold watch, as Princes are inclined to do. I speak lightly, but I tell you, old friend, there's a sense of urgency in me. -Marrying Mozart

The celebrated novel, Marrying Mozart, has already been translated into seven languages, but this month, it receives perhaps the most significant translation to date: its translation to the operatic stage. The story's brilliant architect is Stephanie Cowell, a masterful author of historical fiction and a dear friend. I can almost sense the joy and excitement radiating from her New York apartment in anticipation of the premiere. Her home is a warm and charmingly creative space, abundantly rich with literature, ideas, music, history, plots and characters. And it was here where Mozart and the Weber sisters emerged for the first time, revealing the palpable vulnerabilities, amorous decorum and playful manner only Stephanie could envisage. Her dashing narrative of this curious quintet captures our hearts.

The sight of Marrying Mozart in seven translations is always a highlight of my visits with Stephanie.

Marrying Mozart will be fully realized on the stage in its world premiere as a singspiel by Opera Moderne and Dicapo Opera in New York, December 13-16, 2012. And how timely it is in celebratory regard, as 2012 is the 250th birthday anniversary of Constanze Weber, Mozart's beloved. The libretto by Dicapo Opera General Director Michael Capasso will be accompanied by the music of Mozart in pastiche form. When I heard the news about the production, I was very keen to inquire with the artistic directors about their vision for the adaptation. Stephanie introduced me to Rebecca Greenstein, the Founder and Executive Director of Opera Moderne, who was wonderfully obliging.

In addition to being a professional arts administrator, Ms. Greenstein is also a gifted soprano who has performed in Mozart operas such as La Clemenza di Tito, Der Schauspieldirektor and Don Giovanni. I'm very grateful for her insight as she takes us behind the proscenium for an exclusive preview before the big day! She's a Moderne-Day Mozartian in every wonderful sense of the word.

As a prelude to the interview, I invited Stephanie to write a few words...

Stephanie Cowell, Author.
I am utterly delighted that Opera Moderne and Dicapo Opera are creating and co-producing the premiere of the singspiel of my novel Marrying Mozart. I wrote the story about Mozart's courtship ten years ago, but I had loved and studied Mozart all my life. I first heard his Figaro as a child of 12 or 13 at the old Metropolitan Opera House, and was so enchanted I did not leave my seat even at intermission for fear I would miss something. I studied singing for many years and always hoped I would sing Mozart in major opera houses, but I turned to writing instead and ended up writing a novel about him. I wanted to write a happy novel set during the days when he was trying to find work in Vienna and deciding which of the lovely musical Weber sisters he wanted to marry. Constanze was not his first choice and he almost missed out on her! The book has gone on to many translations and journeys but I never in my life thought it would be an opera. I can't wait for opening night. Knowing me, I'll probably cry! Thank you, Sherry, for this interview with Opera Moderne director Rebecca Greenstein.  -Stephanie

Marrying Mozart: An Interview with Rebecca Greenstein, Director

Sherry: Staging an adaptation of Marrying Mozart is a brilliant opportunity for your company and Dicapo Opera to showcase this story through Mozart's unparalleled writing for the voice. What was it about the story that appealed to you?

Rebecca: I've always been a fan of Mozart from my early youth, first with his music, learning his Ave Verum Corpus at the age of 10 to sing at church, then flute solos by him, and finally his operatic works in my young adulthood. Then secondly, his life was so appealing to me beyond the music; it was so hard to understand how such a genius could come to such a poor end, even to the point of being buried with 4-5 other dead and the uncertainty of where such a monumental artist is laid to rest (especially since they dug up the grave to make room for more burials).

