The author of this review of Così fan tutte in German translation is Bernhard Wessely (1768–1826), the music director of the Nationaltheater in Berlin at this time, and a frequent contributor to the Musikalische Monathschrift and its predecessor the Musikalisches Wochenblatt. (On the identification of “W.” as Wessely, see our entry for 12 Oct 1791; for more on Wessely, see our entry for 23 Jun 1792.) The opera premiered in Berlin in German on 3 Aug 1792 (Brachvogel 1878, 309), almost certainly under Wessely’s musical direction; his review comes from the Nov 1792 issue of the Monathsschrift.
The title given in Wessely’s review, Eine machts wie die andre, oder, die Schule der Liebhaber, is a fairly close translation of the original Italian title and subtitle of Mozart’s opera, and it occurs in slightly varying forms in several early German translations of the opera:
Eine wie die Andre / oder / Die Schule der Liebhaber . . .
[Dresden 1791, a dual language libretto from a performance given in Italian; see Zenck (2007, 49)]
[CO]SI FAN TUTTE. / [Es] ist eine wie die andere, / oder / Die Schule der Liebhaber.
[Fragment of a poster for a performance in Italian in Prague, 23 Nov 1791; figure 9 in Zenck (2007, 69)]
Arien / aus der Oper / COSI FAN TUTTE / Eine machts wie die andere, / oder: / Die Schule der Liebhaber / Eine komische Oper aus dem Italiänischen / von / Abàte de la Ponte / ins deutsche übersetzt von M: / Die Musik ist von Mozart. / Aufgeführt / zu Prag / im Vaterländischen Theater / unter der Direktion des Hrn. Mihule. / PRAG, / Gedrukt bey Joseph Emmanuel Diesbach.
[printed libretto, Prague, 1791?]
Cosi fan tutte. / Eine machts wie die Andere, / oder / Die Schule der Liebhaber, / ein / komisches Singspiel / in zwey Aufzügen. / Die Musik ist von Herrn Mozart. / Donaueschingen, / gedruckt bey J. Matth. Mieth. Hofbuchdr[u]cker
[printed libretto, Donaueschingen, 1791; see Zenck (2007, 72)]
Gesänge / aus der / Schule der Liebhaber, / oder: / Eine ist wie die andere. / Eine / komische Oper aus dem Italienischen / von / Abàte da Ponte, / ins deutsche frei übersetzt. / Die Musik dazu ist / von Mozart. / Aufgeführt / von der / Mihuleschen Gesellschaft. / Augsburg 1794.
[printed libretto, Augsburg, 1794; see Zenck (2007, 75)]
The first is a printed translation for a performance in Italian in Dresden, not a singing translation. The second is taken from a poster for a Prague performance in Italian by the Guardasoni troupe on 23 Nov 1791. The last three are printed libretti for performances in German with spoken text instead of recitatives.
The “M” in the attribution in the title of the printed libretto for Prague is thought to refer to Wenzel Mihule, the head of the troupe that performed the opera in German in Prague and also in 1794 in Augsburg. The translation in the Donaueschingen libretto is very closely related to that in the Prague libretto, but the second page of the printed Donaueschingen libretto attributes the translation to someone else: “Aus dem Italienischen des Abbate de la Ponte. / Ins deutsche frey übersetzt von T==m”; Zenck (2007, 72–73) argues that “T==m” probably refers to Wenzel Tham. In her second appendix (Anhang B, 373–401) Zenck prints an edition of the Donauschingen libretto combining the readings from all known sources for it (the printed libretto containing just the sung numbers; a manuscript copy that also includes the spoken text; a copy of the Prague libretto with handwritten corrections for the Donaueschingen version; and the score for the Donaueschingen performance). She also prints the end of the second act of the Prague version (no. 29–31) where that version differs most significantly from the Donaueschingen libretto (Zenck 2007, Anhang C, 402–404). The first performance of the opera in Donaueschingen took place on 11 Sep 1791. The date of the first German performance in Prague is uncertain, but Zenck argues for mid-summer 1791, making the case that the Donaueschingen version was based on the translation for Prague, not the other way around (Zenck 2007, 70–75).
Wessely’s review adds a new and previously unnoticed wrinkle to the history of this German translation of the libretto for Così. The opera was first performed in Berlin on 3 Aug 1792 (Brachvogel 1878, 309) in German translation under Wessely’s direction. Thus the source on which Wessely based his review was almost certainly the score (and translation) used for that performance. The title given in Wessely’s review corresponds to those of the Prague and Donaueschingen libretti (giving “andre” instead of “andere”). However, the four snippets of text cited by Wessely match the Prague and Donaueschingen versions only in part: one corresponds exactly to both the Prague and Donaueschingen versions, one corresponds to the Donaueschingen version but not the Prague, one corresponds to both but with one altered word, and the fourth is not found in either.
