A National Public Radio report on the seminal 18th-century opera brought focus to its inception as a fortuitous collaboration between librettist Lorenzo da Ponte and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Presented as a comedy, the concept was one which was incendiary for its time, with the Pierre Beaumarchais’ play on which it was based exploring frictions between the classes. The play had earned a ban by French authorities and caused nervousness among the Austrian monarchy.
Like its play antecedent, the opera explored rank, privilege, and its limitations, and showed how common sense and humility can upstage wealth, arrogance, and power. With Mozart tasked with pitching the opera to his patron, the emperor of Austria, da Ponte crafted a libretto that was witty, subtle, and carefully layered so as not to overtly offend. The end result was an opera that was approved and found widespread acclaim. Indeed, it led to two further collaborations between the librettist and composer, Cosi fan tutte and Don Giovanni.