The Phantom of the Opera: Mozart’s Zaide on Stage

Abstract:

Taking as a starting point Nicholas Cook’s idea of studying music in its “multiple cultural context, embracing production, performance, reception, and all the other activities by virtue of which music is constructed as a significant cultural practice” (Cook, 2008), the article explores the 19th-century multifaceted European history of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s fragmentary Singspiel Zaide, K344 (336b).

Left unfinished (and even untitled) by the composer himself, this work has since become the ‘phantom of the opera’, doomed to fade into oblivion after the death of its creator. However, the phantom became a reality: in 1838, the German printer Johann André (in cooperation with Carl Gollmick) completed the incomplete score and published it, thus starting a massive campaign aimed at popularising his version. By doing so, he successfully integrated the newly born opera Zaide into the European musical life, turning it from the unknown fragment into one of the most oft-performed compositions ever written by Mozart.

Drawing upon extensive data amassed from 1) handwritten copies and printed editions, and 2) concert programmes, journal announcements, critical essays, reviews, and commentaries, the present paper traces the European production, performance, and reception history of Mozart’s ‘phantom opera’ Zaide from 1838 up to the early 20th century. Looking beneath this factual surface, its ultimate aim consists in shedding more light on the reasons behind the successful integration of this fragment into the 19th-century musical life and its contextualisation within particular regional and national practices.

1. Zybina article 2021-1

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