During the short period of time during which Mozart lived, he is thought to have completed six-hundred and twenty-six compositions. This includes forty-one symphonies, twenty-seven piano concertos, numerous string quartets, and around twenty operas. The list does not end there, which means it is hardly surprising that some compositions were never completed.
Unfinished Mozart Opera
Mozart, despite his apparent genius, often found himself struggling for money and would have had to turn his attentions to concert performances and compositions that paid bills and put food on his family’s table. The opera with the title ‘Zaide’ (K.344), was one of these works that Mozart never finished. Only two Acts were finished and the opera was subsequently never performed in Mozart’s lifetime.
Mozart had a passion for drama and through the medium of opera, he found the perfect outlet. At the time Mozart was working on the opera ‘Zaide’, he was living in Salzburg. He had already completed the Manheim-style Symphonies K.318 in G major, and K.338 in C major and a little after the magnificent Sinfonia Concertante (K.364), for Violin and Viola. Mozart’s operatic style could at this time in his career be considered to still be under development.
Rather than the type of opera, we are familiar with in works like ‘Don Giovanni’,
‘The Magic Flute’,
and ‘The Marriage of Figaro’,
that represent mature Mozart, the operas of this earlier period are closer to ‘singspiel’. The difference is that in singspiel, the performance contains passages of spoken dialogue as opposed to every word, set to music and sung.
Italian opera still dominated the European music scene at this period of musical history. Mozart was keen to compose in his native German language and ‘Zaide’ was to be written to a German text. In 1778, the Emperor Joseph the 2nd decided to establish his own opera company for the express purpose of producing and performing German opera. Mozart, naturally, was interested, and given his prominence in the higher circles of society he had the opportunity to join this new opera company. One small caveat to Mozart’s membership was that he composes a ‘comic’ opera and in 1779, Mozart began in earnest to compose ‘Zaide’.
Interestingly, ‘Zaide’ was not the title Mozart gave this opera. The opera was lost following Mozart’s death only to be discovered by his wife Constanze as she had the unenviable task of clearing up the composer’s manuscripts after his early demise some twenty years after Mozart began its composition. Musical researcher and publisher Johann André was the man who assigned the present title to Mozart’s opera alongside his completed version of the work. André’s father is thought to have composed an opera to the same text as Mozart but earlier which may have added to André’s interest in the opera. The parts of the score that Mozart finished were not published until 1838.
What is the plot of ‘Zaide’? To give the context to the libretto of the opera, a popular theme of the period was one that exemplified the poor relationship that was between the West and the East. The idea of trapped westerners, at the mercy of ruthless Muslims, was hot property. ‘Zaide’ exemplifies this crowd-pleasing plot with the story of Zaide and the love of her life, Gomatz. Both Zaide and Gomatz are slaves of the Sultan Soliman; a harsh master who has no time for love and is incensed by the feeling his two slaves have for one another. Both slaves fall in love and try to escape from the tyrannical Sultan only to be recaptured and suffer his vengeance. At this point in the opera, just as the Sultan is about to deal with justice and judgment, as he sees it, Mozart’s work stops. There is no surviving libretto making it almost impossible to determine how Mozart may have concluded the piece. As Mozart’s ‘Zaide’ is closely paralleled with the play by Voltaire called ‘Zaïre’ it is possible that Mozart would have adopted the same ending to the Voltaire play. This would have been a little too serious and dark for a comic opera, is it is more likely that Mozart would have reunited Allazim, Gomatz, and Zaide in the final act.
Choosing to set this story as Mozart did is felt by some commentators to be Mozart’s way of contributing his voice to the social inequality of the day. By setting the opera in Turkey Mozart, it is suggested, covers up the criticism he is making of the ruling classes and his employers but offers a clear message to those who listen. A particular focus for Mozart’s disparagement was his employer at the time, Prince-Archbishop Count Colloredo. The Prince-Archbishop was not known for his generosity or approval of Mozart, nor perhaps did he value the work Mozart produced, clearly making the relationship with Mozart fraught.
‘Zaide’ was abandoned for the next foray into opera that Mozart made. This was in the form of ‘Idomeneo’ that followed the next year in 1781.
For this opera, Mozart returned to Italian language and an adaption of a French text by Giambattista Veresco. Idomeneo is the King of Crete. The following year, 1782, Mozart moved to Vienna and at the tender age of twenty-five created what many feels is a masterpiece of ‘serious’ opera; ‘The Abduction from The Seraglio“.
The opera was a commission from Emperor Joseph the 2nd and important to mention here as its plot closely aligns with that of ‘Zaide’. The opera is once again set in Turkey and involves lovers escaping from pirates and a Turk called Bassa Selim whose unwanted affections cause no end of problems for Konstanze and Blonde. It is also in many ways a reflection of the struggles that Mozart was experiencing at the time, namely poverty, and the inability to convince Constanze’s Mother to allow them to marry.
Unlike ‘Zaide’, ‘The Abduction,’ was completed and performed in Vienna in 1782 to great acclaim. Mozart at this stage of his career had come of age and secured his place in operatic history. ‘Zaide’ has been staged and recorded by several companies and labels, with additional material on occasions being added from Mozart’s other works to give the opera a greater sense of completeness. The premiere of ‘Zaide’ was not until 1866 in Frankfurt.