Who knew Mozart had such a fiendish sense of humor? According to operatic legend, famed classical period composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart once wrote an entire song just to embarrass his prima donna. However, the joke may have been on the composer, as it’s still one of his most beloved arias to this day.
Adriana Ferrarese Del Bene Had An Impressive Range
Adriana Ferrarese del Bene was an Italian operatic soprano singer whose vocal abilities were heavily touted in the late 18th century. Notably, Ferrarese was an early performer of Mozart’s legendary opera Le nozze di Figaro, and the composer even rewrote two songs in the production to better suit her vocal range.
Per the archived blog Divas of Mozart’s Day, the publication Rapport von Wien once reported that Ferrarese had “in addition to an unbelievable high register a striking low register and connoisseurs of music claim that in living memory no such voice has sounded within Vienna’s walls.”
However, despite her obvious vocal prowess, others found her stage presence lackluster, per the Cambridge Opera Journal. According to Opera Omaha, Ferrarese had a tendency to throw back her head while singing high notes and tilt it forward during lower ones.
This habit certainly caught Mozart’s attention. By the time Mozart was writing his opera Così fan tutte, the composer had grown to dislike Ferrarese. So, in an apparent ploy to humiliate the prima donna, he wrote the showpiece aria “Come Scoglio.”
This song required repetitive leaps from low to high registers, forcing Ferrarese’s head to “bob like a chicken” as Robert Greenberg wrote in his book Great Masters – Mozart: His Life and Work.
‘Come Scoglio’ Is Beloved By Opera Buffs
Così fan tutte premiered for the first time on January 26, 1790. The comedic opera was about two sisters whose husbands decide to test their loyalty by dressing in disguises and trying to woo them.
Audiences enjoyed the opera at the time, but by the 19th century, its themes were considered far too taboo and scandalous. However, the opera saw a revival in the 20th century and companies now perform it regularly.
While Mozart may have harbored cruel intentions when writing the “Come Scoglio,” the song is considered the centerpiece of Così fan tutte, which remains one of Mozart’s most beloved operas and is still performed today.
This is because, while the song had the unfortunate effect of exposing Ferrarese’s performance quirk, it presumably put her widely-celebrated vocal range on full display. Today, it’s considered one of Mozart’s more difficult arias.