- Wessely writes that ”one of the first quintets” (that is, one of the quintets in the first act) includes the line “Ruhig, Freunde! hat nichts zu sagen!” This is probably a translation of Don Alfonso’s “Saldo amico: finem lauda!” in the first quintet of the opera, “Sento oddio, che questo piede” (No. 6 in the numbering of the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe). But this line is found in neither the Prague nor the Donaueschingen translation, where Don Alfonso instead sings “Wartet Freunde, was Ende lehret.”
- “Wie die Felsen” corresponds to Fiordiligi’s “Come scoglio” (Act I, no. 14. The identical line is found in the Prague and the Donaueschingen versions.
- The line ”Mädchen, listig seid ihr alle” is a variant of “Mädchen Füchse seyd ihr alle,” found in both the Prague and Donaueschingen translations; it corresponds to Guglielmo’s “Donne mie, la fate a tanti” (Act II, no. 26).
- ”Ja verkleidet” corresponds to the first line of the duet “Fra gli amplessi in pochi istanti” (Act II, no. 29); this same line is found in the Donaueschingen version (see Zenck 2007, 396). In the Prague version, however, the first line of this duet (which is sung by Ferrando rather than by “Isabelle,” the character corresponding to Fiordiligi, who opens the duet in Mozart’s original) is “Schnel [sic] zum zarten Geliebten eilen.”
Thus Wessely’s review strongly suggests that yet a third version of this same underlying German translation was used in Berlin in 1792.
A letter by Johann Jakob Engel dated 7 Dec 1792 reveals the identity of the person who made the alterations for the Berlin production. Following a scathing evaluation of Wessely, to which most of the letter is dedicated (see the entry for 23 Jun 1792), Engel writes:
Bei dieser Gelegenheit kann ich nicht umhin, der viele Bemühungen zu erwähnen, welch Herr Herclots für das Theater übernommen hat. Nachdem er sich mit den unaussprechlich elenden Versen in der letzten Mozart’schen Oper: Eine machts wie die Andere geplagt und sie wenigstens erträglich gemacht; hat er in der Salierischen, jetzt beim Copisten befindliche, Oper: “Die Chiffer,” sämmtliche Verse vom Anfang bis zu Ende ganz umgearbeitet und sie der Musik vortrefflich angepaßt. [Brachvogel 1878, 313]
On this occasion, I cannot refrain from mentioning the many efforts that Mr. Herclots has undertaken for the theater. After he labored with the unspeakably wretched verses in the most recent Mozart opera—Cosi fan tutte—making them at least tolerable, in the Salieri Opera—La Cifra—now available at the copyist’s, he completely reworked all verses from beginning to end and admirably tailored them to the music.
The reference is to writer and translator Carl Alexander Herclots (1759–1830), who (as Engel writes) “toiled” to make the “unspeakably wretched verses” of the translation of Così “at least tolerable.” (The Salieri opera to which the passage refers is La cifra from 1789.)
The other two sections of Così to which Wessely refers in his review are:
- The scene in the Finale of Act I in which Guglielmo and Ferrando feign having taken poison.
- Despina’s appearance as the “magnetizing doctor” later on in the Finale of Act I (mm. 292ff).
Of particular interest is Wessely’s ranking of Così fan tutte just behind Figaro in excellence, and ahead of “Belmonte und Constanze” (Die Entführung aus dem Serail) and “Dom Juan” (Don Giovanni), which, while both masterpieces, have “small flaws that a microscopic critique . . . was able to find” (“kleinen Flecken, welche eine . . . mikroskopische Kritik an den beiden Meisterwerken . . . zu finden wusste”): some arias in the former are too “concert-like” (“concertartig”), while the harmonies of the latter are rather recherché (“gesucht”). But in Così the immortal Mozart (“der Verewigte”) avoids both of these flaws.
Wessely closes his review with a lament that a reviewer cannot do justice to the riches of a Mozart opera without filling up pages with musical notation, a situation that might be remedied if one were to use the simplified musical tablature recently invented by Johann Abraham Peter Schulz (1747–1800), Wessely’s principal music teacher. Schulz published a description of his new system of music notation in 1786 under the title Entwurf einer neuen und leicht verständlichen Musiktabulatur deren man sich in Ermangelung der Notentypen in kritischen und theoretischen Schriften bedienen kann und deren Zeichen in allen Buchdruckereien vorräthig sind nebst einem Probe Exempel (Berlin 1786); or, in English: Outline of a New and Easily Understandable Music Tablature Which Can Be Used in the Absence of Musical Type in Critical and Theoretical Writings, and Whose Symbols Are on Hand in All Book Printing Shops. Along with a Practice Example. Schulz’s system, which is based on the use of the numbers 1–9, is explained with examples in Wolf (1919, 395–97).