I remember seeing the movie Amadeus as a girl and thinking, now that's an artist I get. Although I do understand the liberties that the Shaffer version takes on Mozart and Salieri's lives, it was still a charming and interesting portrayal. One day, in desperate search for a wonderful piece of fiction to read, as I had just finished ingesting several fictional series previously, I came across Marrying Mozart at the bookstore. It just leaped out at me and I grabbed it for a read. This beautiful, and gentler telling of Mozart's life and his involvement with the Webers really spoke to me and thus I decided that I wanted to do a concert based on the music from the book and the women who influenced his writing while in Vienna. I approached Michael Capasso at Dicapo Opera Theatre with this concert idea and he decided to take it even further and adapt the novel to a play with Mozart's music. We met with Stephanie, and obtained her blessing to bring this vision to fruition. Now we have an exciting and intriguing new singspiel which will receive its premiere on December 13th!

Sherry: The novel is described as "Amadeus meets Little Women." Which of these more closely describes your approach to Cowell's rendering of the history? What were the greatest challenges in setting the narrative?

Rebecca: I personally see the novel and our singspiel leaning towards the Little Women aspect of the spectrum. Mozart is definitely an important character, but the focus is really from the view of the Weber girls, and we keep that as part of the adaptation to stage. The narrative really writes itself from the novel, due to the wonderful voices that Ms. Cowell created in her original work.

Costumes designed and constructed by Angela Huff. Wardrobe and production plot by Emily Parman.

Sherry: Since your production is a singspiel with spoken dialogue and arias/ensembles, I assume your cast includes both opera singers and actors from the theater. How difficult was it to cast these roles? Although extant portraits exist and accounts substantiate certain features about Mozart, he was kind of a nondescript fellow who wouldn't stand out in a crowd. How did this factor into your casting choice?  

Rebecca: We definitely had to visit all worlds of the arts in order to cast this piece. However, the Weber sisters needed to be cast from women who really understood classical music and opera in order to truly encompass the characters that so influenced Mozart. Plus, the role of Aloysia has to sing. Both Opera Moderne and Dicapo Opera are used to going outside the opera world to invoke artists beyond, as we have done works that require just that, going beyond opera in its traditional sense. The wonderful thing about the narrative, is that the characters appear in your mind, and thus when the right person walks into the audition and fits the role, it's always an exciting discovery! Our Mozart, Ian Harkins, is such a nice person, and an unassuming character when you first meet him. However, you can't help but feel at ease instantly in his presence. There's something special about Ian that really makes him fit into the role that has been created from Stephanie's novel.   

Sherry: Peter Shaffer's play Amadeus enjoyed great success in New York, paving the way for Mozart Mania in the 1980s with Milos Forman's film adaptation. How do you think Marrying Mozart will be received by audiences? I adore the novel, so I'm very excited about your production and its potential to travel beyond December. I sincerely hope that it ignites another period of prosperity for Mozart on the stage. Toi, toi, toi for Marrying Mozart! 

Rebecca: Mozart's music and life continue to influence people internationally and the love for his work has never ceased. One of our fears as we were putting this work together was the comparison to Shaffer's Amadeus, so much to the point, that we even considered cutting Mozart physically from the show in order to make sure that there wasn't even a parallel. However, once you've seen the play and/or read the novel, there is no mistaking our Mozart with that of Shaffer's. Our Mozart is never "Wolfie" or "Amadeus," he is lovingly known as "Mozart" throughout, a name that is synonymous with the delicacies and beauty that is found in his music. This tale of the Weber family and their love of Mozart, who came into their lives, will touch many a heart, and I feel, speak for generations to come.


Anonymous said...

Great interview Sherry! Boy, do I feel so bad that I'm going to miss this play. Jose.

Sherry Davis said...

Thank you, Jose! I'll also be missing the premiere, but I'm hopeful that the opera's success will enable it to be presented beyond December in other parts of the country and eventually around the world, so that the rest of us may indulge!

Monica Carvalho said...

I'll be waiting for it over here! lol :) Great article, Sherry!

Sherry Davis said...

Thank you, Monica! Let's all keep our fingers crossed, shall we? :)