Updated: Dec 10, 2020
By Fred A. Reed
You’re eighteen years old. Inside you life is seething, surging up like volcanic magma from the depths of the earth. Attractive girls are everywhere, mincing and giggling. Even though you certainly couldn’t be called good looking they find you amusing. But in this straight-laced society, you can’t touch them. Marriage, that’s the only way out.
Seriously though, what young woman would possibly be attracted to someone like you? Your only pleasures are the solitary kind. Plus, the environment around here—very conservative—isn’t conducive to long-term relationships except the kind that begin at the altar and end at the grave. What to do? Marketable skills? You’ve got talent, they say. A lot of good it’s doing me, you think sometimes.
Your father stands over you—metaphorically—with his ceaseless demands and expectations. “Come now, you can do better than this,” he tells you, waving your latest effort under your nose. Not once; constantly.
He’s always been like that. Him and his demands that you make something of yourself. Showed you around like a trained poodle when you were just a little boy. Dressed in a frock coat he paraded you before the Parisian aristocracy—may their heads wind up in baskets! Church dignitaries in Italy stared down at you diffidently; self-satisfied German burgomasters damned you with faint praise.
Sure, you know you’ve got some talent, some skills. Thank your father for that…grudgingly. Too much for the current job, turning out hymns and anthems and masses for the Archbishop in this dismal provincial town where you swelter in summer and freeze in winter and where the girls show a little too much breast and a little too much leg and there’s nothing you can do about it.
You’re a creative artist, you say to yourself. By this time, you’ve mastered your trade, and you know it. So why are you still taking your meals in the kitchen, along with the lackeys and the serving staff?
There are some Italians in town, you’ve heard. Maybe they have something to tempt you. Let me read that, you say. Hmm. Not bad: funny, sad, affecting. Lots of emotional ups and downs: those you know plenty about. Maybe I can make something out of it, you say. So you set to work, jotting down a few ideas.
But not here. Winter has set in; your father wants you to travel, to a larger town a few days distant. It’s cold; the weather is atrocious. By the time you get there, you’re coughing, sneezing, shivering. But the notes are coming.
This may be it, you think. The break you’re looking for. Not back down the road, in your stodgy provincial hometown. Right here, in the big city: bright lights, carousing in the taverns—its Carnival, after all—elegant high-society ladies who peer at you over their fluttering fans. Well, if you can’t have them, you can let them know what you think of them.
The project looks better and better. Father agrees. Time is short, but that’s never been an obstacle before. Here are the elements you have to work with: a noble lady masquerading as a garden maid; jealous nobility swirling around her, posturing and prancing, prissy and pretentious. A few of the right touches—you know them all by now—and they pop off the page and into life. All the sopranos have to do is hit the high notes; the baritones, the lows.
Love is the subject; desire; jealousy. What would you know about these things, an eighteen year old lad from a dreary provincial town? But by now you’ve learned to make people feel those emotions. Make them laugh and cry at the same time.
So you write an opera. You’ve already made a few efforts. But this one is different. You can tell. The words are there; the music, your’s to invent.
La Finta Giardiniera it’s called: “The Pretend Garden Maid.”
January 12, 1775. Munich. The singers step forward to take their bows and the house erupts with shouting and jubilation. “Maestro, maestro!” they call out. That’s you.
Mozart’s the name, you say to yourself. Write it down.