Result of a Competition: “The Impresario”

Antonio Salieri and Mozart as Rivals

The Impresario

Kirchstetten Castle, Lower Austria 2010 Photo: Austrian Theatre Museum, Vienna / Barbara Palffy
The Impresario

The Impresario

Kirchstetten Castle, Lower Austria 2010 Photo: Austrian Theatre Museum, Vienna / Barbara Palffy

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was widely known in Vienna, but the coveted permanent employment as court composer at the imperial court of Joseph II was held by the older Antonio Salieri. The natural competition between the two musicians was the talk of the Viennese society and, unsurprisingly, an idea of Emperor Joseph II in spring 1786 was the talk of the day.

The emperor invited both musicians to participate in a public opera competition. Both were to compose a one act opera, to be performed consecutively. Both works told the stories of intrigues at the opera. The occasion was a visit of Joseph’s sister Archduchess Marie Christine and her husband, Duke Albrecht von Sachsen-Teschen, from Brussels. The competition was to be held in front of hundreds of guests during a spring festival at the orangery of Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna.

Mozart had to compose the musical comedy “The Impresario”, Salieri an Italian opera buffa – “Prima la musica e poi le parole”. It was a splendid evening for the guests in the tropical atmosphere of the orangery, great food was served and the high society amused itself – unfortunately, at Mozart’s expense.

Insight into the world of theatre

With his “Impresario”, Mozart spirited his audience into a realm not unfamiliar to opera aficionados: the world of theatre. Theatre director Frank is looking for new actors, but like everybody working in the theatre business, he has troubles with money. The banker Eiler makes an appearance and promises his assistance, albeit under one condition: Eiler's lover, Madame Pfeil, must get an engagement.

During the following introduction of the individual artists, they display their skills and different characters. Some of them are so capricious that Frank, almost losing his nerve, threatens to give up. The actors come to their senses and agree that the audience should decide which of them should be hired.

It is interesting that one of the acting singers was Mozart’s sister in law and former beloved Aloysia Lange, Constanze’s sister. This Mozart opera has only one act and is not very long, perfectly suiting the occasion. The content is not extremely sophisticated, only the beauty of Mozart’s music is worth mentioning today.

Antonio Salieri triumphs over Mozart

The competition started. “The Impresario” was performed first. After the applause, Salieri’s opera, a work full of funny and humiliating jibes directed at Mozart’s favourite librettist da Ponte - after all, this opera was all about intrigues – followed suit. The applause was overwhelming. After this, nobody spoke about “The Impresario”. Mozart seemed to have been there only to prepare the audience for Salieri’s work.

Most likely, this competition did not help to improve the relationship between Antonio Salieri and Mozart. But it failed to deliver a blow to Mozart’s self-esteem. He let the statement slip that Salieri could never rival him as a composer. It is certain that Salieri found out about this… but Mozart did not care. The next challenge was already awaiting him: “The Marriage of Figaro”.